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Fire and Water

This amazing picture made the rounds on the Internet after the wildfires of the summer of 2003. Heartbreaking. I hope those deer ran out the same way the photographer did.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

John McColgan
August 6, 2003

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"Looks like you'd be safe in the water," Craig says. "But in a fire, when you flee to a river, all the oxygen can be consumed all around and above you, and you can suffocate."

I know. Fusa-san was a dignified Japanese woman who worked for my mother when we lived in Yokohama. We called her Mama-san. She was 60 years old, and this was in about 1960, so this means she would have been in her early twenties at the time of the great earthquake in Tokyo in 1923. She lived in Tokyo at the time. I asked her about it.

The earthquake itself was not so memorable to her. I pestered her about that, because I imagined that the quake itself would have been terrifying. In Japan, earthquakes happen all the time, so I knew what they were like. The earth quakes! Nothing seems reliable, once you know the very earth can move.

What Fusa-san remembered, though, was the fire afterwards. She said that people fled to the river, thinking the water would protect them from the raging fires. They suffocated by the thousands. What Mama-san remembered was the smell afterwards. She would always get right to that point: the smell! She would make a face and wave her hand in front of her as if to drive away the thought. The bodies.


Fusa-san with Mother in Motomachi ca.1960

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