Arizona is burning (again), but not here.

The other day, one of my editors asked me, in an e-mail message, whether there was smoke where I was. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT and smoke from fires all the way down near St. George was coming up her way. At the time, I reported that Howard Mesa was smoke free.

But yesterday morning, when I opened the camper door to let Jack out, I smelled smoke — enough of it to throw my shoes on and walk over to the shed, which has a view out to the west. I scanned the horizon, looking for the fire I smelled. But there was nothing definitive in any direction. (I have a good nose for smoke. When we lived in Bayside, NY, I once woke up in the middle of the night, smelling smoke. It turned out that a church 13 blocks away had burned to the ground during the night.)

SmokeI didn’t see or smell smoke all day yesterday. But in the evening, as the sun was setting, I saw the smoke on the northwestern horizon. Probably the fire out in the St. George area about 120 miles away. This morning, the smoke from Arizona’s big fire — the second biggest in its history — had drifted north, past the San Francisco Peaks, shrouding the eastern horizon. I almost missed the sunrise. The sun fought to be seen through the thick smoke, appearing as an orange globe poking out through the top of the thickest of it. There was little light from the sun at first. Then, when it broke clear of the cloud layer, I could feel its bright warmth. The smoke cloud faded back to a blue-gray blanket on the horizon.

As I type this, the Cave Creek Complex fire has burned 140,000 acres of Arizona desert. I’m not sure exactly where it’s burning, but descriptions of its progress has me worried about one of our favorite fly-in destinations, the landing strip at Red Creek on the Verde River. The Sonoran desert out there is beautiful, almost pristine because of its remoteness. The landing strip, although rough for airplanes, is fine for helicopters. There’s a picnic table there and a bunch of donated equipment, including lawn chairs, water bottles, and emergency equipment. There’s also a trail down to the river, that runs past an old bunkhouse. At the river, tall trees offer cool shade. A secluded paradise, a secret on the Verde River.

When the fire is finally out and the temporary flight restrictions removed, I’ll fly down there and see what’s left of the area.

What do you think?