detonating from heat, people fleeing with pets and little else. He imagines flames enveloping pine needles and duff, brachiating tree to tree like
primordial phantoms and cascading over the houses in a flood. Manza-nita, pine, fir, and aspen—they’re all gone here. The agencies want to
keep sediment out of the spring runoff into the lake, but now there is
nothing to anchor it.
He noses his pickup through the subdivision. He feels the heat-buckled
asphalt through the suspension. Scorched foundation pads and steel
trash enclosures make the denuded parcels look like an old board game
with game pieces on them. The few remaining trees, marked with spray
paint for removal, look like the burned ends of matchsticks. Some of the
lots are staked with wooden lath and colored flagging, denoting property
corners. He’ll do the same himself once he finds the location. The dog
stands, sensing an imminent stop, and makes figure eights beside him
on the bench seat. Almost at eye level, she studies him with mismatched
eyes, one milky blue and one brown, or watches out the windows.
The property owner’s land backs up to national forest that rears up
a few hundred yards west of the property line. Parrish eases the truck
onto the shoulder. From here he can see where the fire came through.
The path of the flame is a black slash where the fire crew went in with
a bulldozer. The firebreak is a clear divide, almost as straight as a line
made with a straightedge, trees above it, ash below.
He levers the door open with his leg, and the dog sails over his lap,
out of the truck. At first she circles a spot on the ground and squats. Then
she looks at him, and he glances around. The sky is bright enamel, and
a dry breeze rides through unobstructed by trees and makes the survey
flagging buzz like a high-tension line. No construction crews have appeared. He hears far-off birdsong. They’re alone. “Go on,” he says, and
she sets off to investigate the bonanza of smells. For a while he watches
her, something soothing in it. She follows a crooked path into the drainage swale, nose down, intent. While he’s thinking about it, he sets down
water, or she’ll pester him later.
The remote-operated robotic survey system he unpacks from a foam-lined carrying case has GPS and other digital wonders. It allows him to
be his own rodman; he does not need a crew. He’s worked for big outfits, had partners, but this suits him—low overhead, no disputes. Once
he sets a control point on the street, he centers the tripod over it and
attaches the orange survey instrument on top, places safety cones, and