In pictures captured last week, a DC-10 bomber flies so low it sweeps level with the homes in Promontory, delivering a splash of red flame retardant onto the Rockport Fire, a blaze ignited by lighting that charred more than 1,900 acres and leveled eight homes. Police warned that propane tanks might explode. Rockport residents huddled on cliffs to watch their neighborhood burn.

Residents, looking down at the one patch of Earth that matters, waited for answers.

The media rushed to Rockport Estates, towing camera crews to swarm over hillsides and roads and track down the owners of burned structures. They made a woman who had lost her home cry.

I pored through those pictures and scoured reports from the safety of a home perched in Tollgate Canyon at 7,990 feet. Later, I climbed to my neighborhood's water tower to get a view of the smoke.

I should have cowered at the sight of the thick columns threatening to cross I-80 or reeled at the charred stench I drove through to get home on the day the blaze ignited. I found it impossible to focus on the red circle of retardant, though, when I saw it surrounded by an unscathed landscape.

I turned in a circle, taking in the canyon's piney slopes, the dusty reaches beneath the Uinta Mountains, misty blue ridgelines and the cloud-rivaling Empire and Jupiter peaks. Promontory's unharmed mansions stood above the clutter of Park City. The sun blazed orange, across from the moon hanging above that red splotch.

Many consider a wildfire to be "an act of God.


" Even secular commentators wheel out the phrase to try to explain the inexplicable. Investigating a lighting flash for a reason traps us in myopia, scanning a wasteland for details. We ignore layers of mountains, desert and trees to scour the scar left by the burn, a problem caused by a force we can't find and played out on an uncertain schedule.

Authorities lifted the evacuation order for Rockport Estates on Monday, but even after the blaze died down, people started looking past the rising containment numbers and question where the next fire will land. The color-coded fire-danger meter that guards the base of Tollgate Canyon suggests that, with a little more kindling, the next disaster might erupt across the street from Rockport. If the crack of lighting had landed a couple miles up the road, I might be fleeing instead of writing.

Residents of dry western communities can't allow that kind of fear, one they can't direct or predict, to dominate their lives.

News events move like lighting, so suddenly we lose control and reason. It helps to remember that as displaced families return to their charred neighborhoods, around them a landscape of unblemished beauty remains. With a broad perspective and enough time, the problem will look like the flash that ignited it.