It feels like six people and a dog in a phone booth.
Heavy, gray smoke envelops us. Visibility zero. “Hang onto something!” the pilot commands us, struggling to get us off the ground. I look to the back as I buckle into the seat. There isn’t a whole lot for them to grab. Jordan has her arms wrapped around Natty. Rodney has one hand on Pal and one hand on the back of the pilot’s seat. John Henry has worked a hand through the cargo netting. As we lift off, we manage to gain a little height, maybe 30 or 40 feet, but the heat and wind from the fire below us has us bucking and rolling, and just as quickly we’re almost on the ground again. And then back up in the air. The rear rotor warning light appears on the panel in front of us, followed by a loud alarm.
Christ, this isn’t working. I look out the window and down, but there is nothing on the mountain top but fire and smoke. He can’t dip us over the edge of the ridgeline either because he can’t see the treetops that surround us through all the smoke. Only place to go is straight up.
“We’re still too heavy!” the pilot yells. “I can’t get altitude!”
I twist in the seat and turn back to John Henry. “Pass me whatever is left!”