Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.

― Bryce Courtenay

While mathematicians speak of probability, theologians of predestination and gamblers of luck, I’m more inclined to believe that chance shapes our lives’ direction. Probability can be used to determine the chances of something occurring, but in order to do so, the odds of an event occurring must first be formulated. Predestination requires a belief that God controls events and preordained salvation. Luck, which can be good, bad or blind, attributes success or failure to random chance rather than one’s own efforts. Chance is viewed as the absence of any causal events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled, in other words chance events are random and purely accidental. Chance blindsides me.

Oregon is burning again. The Bootleg Fire, named after the spring where it is believed to have started, has set 624 square miles of southern Oregon ablaze. To give you an idea of its magnitude, the area that has been destroyed is more than half the size of Rhode Island. The fire began early in July and was fueled by unusually hot temperatures, high winds and an ongoing drought. While everyone sympathizes with those living in the burn area, their plight is best understood by those who have shared a similar experience.

Late last summer, fueled by strong east winds and very dry conditions, the Holiday Farm Fire spread quickly across Oregon’s McKenzie Valley. It blew the fire over the towns of Blue River and Vida, with catastrophic results to those small communities. Surrounding areas were smothered in a Martian haze of smoky air so thick that only the brave or foolish ventured outside. Access to HWY 126 was limited and for days television was the only way to find out what was going on. Covid-19 quarantine requirements and the need to keep the highway free for reclamation crews made visits to the area impossible. It would be late May before my husband and I could visit the small towns of Blue River and McKenzie Bridge. These communities were important to us because we had once planned to live in the area. The house we once thought would be ours was still standing but the area around it was devastated. When I saw the arbitrary nature of the fire I was blindsided by chance.

The number of logging trucks coming from the area was staggering. They belonged to reclamation companies that cleared, bought and processed burnt timber from devastated properties. The trucks we passed were stacked with size-sorted burnt logs. The first real shock came when I realized the Finn Rock Grill on the banks of the McKenzie River was no longer there. Further on the arbitrary nature of the fire became more evident. One house burnt to the ground with only its chimney left standing stood next to one that was untouched by the flames. A bit further up the fire jumped the highway and took out three small properties just feet from the McKenzie River before again jumping to the other side. Continuing on, the town of Blue River was gone, only ashes left to blow and swirl in the wind. While the former ranger station was gone, the old boarding house, just steps away, stood unharmed as did the house and acreage we tried to buy 20 years ago.

We ventured on to the town of McKenzie Bridge and the route took us past devastated trailer communities. Familiar landmarks were missing. The famous Christmas Store was burned so thoroughly you would never know it existed, but the house behind it was never touched. How do explain the bizarre nature of a fire that skipped and jumped for no apparent reason. No plan “A” or plan “B” could have helped those whose properties were destroyed by it. Chance dictated their fate.

Blind chance.

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