This is the time of year when I feel particularly blessed. The year 2004 was not a good year for wild fires and they affected a huge part of Southern California. Basically, several fires burned wild enough to join up at various points and surge on with even more power. On this day, we had been to Mass about 30 minutes from our home and the soot from the fires in that area were coming down like dirty snow. We were thankful to drive home and see that there was still sunshine in the world. As we pulled in the driveway, a neighbor came over to chat and we were talking about the fire. Suddenly, she looked over to the East of us and we saw a spiral of smoke which started to grow. Within minutes, fire trucks were on their way but the smoke continued to spiral and the uptake in the wind started blowing ashes our way. Still, we never thought it would go any further than that for us. The word out was that as long as the fire coming from the West didn’t join up with this new one, things could be held under control. Before we went to bed that night, the fires joined.
When the pounding on the door started at one-thirty in the morning, we knew what was going on – mandatory evacuation because of the fire. We had less than two hours to get out. We could see the flames from our house and didn’t hesitate. I think the bearer of the bad news was in a slight panic, too, as he said, “You have two hours to pack and get out. The fire is 30 minutes away!” New math?
After two minutes of utter panic, my husband suggested getting dressed first might be a good course of action. Our four children were troopers, carefully packing according to direction. No one cried about what they had to leave behind but cherished the items they could take with them.
My then-seventeen year old stepped out of his usual ‘teendom’ and came up with lots of suggestions – some of which we did implement. Packing only the computer towers made sense as the monitors could be replaced. It saved room to pack other necessities. His wanting to dig a trench around the house and fill it with water was vetoed!
About an hour later, we were packed. I took a walk through the house to make sure I had gotten the important things packed. It was funny how there was nothing that really made me sad to leave behind. I had my family in the car and we all would get away safely.
Since we were taking two cars, we set up various meeting points. We stopped off at our local parish church first where we met some friends who had been given only ten minutes notice to get out. We could see the sky lit up with the flames from the parking lot. My son exclaimed, “We have to tell Father!” and proceeded to race across the street to the rectory, and yell from the locked gate. The other parishioners had Father’s personal telephone number and he soon appeared and said he would take his chances and went back to bed. I guess not everyone wakes up cheerfully at three in the morning!
After a few hours of driving around, trying to find a hotel with a vacancy, we crept back home to find the wind had died down. We found out, later, that every hotel within miles around were filled with emergency personnel. No one stopped us so we went back to our house and kept alert to every change in the wind and fire.
We were blessed as the fire for our area was controlled by the afternoon and our house and lots of other ones were spared. Even with the assurance of safety, we didn’t unpack our bags until a day or so later. As my husband said, “If we get another one a.m. call, I can pack the cars again, but I sure won’t be able to think!”
A week later and we unpacked and life goes on. We got a few chuckles at what was packed and shocked at what we would have forgotten. The mystery to this day is who packed the bottle of dish detergent and why did they think we would need it? I mean, a fire evacuation is one thing, but doing dishes was not something I was going to figure in the mix!