Thursday, May 22, 2008


When I was checking my e-mail late this morning and I got one from my friend Josh saying that he heard about the fires nearby and asked if I was okay. I wrote back something like "Well, I haven't even heard about it so I guess they're far off!" Ha. I ate my words, Josh!

My mom came home and said how the fire had started around 5am and had burned our 4-H summer camp (the 200 kids there were evacuated) and was heading south. You could see the smoke on the southern horizon like a white fog bank. Other than that, the skies were clear, and it was windy as hell. I've been enjoying my first week of summer break, however I've been spending it mostly indoors because the wind has been so bad that either sand or my own hair would constantly be in my face. Winds that literally howl through the window like my room was a castle. I had the fleeting thought that it sucked to have wind like this during a blaze.

After my mom and I heard more sirens I turned on my dad's police scanner and all I heard was a notice to officers responding to the "QH Incident," warning that there was a tree down on the road from the wind.

Then I went back into my room, thinking that I should start work on one of my many writing projects or, frivolously enough, play the Robin Hood game that I bought on Amazon for 1 cent, just because I could.

I had just sat back down to my computer after my mom left to pick up my little sister Alex from school when I heard a low-flying chopper. I grabbed my camera and thought, very Moe Jacuzzishly, "this'll be great for the blog!" I stepped outside and started filming the chopper, assuming it was getting water from the ponds in the nearby quarry to help with the fire elsewhere in the mountains.

You can't necessarily tell from the footage, but I was standing behind the house and the camera could see more than I could. As I came around the corner and saw past the big pine, I muttered "oh shit" (listen for it) -- the smoke was billowing over the ridge right next to our house. The footage is a little crappy since I was kinda, you know, staring in shock.

I ran back into the house and caught the tail end of my mom leaving a message. I picked up the phone and she wanted to warn me that she had seen fire trucks speeding down the road that T's into the bottom of our road. I gasped out to her that the ranch beyond the ridge was on fire. Her response was an equal, "oh SHIT!"

I ran into my little brother's room and interrupted his X-Box game to inform him that the ranch was on fire and that we needed to get ready to leave. He calmly took it in and said "...okay." I hurried back into my room and turned off my laptop, trying to think straight as adrenaline surged though my body. "Uh, Shash..." Jarred said, calling me by my family's nickname for me. "I think you better come look at this." (If you want to be technical I was peeing at the time and was so panicked that I cut it off in the middle of my pee and washed my hands as fast as I could then ran out. Fear gives you mad skillz, man.)

He was on the deck looking to the North Ridge. It was on fire. Those flames might as well have been one of the alien tripods from War of the Worlds. Unstoppable destruction against which you can do nothing. I ran back into the house and called my mom again, worrying that without the suburban that she'd left in, we wouldn't be able to take anything with us to evacuate. "Mom, North Ridge is on fire." Her response was the same as last time, and she's not a woman who ever swears more than "oh SHOOT!" People were panicking and she was in a traffic jam to get to the high school.

I ran back into my room and was so flooded with adrenaline that I couldn't do much more than shake and think about how screwed we were. I yanked on my favorite jeans and tried to locate anything irreplaceable and stuffed my laptop into its case since it was the only place I had the latest version of my screenplay, then grabbed Ben my teddy and my raggedy old baby blanket and stuffed them in my backpack. I then ran into the other room and started frantically stacking our photo albums and carrying them in armloads outside, setting them on the bench near the driveway. As I did, it seemed like all hell had broken loose. Fire planes were circling so low you could see the people inside of them. The horses were spooked and sprinting about. One of my neighbors peeled out of his driveway and sped off in his truck. Seagulls were flying about, 6 miles inland. I could hear my neighbor up the hill screaming, her shouts intermittently silenced and muffled by the horrendous wind so that I couldn't make out what she was saying or to whom. But her kids are the ones I take care of and they were at daycare right next to where the fire started. Luckily the bussed all the kids out in time.

The flock of gulls

(the footage isn't of the flames or the planes practically touching our roof because, you know, I was a little distracted by not dying so I wasn't exactly filming then)

I'm not sure the order of events that happened next. My brother raced down to his truck to hitch it up to the horse trailer. We'd already realized that we were gonna have to let some of our pets go and hope that they would make it on their own. My mom and Alex made it home and Alex and I ran around grabbing anything we might need, shouting "this SUCKS!" I found some old home video tapes and stuffed those in my backpack then the case of our DVDs -- you know, the crap we put on YouTube. I also grabbed Purel in case we had to eat off the streets (funny the way your mind works -- didn't want us to have germ-covered hands now that we were gonna be homeless) and a jug of water. Ironically enough, my wallet was the last thing I thought of. I hope that says something about the redemption of the capitalistic American people in a time of crisis.

A bomber plane was swooping low over the ridge, dropping orange spray. My grandma was in the car and ready to go and we were gonna take her to the local fire station where we thought she'd be safe, and I was gonna drive her. In this blog entry, I promise you will learn three things about me that you'd never know from just watching our films or whatnot. The first is that I don't have license. I've driven quite a bit but my permit has expired and the idea of driving my grandma, as shaky and panicked as I was, only made me more nervous. But it was our only choice. New fires kept springing up. The flames leapt into the trees. (Zoom in on the orange)

I had already put leashes on the dogs, and Teyla was in the kitchen yapping at all the noise and commotion, but Chee Chee was still outside. He may be half lab, but he's a genius when he wants to be. And he knew shit was going down, so he danced and leapt all around me when he saw me come out with a leash. I opened the back of the suburban and he tried to jump in, but since the car was parked on our sloping driveway, the back was too far off the ground and he couldn't reach it all the way and slid off. He gave me a look with his big brown eyes and I idiotically made my arms into a hoop, hoping to somehow communicate that I'd boost his butt up. But in that instant he became Super Chee Chee and he hunched his haunches and jumped all the way up. I shut the back and he curled up, ready to go.

As I was running back up to the house I noticed how short of breath I was and resolved to make a regular practice of running again. Here's the second thing you'll learn about me -- when I get sick and the cold goes to my chest, I often need an inhaler. I suppose I should know what this condition is called or means, but I don't. I didn't realize until much later that the smoke was getting to me and irritating my lungs. Not surprising given how close the fire was. Here's a shot to give you some perspective:

Alex and I haltered the horses and got their leads ready so that we could leave at a moment's notice then ran back up onto the deck to watch as a chopper dumped buckets of water onto the fire.

I looked at our hobbling hen, Frodo (she hobbles because she was captured by a coyote once then came back all cut up and with a broken leg that never healed right, but she survived where many other of our chickens haven't! Hence the name... Sam is the hen who is always with her) and snapped a picture of her since I knew we'd have to leave her behind and it might be the last time I'd see her (I tried to catch her but she's wild). I also took a picture of one of our cats, Black Bear, who we wouldn't be able to take:



We were ready enough to evacuate. I'd grabbed a few extra pictures and some clothes. Jarred had already grabbed the prescriptions and valuables... for some reason my mom had told him to grab all the guns. Now we had to wait. It was agonizing. The fire was spreading but away from us and to the West. We decided to wait and see if it was going to get under control or not before we took off. The fire station told us that since we had so many animals to cart off we should hang in there a bit longer just in case. That bomber plane had dropped at least three loads of orange fire retardant stuff and the chopper kept coming in with its canvas bucket. But with the way the winds were howling and switching in an instant, we couldn't trust anything.

Obviously, I wouldn't be writing here right now if it didn't all end up okay. Even the fireman were saying that we were lucky the bomber had been in our area (ironically enough, because of the other big fire) and that they were able to divert it to come help us. It saved our asses, dude. And our local fire department worked for hours to put it all out. I'm baking them a huge cake or something. I know it's their jobs but... they saved us.

Once we knew that they had it somewhat under control we began to relax a little. You can hear my sister and I making fun of the botanists who like to hypocritically yell at anyone who hikes on North Ridge while they waddle about measuring plants with their dog in tow.

Black was dignified as ever and I was so grateful that we wouldn't have to leave him that I even forgave him for his Communist ideas (my proclaimed reason for ignoring him when he rubs on me non-stop as soon as I set foot outside: "Go away, Black, you Marxist. You have strange ideas about Communism.")

The Commie

And my cat Junior was enjoying the fact that the dogs were shut up so she could strut her stuff without being chased.

Junior surveys the damage

The firefighters kept working. You can see them if you zoom in:

Our heroes

And Teyla didn't like all the nonsense. If you listen you can hear her complain as she lies down.

And Mr. Chee? Well, let's just say he was nice and comfortable where he was in the back of the suburban:

Comanche took a nap

By dusk it shockingly looked like there had been no fire at all.

The sparrows were out eating their bug dinners before the bats would take over and the crickets were chirping as usual:

Jarred was even able to go to his night class. Shocking how quickly normalcy can resume. I used my inhaler a few times but it didn't help ease the tightness in my chest (well, the inhalers were from 2005 and 2006 and more than likely expired) but after being in the house for a while, when the smoke cleared, I could breathe just fine. The worst thing that happened was Alex switched Mickey's halter for his bridle since we needed his halter for Houdini, and Mickey ended up trashing it and now we have to get a new headstall and possibly a bit, too. But that's a small price to pay!

And on Jarred's way home he stopped to get gas then texted us: "Tell dad I'm hanging out with 7 firetrucks from Napa!" They were all fueling up on their way down to help with the fire in the rest of the mountains and he got to hang out with them. He said one local slapped a $50 on the counter for them and said "this is for saving our asses." He said the firefighters got a lot of free coffee and stuff from all over our neighboring town (actually, the town near us, I should say, since our "town" isn't technically big enough to be called a town). Nice to know how kind-hearted and generous people are when it comes down to it.

In summary, a horrifying experience. Boy am I grateful and glad things turned out like they did for us. I looked to the dying flames and said "Wopila, Wankantanka. Mahalo. Thank you." A lot of people near us were evacuated, but since people tend to forget there are houses out where mine is, we never got any sort of notice. And apparently the fire started from the tree the wind blew down -- it took out a power line. And on the scanner the police were talking about an individual walking down the road wearing a neon green backpack. That has nothing to do with anything but I thought it was cool.

By 10 tonight all was quiet and as it should be, thank the spirits of the earth.

Sounds of a quiet night

But the big fire is still raging. At least 10 homes have been destroyed. 3,000 acres have burned. The latest news report said they only had 15% of it contained. I hope to the gods that this is the end of it for us, especially with the winds finally calming after days. But there are still thousands who were evacuated and many who went through the horror of watching their home burn. My heart goes out to all of them. I know fire is natural and cleanses and feeds the forest, but I'm also a selfish human. My family is safe, and now I pray for others in the area.

And uh... what's the third thing you'll learn about me? I forget. So here's one: I had a nightmare the other morning as I dozed and the wind was roaring. In my dream, Hillary Clinton floated in through my window on a big gust. And she was literally one-dimensional. That's right -- I'm perceptive even in my sleep. ;)

1 comment:

morjana said...

Hi, Kellie.

My name is Morjana, and I live in N. Calif. (Sacramento).

I'm so happy your home escaped the fire!

Thank you for a terrific report.

Have you asked your doctor to be tested for asthma? You can get excercise induced asthma, cold induced asthma, or even emotional asthma.

I'm a Stargate fan too!

Best wishes to you and your family, and all your lovely pets.