Tuesday, October 5, 2010

machine gun fire

The view from my house earlier in the evening. The evacuation began shortly after Clayton took this picture.

The view of from the other side of the valley.

My house is one of those little lights over there!

Our mountain is gone! My house is just about one street below where this photo is cropped, toward the bottom left corner.

Holy smokes! Literally. What a crazy thing to happen. I'm sure you've all heard about this whole thing by now, I'm so slow getting around to blogging lately. But I want to share my experience anyway. Here are some pictures to show you what we saw that night. These aren't my pictures because my camera was packed into one of the suitcases by then, along with jumbled up clothes, diapers, photos, and random things we didn't want to risk losing.

I smelled smoke around 2 pm that day, as I stumbled in late to church with the baby. By 3:30 the smell had made its way inside the church, and my friend Angie and I asked each other during class, "Do you smell smoke?"

From our house after church we could see a massive cloud of smoke rising from the backside of our mountain, and stretching all the way north across the valley. I wasn't worried though, that mountain has been on fire a few times since we've lived here, and it's never made it's way down toward the houses before. I got myself and the kids ready to head up to my parents' house for dinner. Clay decided to stay home because not only did he have a huge project to finish for work, he was also concerned about the fire.

Around 7:30 he called me, "Leave the kids with your mom, and come home and get what you want out of the house, we're evacuating." Huh? Seriously? I still wasn't really worried. I brought the baby with me in case he needed to be fed, and Olivia too. I figured that way I wouldn't have to drive back up there to get the other three kids, because my sister Hailey offered to bring them out after the whole fire thing was over with...right? I took my time leaving too, and Clayton called and said, "Please tell me you're halfway home!" when I was just getting into my car. I thought he was just being paranoid.

Heading west I began to realize that this was real, and it was a big deal. The mountains looked like they were running with lava in the dark. The traffic was backed up for at least a mile to get off at my exit, and in the meantime, my sister-in-law Kerstin was texting me, "Do you want me to come get your kids?" So I called her and asked if she could take the two babies. Luckily she lives off the next exit, so I sped up past my exit and all the traffic, and dropped them off with her. Good thing I did, because it would not have been good to have them with me. I don't know what I would have done with them as we ransacked our own house, and the air would've been horrible for those little ones to breathe.

When I got home (which was a blessing I did...the police blocked the way to my neighborhood shortly after I got there), I found my father-in-law and two awesome brothers-in-law there already, hauling armload after armload out to Clay's car and my father-in-law's truck. They already had all the photo albums I requested, you know, all the old film photos I don't have backed up on CD. They had helped Clay haul out most of his office from the basement, his computers with work projects saved on them, our very livelihood! I didn't know what to grab first when I got home. My father-in-law, as many of you know, had his house burn down two years ago, and he said, "Get lots of clothes and the things you'll need for the next few days." Diapers, toothbrushes, etc. I didn't even think of grabbing stuff like that, but of course we would need clothes! We grabbed the unfolded laundry in the basket that I had been meaning to get around to, and Clay pulled out the suitcases. I literally started throwing stuff in. Kids p.j.'s, underwear, framed photos I knew I couldn't replace, journals. It was a mess. My house was turned upside down in the process. And I was still in my skirt and heeled sandals from church!

Imagine running in and out of your house to your car with your priceless items, hoping you haven't forgotten anything, while ashes were snowing down from the sky. Orange clouds of smoke towering over you from the hillside above. So frightening. I was so glad the kids weren't there. Neighbors were loading up their cars, all of us calling to each other to offer help, to ask, "Do you have somewhere to go?" It was like a hundred campfires blowing into your face at once with no escape. Our eyes burned, our throats itched, and I could feel myself and my house becoming filthy inside and out.

It felt like I was in a movie, and I couldn't think straight. I could hear sirens and officers calling for us to evacuate through megaphones as they drove along our street. What else should I take?

Just when I thought I had everything, I realized that I was missing some things that would be so sad to lose...my Book of Mormon that Mom and Dad gave me when I was baptized, with a letter from Dad written inside. That, and my two nightstand drawers that are crammed full of love notes and drawings from my kids over the years. So last of all I grabbed those two drawers and away we went. It took about 30 minutes to get to the main intersection, which usually takes about 3 or 4 minutes. Masses of car lights strung out for miles in front and behind us. What a comfort to pull into Mom and Dad's driveway. Safety and a nice place to sleep that night even though we smelled like campfire, our cars smelled like campfire, and everything we brought with us smelled like campfire!

Clay and I stayed up late with Dad, listening to his police scanner, and eating Oreos. We listened to their conversation as the firefighters frantically gathered brush trucks to rescue our friends' house up the hill. The fire came within 15 feet of their house.

My house was such a smelly mess to come home to the next afternoon, but we did come home. And so did most everyone else. I feel so sad for those people who lost their homes. What a tragedy. But I think, at least we had the opportunity to salvage things beforehand, because usually people don't have time to save anything from a house fire.

I am STILL cleaning that fine layer of soot off of every surface. It keeps seeping in through the windows somehow every time the wind blows. My kids have black dirty feet even after running around on the grass. But I'm sure after a few snowfalls, things will start to be clean again.

If I've learned anything from this, it's that there are miracles. Of course, I knew that before, but it was just made more real to me. Winds shifted just in time and stopped the fire from taking several homes in our ward. The fire literally came up to their back yards, melted their fences and stopped.

Also, I've realized that all our worldly goods mean absolutely nothing. I knew that before too, of course, but when you are forced to sort through what matters and what doesn't, it's made clear. All of that stuff is replaceable. It's the people, our families, our babies, the memories that can't be replaced. And I had all of that with me. So everything was going to be alright.

2 comments:

  1. Glad everything turned out okay... I can't imagine how crazy that would have been for two of our families houses to have burned down in two years. Ruthie would've lost it, haha! Great blog Heath

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  2. this post is really like a scene from a movie. i'm sitting here thinking about all the things i should have in a safe place together in case anything like that should happen. still cannot believe you guys went through that! it really is a miracle that the fire stopped!
    i love you heath.
    and i love your blog :)

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