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A mummy-hand holding, (former) biker gang affiliating, hippie influenced semi crunchy granola mom's ramblings and reminisings on an off-kilter life

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don't Light My Fire

Image courtesy of the original Lorax film.
And yep. Evacuating a forest fire looks and feels
like this. I feel ya' Humming Fish. I really do.
The smell of burning wood evokes the joys of summertime to many but, for me, nothing else strikes as much fear.

I grew up in the tinder box that is the forests of Southern California, which make the news yearly due to devastating forest fires. These events scarred my psyche, giving me nightmares about tsunamis of flames engulfing my home and killing my pets. My nightmares and reality have made me hyper-sensitive, like a wild dog who can smell fire before anyone else.

I remember a few times as a child, watching the flames climb up from the valley below, sirens blasting, smoke choking the air. Panic. Packing what we could into the car, not sure if we'd ever see our home again. My home was like a family member, keeper of all my memories and secrets. Toys forgotten, books left behind, everything I ever knew could be gone in a flash. We would often evacuate in minutes, racing to leave before the police came door to door or via helicopter to scream “get out now, you can't stay here”.  Our early exodus was before the rush of tens of thousands of residents on one winding road, rushing out, tempers flared, eyes filled with tears. The exodus was reminiscent of the scene in the original Lorax when all the furry creatures leave the town behind.

In high school, a fire started near my town over the weekend. Surely we were evacuated and school was cancelled. The fire came so close to my best friend's home that her yard was scorched, and our other friend's home was barely saved by a desperate father who helped the firefighters save his property surrounded in flame. My break from school was not enjoyable, not knowing if I had a home to go home to afterward. I remember scavenging for relics afterward, finding burnt timbers and scorched hoses, helmets and coats from the firemen. We played in the smoky embers, and filmed some silly apocalyptic film lying in the smoking dust like dead people. It was our way of dealing with things.

The snaking flames inch towards my home
The Old Fire hit my hometown in 2003, burning over 91,000 acres and taking 6 lives and 1,000 structures with it. I did not live in the forest, but remember watching it from the valley, as this gorgeous glowing orange snake of destruction inched its way forward, like Satan himself wiping the forest away. I remember watching the news in horror, watching homes I knew (Oh my...there goes my school counselor's home...) burn before my eyes. My mother had been evacuated and we drove her around a bit to try and get her mind off the fire. She was a mess. She had only a few belongings with her, whatever she could grab quickly.  She sat in the back seat of our car frantically calling people, clutching her purse with shaking hands wet from tears, voice wavering, spitting out nonsense words. She would call me and say that the neighbor's uncle's grocery clerk's friend said the fireman had tried to save her home and couldn't. Then a call that her pet peacocks were heard a mile away, safe for now. Then, that the home was perfectly safe. That it was someone ease’s home, someone we knew and I grew up with. Conflicting stories, hearsay  strong emotions and the thoughts of loss clouded any truth and made it utter hell.  My parent's home was left intact and the peacocks were found, but our town was never the same. After the fire, I toured the outskirts of the areas destroyed from the fire, and still to this day have not gone into the neighborhoods destroyed, for fear of strong emotions. A childhood friend's home, the place we went sledding, the tree we hid behind, all gone. The fires were over, the town scarred, and life went on, for a while.

yep I'm two-timing yeahwrite with yeahwrite
Meanwhile,  I had gone to college, been married, and moved  near my hometown again, surrounded by forest. A fire came near my home, flaming tongues of fire were in the canyon below me, and we got the requisite knock on the door to evacuate. There weren't any available hotels for miles, so we had to drive 60 miles to find a place to stay, a place full of other evacuees. I recognized cars and family name bumper stickers, faces of people from the grocery store and the like, and the smokey scent and eyes of uncertainty. Again, we were lucky and our house stood unscathed.

A few years later, being nearly the present time, I had a child, lost a job, and a bunch more random drama and decided I did not want to deal with devastating fires again, among other bothersome events that come about living where I lived. So now I live in the 'burbs with plush lawns, cement, Stepford Wives style people (ugh) but guess what? Sure a fire can still destroy my home, but it is much less likely. And I haven't had a fire nightmare since. But, I can still smell a fire no one else can, and can recognize evacuees like nobody's business.


  1. So glad you were lucky! Fire scares me too but I've never lived in a fire zone like you did. It's gut-wrenching to think about!

  2. Wow - I can't even imagine. Terrifying. I love your last sentence - it really ties it all up in a neat bow.

  3. Wow! Having grown up in the Midwest, where I still live, I can't imagine having to live in fear of natural disasters.

    I don't blame you for leaving your fears behind and moving to the 'burbs. Peace of mind is worth a few Stepford Wives.

  4. How scary! On the prairie where I live, it is all about tornadoes. I don't know of any kid who doesn't thin of one with the first clap of thunder. Now that I'm older, I'm far less afraid -- I can see beauty in thunderstorms. But I can't convince my 7-year-old that a tornado watch six counties away means safety for us...

  5. I'm glad you and your family came through safely. I hurt for those who did not. We had a wood burning stove growing up. I always feared a chimney fire. That's nothing compared to what you were living with.

  6. I would have been so fearful of fire too growing up as you did. I'm glad that's one less thing for you to worry about. I like your tag line; I just recently started my blog (about 2 months now I think), and one of my friends said the writing reminded her of Jenny Lawson. I only knew her as the bloggess. Then I read more of her, picked up the book, and fell totally in love. I even wrote a blog post about her, and sent it to her as well. She responded to my e-mail: totally cool and day made. That is my random story of similiar interests. You're very welcome. :)

  7. That had to be a really scary way to grow up. I was terrified of home fires when I was a child, I'm not sure how I would have dealt with a real threat. Glad you were spared all those times and that you feel safer now.


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