Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer: The Last Days

The last few days have been surreal. We woke up yesterday morning to find our house full of smoke to the point that it was uncomfortable to breathe. The fire was still far enough away that we weren't too worried, especially based on the fact that all the evacuations were still voluntary and a couple of minutes away from us by car. Brandon went to work and I spent the day at home with the kids because I didn't want to go somewhere if we got the message from the city to evacuate. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and my sister-in-law Shauna and I swapped some of our kids so they wouldn't be so bored. (They are just one street over from us and back up to a canyon so she was wanting to stay home too.) It was just like every other day except for the smoke, roaring helicopters and planes overhead and the ash falling down all around us. At one point the kids were watching Chicken Little and the R.E.M. song "It's the End of the World As We Know It" came on. You know the next line: "and I feel fine . . ." That's what it was like. Totally surreal.

Since the genius mother of the house cut the cable this summer I was glued to my laptop and am radio for information. I was also taking occasional trips over a few streets to keep an eye on the fire and see how it was moving. Brandon came home early from work at 5pm and we talked about packing up but it seemed like a lot of work for an area that wasn't even in voluntary evacuation. We were both exhausted since the smoke woke us up that morning at about 5am so I went to bed early after extracting a promise from Brandon that he would set his alarm every hour on the hour to check the city website for updates. (He's the grown up of the house that can function in the middle of the night. Residency changed him forever.)

The baby woke up at 4am with a bad dream and after getting her back to sleep I got up to find Brandon at the computer checking out the update. Immediate, mandatory evacuation up to our cross street, two houses away. Close enough for me. We started packing.

I had already been thinking about this the previous two days of course so I knew exactly what I did and did not want to take. I just didn't anticipate how much it would amount to. Bins of photos. Bins of stuff from our missions in Japan. Bins of childhood memories. Bins of important papers and documents. Personal journals. Family journals. Family videos. Camera, video camera, phones, ipods, computer. Framed pictures off the walls like our wedding picture and the big black and white photograph of Yosemite Valley taken by one of Brandon's patients back in the 50's when he was doing an internship with Ansel Adams. I left my wedding dress and the children's baby blessing gowns. (I have pictures after all.) I grabbed my grandma's recipe book as well as the Raggedy Ann doll she made me.

Brandon woke the two older kids up around 4:30 to get going and help. They would not be denied their prized possessions either. We were moving pretty fast and not totally monitoring what they were packing. We knew Kate would insist on her extensive shell, fossil, rock and bug collection. I insisted she get all her artwork. Will wanted his first place Little League trophy and game ball, but it wasn't until tonight that we also realized he brought his 8 lb. 10 oz. "rice baby" of himself - a project they did in kindergarten three years ago! Elizabeth brought her poodle in a purse and her baby (with bib and sippy cup). Rachael was oblivious to the entire thing of course and only wanted time and attention. Both were scarce.

By 6:00 I went to see the fire and found it really close above us and to the east of us. We are about two blocks away from open mountain in both directions and the fire was freely burning in both places. For some reason they have not been running the helicopters and planes at night (and the ground crews can't access the mountains because of the steep and rocky terrain) so the last two nights the fire has just been doing what it wanted to. We were still not under mandatory evacuation so we kept packing, took one van load down to Brandon's parent's house and finally started packing up more immediate essentials like clothing and toiletries. It's amazing what you just don't care about in the end. Furniture, most books, clothes, sports equipment, kitchen stuff. It's just that, stuff.

Around 10:30 I was starting to feel a little panicked when the reverse 911 mandatory evacuation call came. I could hear the police officers with bull horns outside around the same time. Everyone was moving out, the planes and helicopters were back and thundering immediately overhead. Ash was covering everything. Fire trucks and police cars were speeding all around. The kids had wet bandanas over their noses and mouths. War of the Worlds. Time to go. I ran back in the house for a binky of all things and when I came back out it was like a scene from a movie: the car battery was dead. Not kidding. So. Not. Kidding. An officer came by again to tell us to get out and when I asked him how long we had he said the last time they went around the block the fire was 200 yards from the nearest home and now it was 100 yards. (I failed to mention that the Deodor Pines our neighborhood is famous for are full of oil so they do not burn - they EXPLODE! We have ten huge ones on our property.)

Brandon got out the jumper cables and got to work on the battery. Every second seemed like an hour at this point. Brandon couldn't find the place to attach the cables in his car since it is new and from a different maker. I'm dying. I'm sure the entire process took under 5 minutes and for the sake of the kids I kept up my persistently calm facade, but internally I wanted to scream like a maniac and start running. As we were pulling out, my last-of-the-Mohicans neighbor told me to leave my door open in case the fire fighters needed to get in. I decided to let them break it down if necessary because at this point I was also worried about the looters. (Todd and Shauna later told us that as they were leaving there were three young guys with a U-Haul coming down their street.)

We finally got out of there and came down to my in-law's house who live in town but much farther away from the mountains. For the first two or three hours I felt like a zombie coming off all that adrenaline and the lack of sleep both nights. We healed our wounds a little with some In-n-Out and then Todd and Shauna came over with their kids to swim. (They were evacuated too and went to her parents in town.) That was another surreal moment. Splashing and playing in the pool, we realized there was ash everywhere in the water. It was so hot (triple digits) and the kids really needed to play so we just kept swimming as the planes and helicopters buzzed in the distance. As we cooled off in the pool I kept thinking about those firemen up there in their heavy suits contending with that fire to protect my home. To protect the homes of thousands of people they didn't even know. All while I was swimming safely in a pool.

Just a week ago we were at a family camp in the green Utah mountains and the kids put on a performance about "everyday heroes" which included fire fighters.

I didn't think anything of it at the time.


  1. So glad you guys are ok. We've been thinking of you. Hang in there!

  2. Allyson....oh my goodness your family has been thru alot! I am so sorry and hope they get thngs under control soon. You and your neighbors our in our prayers! Kristen(Brimley Shimai)


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