Random comments abt the Lake County CA Valley fire - as a former evacuee (Just got home!!)
On Sunday Sept 13, at 7Am, I unexpectedly woke up to a huge and threatening sounding pounding on my front door.
In somewhat of a dream state, as I had stayed up until Three Am preparing for a women's festival, I staggered to the door, only to find a young woman I assumed was a local volunteer.
She announced, "Hey, You! The fire is coming our way. Grab up Mark and the animals and get in your car and get out."
The woman then came over and gave me a very grounding hug. Then came the realization that this woman was Jessica, a neighbor who had not spoken to me in three years over a minor but unbearably long lasting dispute.
Above me, the sky was dirty grey and the smoke stench was unbearable. My house is right under a rather towering hillside, limiting my field of vision, so for all I knew the fire that Jessica spoke of was imminent.
In twenty minutes, I did round up my spouse, the three cats, and the dog. Soon I safely put the tetra hard drive back up device into the car, so that the records of twelve years of our running a publishing business would go along with us. I had the HD from my computer, so my short stories and poetry and song writing would also go along. Meanwhile Mark got his meds, and some clothes and his guitar. (Later he would remark, "Honey, why didn't you take your guitar." And I quipped back, "Ya know, the Prius when filled with three cat carriers and a dog is not that big -- if I took my guitar, I would have had to leave you!"
During the twenty minutes we were packing, my landlord, who usually is in the SF Bay Area, well, he showed up to tell us that he could help us for a few minutes. He couldn't stay long - he had guests at their summer home a mile from us and needed to get them out. I was impressed with his looking out for us, but the only thing I could think of was that he drive his big truck into the driveway of my next door neighbors and honk the horn, and if no response, then go up and ring their bell. His doing that meant I could maybe grab some clothes and other items.
The Fire Marshall also came along, and since I hadn't seen the neighbors, I asked he do the same thing. It was more than likely that they were away, since they are always out and about on a Sunday morning, often before 7Am. But I didn't want to leave without ascertaining their house was indeed empty. (And luckily, they don't have any pets.)
Soon we were inside a long procession of cars, pickups and SUV's leaving the Clearlake Riviera neighborhood. It was very orderly.
Once safely out of the area where we were told the fire would hit, we ended up staying with a close friend in her beautiful Upper Lake home. (And four acres for my dog to enjoy!) She was the most gracious host, and our every need and wish was answered by her devotion to us. I now consider her a candidate for sainthood, as she is normally a very private person.
Here are some random thoughts:
If you have experienced your cat experiencing a catastrophe -- one thing you might find surprising about our cats last Sunday - they came in the house the moment I opened the door to find out why my neighbor was banging on my door. They had been out all night, and I put them on the living room couch, and get this! They sat perfectly still on the couch while I went downstairs into the basement and got out the cat carriers and brought them back up to the couch so they could be evacuated with us!
Such uncat-like behavior - What you usually hear about are behaviours of cats threatened by smoke hiding under beds and refusing to come out.
So that is how we were able to bring them along.
Being an evacuee during the computer age means once you have shelter inside a structure with Wi fi, you can plug in the laptop and gain info. We tried to ignore Facebook - too many rumors from local people who thought they knew this or that. We also mostly ignored the radio for the same reason. We did plug into the National Weather website, as the main thing about fire is that it is all wind directed. You can be half a mile from a major fire, but if your property remains "upwind" of the fire, your property can remain unscathed.
We also turned to Cal Fire's website, which remained our main source of news.
Over the hours, we tried to be occupied with small daily chores and chit chatting with our host inside our "new home." The animals needed a great deal of our time, as they were anxious and upset. A lot of phone calls and emails needed to be made. Especially to people who were worried about us, and to those connected to us by business and might not know that we were not able to fulfill any business obligations until we were back in our house, etc.
On Monday night, we went to the Blue Wing Saloon, in Upper Lake and had a rather extravagant dinner while listening to a fabulous blues band. We felt good patronizing this place, as this restaurant is managed and owned by a man who had lowered the prices on his hotel fees to anyone impacted by the fire! (Many hoteliers had raised their prices immediately upon hearing of how many people were displaced!) We also utilized the occasion to treat our host to a good meal out. (She had been preparing many delicious meals for us, and Mark and I worried that we were tiring her out.)
As normally budget conscious people I was amazed how the fact that our world was perhaps ending meant we loosened the purse strings. I also put my diet out the window for the duration.
Tuesday we were allowed some twenty minutes back into our home to gather items we needed but had not gotten to bring with us. We were escorted in and out by Cal Fire personnel, in part to prevent us from either returning to the house to live, or in case we might be looters posing as evacuees. (However, no one asked for our ID!)
Anyway, all day Wednesday, I called and called the Cal Fire local line to see if we could go home. And during dinner tonight at one of our favorite fast food places "Jimmy's" where the best Mediterranean food you can imagine is served - I finally got through to them. (Line was overwhelmed all day. it would ring once or twice and then it would cut out.)
But at 6Pm I finally got through and the young enthused fire volunteer told me in a very perky voice we could go home! (Few words have ever sounded as good!)
It turned out we could have gone home as early as 10Am on Wednesday - we just didn't know it.
Several tragic tales Mark heard while he was at the local gym: one of them involving a man who is devoted herbalist and who has extensive plants and seeds for healing, many of them from the Amazon, plus much research and documentation of what to use for different ailments and who has proven this or that. So his place went up in smoke and he lost his entire seed bank, and all the writing etc. Many herbalogists will truly miss this loss.
Also a 72 year old woman with MS died in the fire on Saturday on Cobb Mountain. So far this is the only human fatality, in both this and the Rocky Ridge fire that consumed some 75,000 acres earlier in July. Apparently the family had hired someone to only work until 3Pm. And this hired helper left at that time, not knowing that the fire would be racing down the hill twenty minutes later, killing her client.
Much blame being assigned to the care giver, not only by herself but by the press. Even the BBC!
Since this has been one of my career paths, I am rather outraged by people's insensitivity over this. For one thing, it is totally irresponsible for a family to not have full time care for a total invalid, at least they should have that full time care during a fire season like this one.
Or they should move the person out of the area to live with them, rather than leaving her in the remote areas of Lake County.
Now also let me make this point: I am certainly not advocating that a caregiver can look at a clock and say, "Well, the fire is headed your way, but too bad for you, I get to go home as my shift is ending." But this is not at all what happened.
We had a sudden wind storm Saturday, the first wind storm in over nine weeks, which is not typical. During most summers, we always have had quite a few windstorms, but luckily we have not had them this summer. During the entire two and a half or three weeks of the Rocky fire, the wind was always under 8 miles an hour. (Otherwise, as bad as it was, it would have been much much worse.) Close to the fire, there were reports of winds as high as 45 miles an hour, but those were winds inside the fire, generated by the fire, and not the overall wind velocity.
Anyway, Saturday's blaze was first noticed around 1:30 Pm, and the wind storm hit about an hour later. Without that burst of wind, the fire would not have traveled at such a rate as to engulf that home without any advance notice. But as it was, the caregiver knew only that there was a fire in the area, and the disabled client had refused to evacuate when some of her friends came by and asked her to leave with them.
This lady was so incapacitated by MS that she was dead weight, so even had the caregiver stayed the extra twenty minutes, I don't know if she could have gotten her out of the home. It is more than likely that then they both would have died.
The other thing is -- this whole area has been so overwhelmed by fire for so much of the
summer that we are all have had moments when we are all blase about it right now. Try and imagine that you have spent your whole summer staying close to home or close to your invalid client because "Maybe the wind will shift and maybe there will be a wind storm." But it doesn't materialize and you start feeling total relief. (I had felt such relief from the moment the Rocky Ridge fire was put out all the way up to 7Am on Sunday morning.)
People who know the caregiver say she is devastated over the client's death. But the press should not allow themselves to run a muck and add to the woman's guilt. Care takers have a rough enough time of it, and the added peculiar situation this caregiver faced is not something that most journalists would ever encounter.
It is also hard for people in a city environment to understand the rural experience. If your neighbor needs to be taken out of her home away from calamity and you live in New York City, you can go across the condo's hallway and ask your neighbor. Here we are separated from our neighbors by acres of nothing.
Mark and I often jokingly tell relatives and friends in big cities that our neighbors are the deer, the squirrels, the birds, possums and skunk. Only it really is not a joke. But try to get a blue jay to flutter down and help you in an emergency and good luck! You will need it.
So the caregiver had no one else to go to to say, "Well, I am leaving for the day - make sure she gets out if for some reason the situation gets worse."
I am feeling so much sympathy for her, and cannot imagine the guilt she feels and the weight of the press analyzing the situation and pointing blame at her.
Anyway, for 72 hours the idea that our house was perhaps gone forever was cause of tremendous anxiety. Right now, to be back in my familiar space, with all the little things in place when I was imagining them all to be lost - I cannot explain the gratitude that I am experiencing right now. Throughout those 72 hours, we heard terrible rumors - that this or that landmark near our home was facing a firestorm, or that an arsonist had been at work using a flare to start a new fire in our community near my home. (This last "rumor" may be true; but I haven't yet gotten a source related to a fire official to explain if it was true or rumor.)
And the icing on the cake is that today it rained. It actually rained rather hard for a bit and maybe those of us in fire country can indeed relax for a while.
Another bit of happiness - the community has pulled together in a big big way. Many restaurants are offering free meals to those who have lost their homes, and even those who are only "evacuees." (Some evacuees did not have time to get their wallets or credit cards, so even some affluent people are without a means to pay.) People are volunteering at the Kelseyville Lions' club, gathering up food donations and helping to get it to those who need it. They are up at the Moose Lodge in Clearlake. They are running the Episcopal Thrift store in Lakeport, where gorgeous and wonderful clothing is given for free to the newly needy. Numerous animal rescue types are gathering up animal carriers to take to the shelters where the evacuees now live, so people with pets can relax a bit.
I will later tonight be posting a list of organizations to donate to, as I feel these local organizations are much better at helping than the Red Cross.
I knew you were from that area. I'm so happy you are safe and well.
I can only imagine how terrifying an experience like that is.
Glad everything turned out ok for you and your husband, and your critters!
The Valley fire will probably be assessed, tomorrow, as being 60 to 80% contained, which means a whole lot of people will be able to relax. Goddess only knows the firefighters and other personnel need some down time. (Though perhaps they will only get 48 hours off, unless the fires totally stop.)
The rain is quite upsetting. Today they went outside, then quickly came in to let us know we have once again let our "big sprinkler system" in the sky running full blast.
That is how infrequent it rains here during this drought - the animals no longer know what rain is!
But our fur babies are perplexed. It is been so infrequent they cannot comprehend drops of wetness coming down at them from the sky.
go get the disabled woman.
The sheriff's deputy was sent out, but didn't arrive in time.
There is really nothing for anyone to feel guilty about here. People tried their best, but it was just a very, very fast moving fire.
Glad you're OK. Rain is a blessing!
I have only heard friends discussing it, as I am not paying much attention to the
Given the problems Mark and I faced in 2005 through 2009, this community saved us again and again.
So it is not a surprise to me at how much people are offering up to help those whose lives have been turned so tragically upside down.
So glad you're OK and back home.
And thanks for your understanding about the caregiver. if anyone is at fault, it is the family for not insuring that the invalid had total full time care, or even better making sure that she was not in a remote place where a catastrophic fire emergency was a possibility.
Last week, I had a similar situation, but instead of fire it was the threat of flood on both sides of me. And I drove to a neighboring town without realizing that a catastrophic flood had occurred there just 4 hours before I arrived. Fortunately, the casualties in both of our disasters have been minimal.
Several friends commented last Sunday on how poised I was -- but it was all an act.
On Monday,while going through my purse I found a small Ziplock baggy containing three separate little tubes of moisturizer.
I almost cried as I gazed at that Ziplock bag. Over moisturizer!
And I am not even really into moisturizers.
But those tubes represented everything that was still inside my home. The fact that the breakfast shelves have the granola that is the brand that our family likes.
The pictures on the wall, both those "worth something" and those not worth a dime, financially speaking. The couch with its throw pillows, the windows with their wonderful view.
Every thing in my home environment now seems sacred and holy. Spending few days in a situation where your home could possibly go up in flames is enough to bring about a total connection of Dorothy as she clicked her heels and said "There is no place like home."
Now back at home, every item I encounter is like a miracle.
On the one hand I know that the home is an illusion, and that what truly mattered was my life and my spouse's life and that of our critters. But we humans and critters have an innate "gene" for nesting and are quite forlorn if that nest gets burned up or shredded.
You story just made me decide to scan all my pictures and documents onto a portable hard drive.
I am spending a lot of my time working at the evacuation centers, trying to help those who did not get to go home.