Friday, September 30, 2005

The Winds Of Autumn

It’s always a bad sign when you wake up and your bedroom smells like the inside of a fireplace. Not an ashtray, mind you. A fireplace.

I switch on the TV and the first thing I hear is that the neighborhood next to mine is being evacuated. Hm. Not good.

For some reason, I don’t rush to get dressed. My only explanation for this is that I’m a native Californian. Wildfires happen more often than rainstorms. Or maybe I just don’t trust the media anymore.

Anyway, I decide to do a little reconnaissance mission of my own. As the garage door rolls up, I see the odd glow in the morning sky and the grey snowflakes fluttering to the ground. (Note to self: another reason not to wear white after Labor Day.)

By the time I get a half-mile from my house, a panorama of clouds and smoke obscure the rocky peaks I should be able to see. Still, like I say, I’m a veteran so I know fires are deceptive. What looks like it’s about to burn your house down can be miles and miles away.

When I get to my local grocery store, I pull into the parking lot. It’s then I notice flames on the hillside across the intersection. Now see, I interpret flames as indisputable proof the fire is close. Satisfied, I return to my house.

My next-door-neighbor is standing at the end of our cul-de-sac and I inform her you can see flames from Lindero and Kanan. She tells me she can see flames from where she’s standing. I suffer a moment of quiet embarrassment, as though I’ve let down native Californians everywhere for misjudging the distance.

While I video the fire, she disappears to pack up and another neighbor takes her place. Then a third woman emerges. This poor lady is totally freaking. Turns out, she’s been at UCLA Med Center all night where her husband is waiting for a friggin’ LUNG TRANSPLANT, so she hasn’t had time to pay attention to the fire. He’s scheduled to begin surgery in two hours and she doesn’t know if she should evacuate or get back to the hospital. We calm her down, help her to think rationally, and offer assistance. Oddly, the three of us agree we don’t care about the one thing people always take: namely, pictures. I venture the opinion it’s because we’re vain—we don’t want remembrances of when we were young and pretty. We laugh.

I go back inside, trying to decide whether to go to work or wait to be evacuated. In the process, I mull over what to take. My computer had crashed the night before so it’s already in the car anyway. I don’t have children so there are no precious photos that only I would have. Packing jewelry seems too materialistic. I settle for tossing a change of clothes in the car. In the event I can’t get home later, I don’t wanna have to shop in a dress and heels.

So, I take off for work, and I pass about ten giant bulldozers being ferried into my neighborhood from the opposite direction. Fire trucks stalk the cul-de-sacs nearest the hillside, taking up defensive positions. Low-flying helicopters plot, plan, and map ahead of the advancing flames.

Some might find these sights alarming—but remember, I’m no rookie. If you wanna see bureaucracy work for a change, check out the way a California wildfire is fought.

At the office, I keep an eye on the constant coverage being provided by local TV news. Once in a while, based on their reports, I almost jump in my car to go home, but then I call my friend Shari who lives closer to the fire than I do, and she assures me she hasn’t been evacuated.

I talk with my parents who live fifteen miles from me on the east flank of the fire. They’ve been on voluntary evacuation alert since having received an recorded phone call at two in the morning. (How cool is that?)

At the end of the day, I trot on home and find things have quieted down in my neck of the woods. No more flames. Fewer fire trucks. A lot less smoke. Turns out the onshore winds have kicked up, sending the fire back against itself which is lucky for me, unlucky for the eastern flank. At six-thirty, I hear on the news that residents in the western half of my parents’ neighborhood have been told to GET OUT NOW. But an hour later, the order is rescinded.

The only thing predictable about wild fires is their unpredictability.

P.S. Cool picture, huh? Snapped it on the way to work.


John said...

If we had a fire like that in Western Washington, we would evacuate the whole side of the state and watch it from Oregon. However, the fire season is over here as it has rained for four straight days and promises to for the next ten.

Carol B. said...

Sounds like an emotional teeter-totter, the waiting and watching, that is.

Great pic.

Geri (busterize) said...

Randy, when we were building our first home in El Cajon outside of S.D., we had a terrible firestorm started below the border and ripped across the hills behind our yet-to-be completed house. About midnight neighbors called us at our apartment to tell us the fire was coming down to our property. Wiring in, no roof on yet. We rushed over and fortunately, because our horses had pretty well cleaned up the fuel, the fire just edged around our place. But it was hair-raising for awhile.