Friday, November 18, 2011

Speaking of being prepared...

"If your home was threatened by fire, what would you take?"

I seem to remember being asked this question at least a dozen times in my life. School councilors, ecclesiastical persons, and random chit-chat have brought it up in hopes of gaining insight into my personality. Even though I always had thoughtful or witty answers, I was lucky because I had never been put in a position where I ever actually had to implement my responses... until last night....

Last night my hubby came home from work and told me that one of his coworkers was going to the Breaking Dawn movie, and she had offered to let me tag along with her group. I was so excited! I admit I love the Twilight books, and I really wanted to see the movie- but not bad enough to do an opening night solo. I took the opportunity to go with Kurt's coworkers and had a wonderful time! And then, the movie ended and I walked outside to see something like this...

I did not take this picture, but this is what it looked like. Except... I was closer. And as I stared at the fiery blaze I realized my home was dangerously close...

I grabbed my phone and saw that my husband had texted me to call him as soon as I could. He added a smiley face. To anyone who ever gets a smiley face from my hubby: it doesn't mean good things. I dialed the number and as soon as he answered I asked if our home was alright. Kurt told me that the house was fine, we had no power, but our neighbors (all of whom know the area much better than we do, as we have only lived there a short time) were outside looking around and assuring one another things would be okay. He told me the fire was not close to our home, and assured me the fire appeared worse than it really was.

As I drove home I tried to feel comforted by Kurt's calm words. However, the closer I drove to our home, the more it became apparent that things were much more serious than we had realized. By the time I got home the hilly landscape had changed the view of the fire. Smoke was everywhere, and was as thick as a dense fog. The sky was lit an eerie orange, and there were people parked along the streets, cars still running to help the passengers keep warm. The first wave of evacuations had been sent to our street.

I went inside. Kurt smiled and reassured me that the neighbors had told him things were fine. I told him things were not fine, and the fire was much closer than they were seeing. Kurt half smiled, and explained that he had believed there may have been more danger than the neighbors were admitting, and had already packed bags and loaded them into his truck. With small flashlights in hand (Carter- where did you put my ultra awesome and super expensive flashlights, or my super crazy leet headlamps?! You will be getting yet another lecture on not touching Mommy's things!) we carefully loaded our pets first and tried to make them as comfortable as possible. We then calmly woke our beautiful children. We explained there was a fire outside, and that we were safe- but it was important that we leave before the fire got too close. We had a pretty sobering view of the fire from our second story- we could see the flames lapping at the blackened sky, devouring trees, and moving hungrily down its chosen path. It was frightening, to say the least. Carter was fascinated by it, and wanted to sit and watch. Harrison was terrified. As calmly and gently as we could manage, we dressed and bundled the boys, and snapped them into their car seats. I handed them my phone, the Netflix app playing Gnomeo and Juliet, to keep their sleepy minds occupied and calm while Kurt and I finished last minute tasks. By this time the police had moved the safe zone away from our street and we knew that leaving was the right thing to do. Evacuations occurred shortly after.

Children, pets, and a few belongings in tow, we stopped and asked ourselves, "What do we take?" Kurt and I did not panic and did not rush, but we were quick and divided ourselves in order to gather things that we felt we needed. We did not communicate much, as I was busy preparing the children and Kurt was checking on the neighbors and offering assistance to other families.

When our family arrived at a local hotel (close enough to run home if possible yet far enough to be safe) we unpacked. The question: "What would you take?" was answered:

  • Family (spouse? CHECK! children? CHECK!)
  • Pets (2 cats and a parakeet in a pear treeeee... or a box... and food for them all)
  • Lockbox Documents (Birth Certificates, Social Security cards, Passports, Insurance info, etc)
  • Necessary Clothing (One set of clothing each)
  • Portable Electronics (Cell phones with chargers, Xoom with charger, laptop with charger, Kinde)
  • Snacks (Kids love midnight snacks- I thought it would help make the evacuation feel more like a party)
  • Scriptures... three sets?!

I had no idea that Kurt had already packed each of our sets of personal scriptures. He had no idea that as I did a final walk through and wondered what I really needed and I grabbed a set of scriptures. Between us both, we grabbed three sets of scriptures. Wow... that really says something about what we feel we really need!

Gathering one another and our children was a given- there was no way we could have gone without every member of our little family. Our pets are part of our family, so of course they came too. Because we evacuated with the first big wave, we were able to take the time to gather our pets and their necessary comforts. We all smelled like thick foul smoke, and we would need a change of clothing. Because the children had not eaten since dinner, we knew they would be hungry and we brought snacks. Keeping our important documents safe from harm is vital, so those were not a real choice, they were a necessity. So we had these things, and our scriptures- and we felt complete enough to leave our home.

The boys played "Fire Chief Command Center" in our room.

As I write this I am in a hotel room. I am surrounded by chaotic activity of children and cats, with a seemingly never ending chorus of parakeet chirps. I would swear my children have never been louder or more crazy, but the truth is that we are not used to sharing such a small space. I feel like it is very important for us to stay together, or I would suggest that we leave. Kurt cannot leave the hotel. Verizon Wireless, realizing that many of their employees were displaced, asked Kurt to see that families that had been evacuated be comfortably sheltered at our hotel- and his management and corporate card are needed here for the next few days. I would complain, but the truth is that Kurt loves helping and was thrilled when Verizon asked him to help out, and it makes me happy to see that Kurt is happy.

The fire blazed. We turned on the news and were speechless. The devastation was horrible. We had no idea where it was, and the updates were slow. We couldn't help but worry. Although the most important things in the world were with us in our hotel room, we still couldn't help but feel concern for all we had left behind: my children's first blankets and a few of their baby clothes, my grandmother's quilt, Kurt's letter jacket and dozens of medals and patches, our children's most favorite toys and costumes, my beautiful tapestry from Brugge, decades worth of journals and pictures. Things that had no monetary value, but things that could never be replaced. We tried to keep comfort, praying we would be able to handle whatever the outcome may be. We watched the news, and our hearts stopped every time our street was mentioned. The fire was a block away from reaching our home.

It has been less than twenty-four hours now. Although the fire is still not contained, the firefighters are hopeful that we may all be able to return to our homes tomorrow.  Growth has stopped, and crews are going to be on sight all night to put out hot spots and try and maintain the security of our homes. The news coverage of the fire team reports there are still about 2000 homes in danger. The local police are patrolling, keeping people away from danger zones and monitoring for suspicious activity. There is a lot of concern for theft, due to the lack of power shutting down security systems in such a large area full of empty homes with loot for the taking. It makes me ill to think that someone could take advantage of this situation, and rob those of us who have been displaced or take from those who have already lost so much- really, makes me sick. I pray fervently that our homes remain safe.

I have been overwhelmed with the support that has been offered to us by our friends and by members of the community. My homeschool group showered us with offers to help. Our Bishop's wife called and invited us to stay in their home. My good friend Joni offered to let us come and hang out at her house so the kids could run around. A new friend of mine, who shares many of our same dietary restrictions, offered to have us over for dinner- knowing that eating out often leads to uncomfortable contamination, and she wanted to help us feel as comfortable as humanly possible. Verizon Wireless has paid for rooms for every employee displaced by the fire, and the members of the district have called often to check on the status of our home and ask how we are doing. The hotels and casinos in the areas slashed their prices (or offered rooms at no cost at all) so that evacuations could be more affordable to families. The customer service clerk at our hotel greeted us warmly, and offered guests little comforts like toothbrushes and extended check out times. My father and mother called and offered us the use of their home. The abundant spirit of giving and overwhelming generosity have been simply astounding. We are so very blessed to live in such a wonderful community, where people come together and try and help one another during these difficult times.

Tonight, regardless of what happens to our home, I can sleep soundly knowing that the things on this earth that truly matter are here and safe. And that, is something to truly be thankful for.

We are happy, healthy, and here.

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