World-wide calamities that cause death and destruction have been a part of all our lives since birth. So many, in fact, we most often give them little thought beyond saying something about the suffering, sending a dollar or two to some relief operation and go back to our normal lives. That’s been our family pattern.
Until it nearly happened to us.
For the last week, a forest fire has burned hotter and hotter on a ridge Northeast of us as it crept toward our little abode by the sea. Flames by night - smoke by day. We watched from our backyard which has thick, large old-growth forest on two sides. We watched large brown plumes which rose over 100 foot tall trees. Made daily living a bit tenuous.
This flare-up - which took nearly a week to contain - was mostly in a clear cut area that burned once before. But, in the 1930's, lightening set off a huge fire near that same spot. It burned from that ridge in the Western foothills of the Cascades, down a mile or so, to stop only when flames had burned through most of our little town before reaching the Pacific shoreline. With that in mind, we’ve been more than a little unsettled.
But our pulse quickened when a sheriff’s robocall advised us to be ready for “possible evacuation.” There are three steps. First, an alert to warn to be ready to evacuate. Second, pack up stuff and be ready to go. Third, GIT! NOW!
It didn’t come to that. But it got me to thinking for the first time. What would we take? What, of all the important or valuable items - at least to us - do we load into the pickup? Food for us and Rat Terrier Winston and calico Clem - what kind and how much? Clothes - what kind and how many? Keepsakes - which ones and how many? Tools - which ones and for what use?
We have a standing 190-year-old clock. Do we take that? Or use the space it would occupy for more food and water? Computers? Which one and what peripherals? A dozen or so family albums and boxes of old, one-of-a-kind pictures. Take ‘em? Or leave ‘em? Books autographed by authors now gone. Take ‘em? Original and signed artwork? Barb’s many watercolor paintings? Basic kitchen utensils? Which ones and how many? Sheets, blankets, shoes, underwear, socks, first aid supplies, bottled water? How about bank records, office files, battery chargers, bottled water?
While all these questions filled our heads, we watched the smoke billowing over those very tall, old-growth trees and wondered if any progress was being made on the fire lines. If not, when would the order come to start packing? Or to “bug out?”
Very few seaside homes have air conditioning. So, on warm nights, you turn on a fan or two and sleep with the windows open. Which meant, during those warm nights, we slept with the ever-present smell of smoke. Not the recommended aid for a good night’s sleep.
In the end, 300 firefighters, several aircraft and a lot of ground equipment took care of things. We could breathe easier and stop thinking about all those questions. This time. But, what about next time? And, given the amount of forest we live near and the vagaries of coastal weather, there will be a next time. Will we have learned anything, answered all those evacuation queries and be wiser for the recent experience? Or will we relax a bit and say “Well, that was interesting and someday we’ll have to think about all that.”
I’d like to believe we’ll keep reviewing the activities of the recent days and come up with some good decisions. One by one, those questions require a lot of prioritizing. Maybe it’s time to give some of those things to the family inland ‘cause they’re going to wind up with them eventually. Maybe we need to cut down on some of the keepsakes and re-evaluate what we really need around us at this later time in life.
All this may sound unimportant to you because you may have never been faced with the loss of your home and valuables. Even so, it might be wise to look around your own abode, imagine some threatening situation arises in a life and property threatening crisis and answer some of those questions we’ve been wrestling with in case you’re ever faced with a fast exit.
Calamities almost always happen to the other guy. What if, someday, you’re the other guy?