It started out with a little haze; I thought it was just the marine layer hanging out longer than normal. Then the smell, the one you fondly remember when camping out, but dread when living right next to acres and acres of brush-land. My husband, luckily home today, sprints up the block to the ridge and returns with the words…“It’s definitely a fire!” that was at 10:15am.
We haven’t received a warning on the phone or email, so I checked the Twitter feed of Anaheim Fire & Rescue – yep they posted at 9:57am a vegetation fire was confirmed. Weirdly enough there was a fire at that same location the previous week, so I felt like my mind was semi-prepared. The first fire moved toward the east but unfortunately today’s fire is being blown towards us due to the Santa Ana winds blowing southwest.
10:26am – Be Prepared to Evacuate – Phone alert
I call our neighbors and go to notify the caregiver for Evelyn, the 97 year old who lives below us. As I go outside the sun is eerily shadowed by the veils of smoke now reaching us, the smell is getting more intense.
Texts and calls go back and forth from neighbors. One call is to possibly grab Sandy’s dog if she can’t get home. Another is from Julian to check on his fiancé who isn’t answering. He’s stuck on the freeway and won’t be home in time, he said she will be afraid. Everyone is good and on the move, time to pack.
We have a list of important things to take in case of an emergency. Like a fire or that inevitable earthquake we all wait for in California. It’s a list to follow when panic takes control of your senses. I start going through it: cat/carrier/food, medicines, clothing, important paperwork. Oh and the fire box – why do I need to take that if it’s a “fire” box?
We carry labeled boxes of pictures down the spiral staircase then down the stairs to the garage. Damn view, the elevation of the condo is great for enjoying sunsets, but hell on your legs when trying to evacuate. This fact is proven when carrying a CPU, a laundry basket full of hard drives, baby books and essentials from the loft to the garage (thank you husband).
10:37am – Evacuate due to Fire- Phone alert
A calm panic now begins. We have all the picture boxes in the cars, cat carrier is loaded with cat and food, and bathroom items and prescriptions are laid out. Clothing and essential paperwork are next. I start going through my files and grab medical files, insurance paperwork and auto paperwork – not sure why I grabbed these, but at the time I felt they were very necessary. The check book, weird receipts on the desk, my address book, safety deposit key, IPad and a current client file are thrown into my briefcase.
The calm panic has now accelerated and so has my breathing. I get my suitcase out and throw in underwear, shorts, t-shirts, and the cool new black blouse with the crazy buttons – wait, what? Will I really need that? It’s an effort to stand before my closet as the panic increases and then I decide – I don’t really need any of these clothes. As an afterthought, perhaps packing a pair of jeans and maybe a sweatshirt would have been nice.
On the other side of the suitcase are the framed pictures taken from the wall and carefully wrapped in our Blackhawk jerseys? Sensibility has left the building, guess my calm plan of actually putting clothes into the suitcase went out the window. Oh crap that’s right we need to close the windows so the smoke and ash don’t saturate the inside. Too late – it smells like a bonfire in here. We do manage to get them closed and the air on before we leave.
I grab the beautiful picture book from our Italy trip last year and head down the stairs. I come back up for one more look at everything we have worked so hard for or have been given or have collected and say goodbye to it all, not knowing what will happen next.
It’s true it’s only stuff, and I’ve said it a billion times to family, friends and clients, but when taking that last look at everything my heart did hurt, just a bit. All my paintings, books, the champagne glasses we received for our wedding, the signed Bears helmet, Jeff’s train set from his youth and my box of treasures are all left behind.
11:15am – We leave our Home
We pull out just as the police go door to door and the helicopter starts a run on the ridge with a water drop. As I drive out I can see the hills surrounding us on fire and have no words.
We are safe, our cat is alive, our family pictures, clothing, jackalope and already wrapped Christmas gifts (don’t judge, they were already in the laundry basket) are safely in the back of the car. We are safe…
After spending the afternoon at my husband’s work with a few neighbors, we head out to a Sheraton who graciously allow us to bring the cat – maybe because I sounded stressed when I made the reservation or maybe because I had reiterated at least 5 times that we have been evacuated .
In the parking lot I remove the framed pictures from my suitcase to lighten my load. I drag the suitcase; carry the cat carrier, my briefcase and a backpack. My husband meanwhile lugs his suitcase, laptop, backpack and cat box.
What a sad smoky site we make!
In the room we start to calm down after ordering dinner and a bottle of wine. I look in my suitcase to see if I actually remembered to pack some pj’s. In my search I find a few items that I have no idea how they got in there. A winter long sleeve shirt – perfect for 80⁰ weather. Then there’s a spandex body shaper that you wear under tight dresses – what the? Something every evacuee needs… I guess panic also causes you to become blind when packing.
I lie in bed and try to go through every detail of the day. What would I have done differently? A phone tree would have been great! That way I’d only have to call one person with the details. Our emergency list could have been a bit more complete. Perhaps setting aside those important papers in one special spot labeled “IMPORTANT PAPERS” would have helped. I would have put clothes in my suitcase instead of framed pictures and should remember my hairbrush, because you know you can’t buy one of those…
Once again the universe opened up and reiterated the lesson it’s always trying to teach me –
WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT?
I’m getting better because I was able to walk away from everything, except those baby pictures and wrapped Christmas gifts. I was able to smile and feel blessed and grateful to be able to drive away because we were safe.
If I can share one thing with you it would be this. Walk through each room in your home, open each closet, look in each drawer and cabinet then decide – “What would I take?” What would be important enough to put in the car those last 15 minutes before leaving, forever?
It was cathartic going back to the house when the evacuation was over. Knowing I can enjoy everything in it but having the ability to lose everything without being too emotionally attached – because after all – it is only stuff.
I realized I’m surrounded by things I love but I’m not burdened by them. Which is sort of a cool way to look at life and relationships, don’t ya think?
Grateful for you and my spandex body shaper,
P.S. My heart and prayers go out in a special way for those who lost everything here in Anaheim and in Northern California. Thank you to the Anaheim Fire and Rescue and all the firefighters throughout Southern California. You worked tirelessly to save ours and 3500 other structures, losing only 80. There were 1,660 of you, plus 36 hand crews, working on 9,217 acres. You used everything you had: 21 aerial support resources, 8 dozers and 255 engines to protect us all. We are blessed by your courage.