Since about July 17th we have been experiencing what it feels like to have your home threatened by wildfire. We have experienced wildfire all around us the last 10 yrs and the miseries of the smoke from them, but this is the first time we have actually been in the immediate path of a wildfire that for a time was moving frighteningly fast. In the midst of that time we get to see the worst possible scenario happening south of us in Redding, CA. So if we need any reminder of what can happen – we have it every day on the news.
We raked debris and carefully cleaned our roofs and gutters and positioned sprinklers on them that would reach beyond the roof to the surrounding foliage below. I gathered carriers and food for the cats and chickens and put valuable papers and mementos in a quickly movable container… We went through the whole thing as if it were going to happen to us – at any moment – because it obviously could. The evacuation zones moved slowly closer to us until it got to our road – just a quarter mile north of us. A good friend was evacuated from her land rather suddenly – going from the lowest level (Get Ready) warning on Monday – to a “GO” level on Tuesday with no chance to “get set”…
And then things began to turn around. The winds stopped pushing it toward us and bit by bit over the next couple days they started making serious headway. Today the air is still rank with smoke – but the morning report was very good. The “containment line” has spread to include this whole side of the fire where most of us live, and although we know it’s not over, we are all breathing more easily (except when we are outside… ).
The experience reminded me a bit of big snow storms and having your power off. Suddenly your whole focus in life becomes the present moment and doing what you need to do to survive that moment. It was impossible to get involved in a project or do something that took anything but minimal brain power – because the whole focus was on “what is the fire doing now?”. It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon when I began to actually feel released from the necessity to continually check on the fire – that I could look around me and see things that needed doing and have the head space to actually do them.
The thing I always feel is interesting in a large scale natural “disaster” such as this is the way it affects everyone in the area, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, red neck and hippy, young and old. We are all in this together, and we all have very similar human reactions to it.
The folks coordinating the work on the fire put up a Facebook page about 10 days into the thing, where the beginning of this week, they began posting morning briefing videos and daily updates and useful information. Folks would ask questions and have a place to express their gratitude (and now and then their frustration) and it truly gave a sense of “we are all in this together”. It was a really positive experience watching the outpouring of gratitude toward those here to coordinate and fight the fire. Signs went up along the roads thanking the firefighters and continual messages of appreciation are posted online. So – although there is fear and stress surrounding us all, overlaying it is this great sense of gratitude for the people fighting to save our lives and homes and putting themselves in harms way to do it.
It was also interesting watching the evolution of the information flow from the folks running the firefighting operation to the folks whose homes they were protecting. There seemed to be a slowly evolving awareness of the fact that the more information they gave us about what was going on, the less stressed and upset and disruptive we are, and the less chance for mis-information spreading.
And so, at the beginning of the week, they began doing regular 5 am video briefings of what went on overnight and what the status is and what exactly they are planning for the day. They set up frequent community meetings where we could talk personally to the folks in charge and ask about our own personal concerns. Each day the information becomes more detailed and explicit and “richer and fuller”. And with each bit of knowledge we all find ourselves relaxing a bit more. Knowledge truly is power. I wonder that we haven’t become more aware of this phenomenon before – particularly in frightening catastrophe situations. It is NOT KNOWING what is going on that allows panic to happen, because we are endowed with terrible/wonderful imaginations. The prevailing attitude has been that the less we know the better it will be – the ignorance-is-bliss thing. But it looks like the reverse is true.
The one thing I think we may see in the coming year is a shift in how we all maintain our woodlands. Oddly enough I had gone to an all day seminar earlier this summer that had convinced me that I needed to do MORE clearing on my land and that that is a good and natural and healthy thing for the forest. I previously resisted it because I felt it was not natural and I was, of course, shooting for “natural”. What I learned was that forests used to have wildfire sweep through them every 4-10 years so the brush never had a chance to get out of hand and the fires were rarely hot enough to kill the trees. Keeping the forest relatively clear and open is what fire did. It is now our job to do this in fires place. Fire is still used often – in the yearly burning of piles of downed trees and branches and brush. But in a controlled way – in the middle of our wet rainy winters.
I also got such a sense of loving compassion from the friends who offered to put me and my cats and chickens and vehicles and houseplants up if we were evacuated. And the generous and loving offers of help and support from unexpected places. As unnerving as these last weeks have been they have also been filled with really wonderful people-connecting, community-building experiences.
And thank you dear friends!