Pretty quiet week …
Most of you know that mine was among the many homes burned to the ground in the Round Fire.
This is what I’ve learned from it.
1.) My wife is a badass. Now, I suppose I didn’t learn this so much as it was reinforced by the events of last Friday. After a long day distributing last week’s paper, I picked up my two-year old and headed home. But was turned away by law enforcement on Lower Rock Creek Road due to the mandatory evacuation. I call my wife. She doesn’t answer. She’s teaching a dance class in Mammoth at Snowcreek.
So I drive back to get her. One of us needs to rescue our animals (three dogs, a cat and two goats). And I know my wife well enough to know she’s gonna make it happen, evacuation order be damned.
She drives down like a bat out of hell to Tom’s Place – well, as much as one can be a bat out of hell in a Honda Element. Knowing better than to try to reason with law enforcement at the barricade, she takes the (generally unknown to most folks) forest service access road down the hill. It’s bumpy and rutted and thank God she’s got all-wheel drive and pretty good clearance. Her cellphone is dying. It’s getting darker.
Right above Swall Meadows is a little clearing/parking area. She parks the car next to the berm and plans to run the remaining three- or four-tenths of a mile to the house. (Reason she abandons the car is because we have a larger third vehicle better suited for transport, a GMC Yukon, parked at the house.) She quickly changes out of her boots into sneakers. “I knew I was probably going to have to run, and maybe run from somebody,” she said. But as she hikes out over the berm, she sees a law enforcement officer parked about fifty feet away, just below her. There’s no way she’s going to be able to cross the road to the sagebrush dotted hill on the other side without being seen.
She has to cross the hill, cut through the neighbor’s property, cross another paved road, and then the house is just on the other side.
So she pretended she was on a walk – a very brisk walk.
The Sheriff’s Deputy sees her and lights up his siren – bloop bloop. He yells something to her she can’t understand. She replies with “I know, I know.” He tells her to “come here.” She yells “No way!” and takes off running.
He’s got to drive down and around. In that time other units are mobilized as well. But you can’t drive down and around without losing visual contact, so they lose her. She sprints to the house, hides out, calls our neighbors, who are also lingering because they’ve got livestock (chickens) and are waiting as long as possible to evacuate.
Our neighbor Janet counsels my wife to let the cops know where she is. “If you’re nice, you’ll be fine,” she advises.
So my wife heads out to the driveway and begins strategizing how to rig up the car so she can separate the back of the vehicle (for the goats) from the front.
She’s spotted by a law enforcement officer who reads her the riot act. He tells her she’s mobilized units which could otherwise be saving the elderly and infirm. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true? “We’re here to help you,” he says. Soon, three more units show up.
My wife tells him, “I don’t know the law. I do know I’ve got about 15 more minutes of light.” She tells him she’s going to load up the animals and go. At this point, he softens a bit and asks what he can do to help. She tells him to come back in ten minutes. By that time, she’ll be ready and will need some muscle to lift our large-ish pregnant goat into the back.
But just then, the first sheriff’s deputy my wife had initially eluded arrives on scene – and he’s pissed. Pissed, I’m sure, because she outfoxed him and his ego is bruised. She’s trying to jerry-rig a piece of fencing for the car and “he’s yelling at me. You know I don’t do well with that.”
Editor pauses to laugh.
He keeps asking for her I.D. and she keeps telling him to wait. Finally, he tells her to turn around and put her hands behind her back. Yes, he wants to arrest her. So she ups and bolts into the house, locks the door, opens the window, and says, “Now you’ve done it. I’m not going anywhere.”
Editor laughs harder.
“I was really pretty good. I don’t think I used the ‘f’ word.”
Law enforcement had no choice but to leave. The neighbors came running over right after (Brian and Janet, heroes both) and it took the three of them to get the pregnant goat inside. The final hurdle was gathering the cat in the dark of the house. There was no time to gather anything else. And that was that.
2.) Firefighters are badasses. This one is courtesy of John Hooper. With the police barricade preventing traffic into Paradise, Hooper and Jason Owen decided they wished to get a better view of what was going on. So they took their pickups down the county line road and up and around towards the back side of Paradise.
But just as they came around, the wind changed direction and began blowing back towards them. So they both initiated three-point turns to beat a retreat. As Owen backed his car up, a firefighter came flying out of nowhere and jumped in the pickup bed. As they screeched out of there, they saw that the place they had occupied just 15 or 20 seconds before was now engulfed in flame.
“We arrive a few minutes later or a few seconds earlier and that kid doesn’t make it,” said Hooper. “A true miracle.” So they drive back around. And this is the kicker. The kid hops out of the pickup bed, says “Thanks for saving my life,” and starts running back towards the fire line.
3.) Eric Olson is a stud. I suppose this one is to be filed under the heading of, “When you hire a pro, let them do their job.” Eric Olson (Olson Insurance Agency) was the person who put together my fire insurance policy. Once my house burned down, you might say I became more curious as to what it said. Basically, he took care of me. Far better than I would have taken care of myself had I been paying attention. Thank God I never examined the policy too closely.
4.) And finally, thanks to everyone. The support has been overwhelming. We all have our moments when we wonder what the hell we’re doing, why we’re doing it, why we’re doing it here … and then something like this happens and it all becomes perfectly clear. My takeaway from this event is not in mourning all the relics of my past that have burned up, but in celebrating the present and future of the land and the people whom I love so much.