It’s been a firestorm in Northern California this past week, and I got caught in the middle of it.
We are safe and unhurt, Athena and I, but we had to leave our house behind. And on this day, the fifth day after mandatory evacuation, I do not know if it is a structure or ashes.
Until the fires stop, we cannot know or return. There is much chaos and uncertainty. And the fires, unfortunately, are spreading.
I have had better days, and I have had worse.
It’s a one-lane road in a forest, and the forest was ablaze as we drove through huge, billowing plumes of smoke. Someone, I don’t know who, had chainsawed a downed tree in the road that otherwise would have blocked our escape.
There was no way to know if the rest of the road was open, but it was the only way out, so we just kept going.
Then we came upon a fireman in a fire truck. It was still not light out yet, about 6 a.m. I was at the steering wheel, and his deep voice assured, “It is safe to go down.”
So we drove on, we and our neighbors, a calm parade of three cars.
We went next to Whole Foods, in search of breakfast and a bathroom. They were normally open at this time, but the store was closed. Not enough staff, the employee at the door explained, because so many people were being evacuated.
He added, “If you are in an emergency situation, come in and take what you need. There are no registers on, just take it.” So we did.
He would not take our money and said, “Be safe” as he unlocked the doors and let us out.
There’s been an outpouring of kindness that just keeps coming. Friends are letting us stay in their extra unit.
Other friends took us out to dinner, and family, colleagues, friends-of-friends, and people we don’t even know have offered free accommodations. Emails and texts and messages from friends around the world, guiding us with their love and support.
Family who live far away have stayed in touch every day, sending love and kindness, songs and cheerful photos, offering to give us whatever we need.
According to the New York Times, there are 8,000 firefighters using more than 550 fire engines, 73 helicopters, and more than 30 airplanes…and more. They’re working long hours, going days without sleep, and endangering their lives.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know we are surrounded by goodness, and we will work it out.
Photos from the forest, in better times: Athena Alexander
I will not be responding to comments until things get more stable. Thank you, my friends, as always.