Sunday, October 22, 2017
"Kevin, where are you? I need to talk to you about something important right now."
Her voice sounded off, odd, like she was uncomfortable about something. There was also an accusatory tone, as if I should be reading her mind to understand whatever the heck was going on as she bounded up the stairs. What did I do? I thought. Wait, nothing. All I knew is that we were getting ready to go to Bryce's soccer game.
"Kevin, where are you?"
"Going to the bathroom!" I called back at her.
That's when I heard a helicopter overhead. Then a plane fly by. Then the helicopter again. Then another plane. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, came into our bathroom where I was.
"There's a fire in Moore Creek down the street. We have to go now."
The "go now" part stung, as if the Mama had wagged her finger in front of me and then poked me hard in the chest. Her very being was all resolve and purpose betrayed only by the fear in her eyes.
"Sweetie, we have to pack some things and go," she said. "Our neighbor said they'll be closing the road soon."
We heard multiple firetrucks and police cars scream by us down the highway. The helicopter and planes flew overhead again. Moore Creek was right at the end of our street, where other friends of ours lived, whose children went to school with our girls. The property behind us lined with eucalyptus trees had ground cover as dry as kindling and most likely ready to go up in flames if the fire reached it. One of the eucalyptus had fallen into a neighbor's house over the last rainy winter, and when we saw the two feet of tree debris all over the ground soaking wet, we knew at some point it would dry out and be quite combustible.
"I have to pee first!" was all I could say to the Mama. Because I did, before I did anything else. Then I could get moving.
She went into our closet and came out with our home safe, full of important family paperwork among other things. It's a heavy little sucker, and yet, it was if she were holding a newborn close to her chest.
"Okay, that's fine," she said. "Then help me get some things together. We have to go before the road closes."
"Wait, have you heard anything on the news? Do we have to evacuate? What do we know? Let's not overreact if we don't know exactly what's happening."
"I only know that we have to go," she said.
That was enough for me.
Ten minutes earlier it was just another Saturday. Soccer games and errands and family time in between. Now there was a fire down the street, how serious we didn't really know yet. We do get local Nixle alerts, but there had been none yet notifying us of anything including whether or not we should evacuate. And considering all the wildfires north of us in Santa Rosa, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes, we weren't going to take any chances.
Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? We have disaster plans, at least frameworks to work within in order to get out, to meet up elsewhere if separated. Extra food and water in the garage if trapped at home. And so on. I carried the safe downstairs.
"Sweetie, get the suitcase for me," the Mama called down.
"I will. I'm going to pack the computers and devices for us."
"Yes, please do."
The girls had already been calmly tasked to pack a few things they wanted to bring. They were stuffed animals and a few toys, of course.
"Is our house going to burn down?" Beatrice asked.
"No, honey, but we need to be safe and go somewhere else for a while just until the firefighters put the fire out."
While the Mama kept packing I started to load our car. The Cal Fire helicopter and planes kept circling and dropping water on the mountainside and I could see the smoke for the first time, although I couldn't smell it. More first responders raced down the highway with sirens blaring. Many people were outside including our neighbors, some of whom walked down the street to investigate further. A Nixle alert did appear on my phone, but only to say the highway was now closed due to a fire and to stay tuned for more updates. Nothing about evacuation.
"What about the guinea pigs?" the girls had asked.
Prior to knowing the fire was more or less out, the question of what to do with the guinea pigs came up. Their cage would fit in the car, that wasn't a problem, but if we ended up stranded somewhere, there was no way we could keep them in the car. It would be too hot. And the eventual smell of course. Maybe we could drop them off at a friend's house. Or maybe we just couldn't take them with us. Thankfully we didn't have to end up making that call.
Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? Your family, maybe your pets if realistic, and a few critical items like important paperwork, medicines if any, computers and/or devices, some clothes and toiletries. Everything else has to stay -- and you have to go. Now. While we packed our stuff I remembered looking at all our family pictures hanging on the wall and thinking I have all of these digitally, so we can print them again.
We did end up going on with our day as planned, but it felt off, odd, like the tone of the Mama's voice when she first called to me upstairs only 30 minutes earlier. Should we have stayed and waited to ensure things didn't flare up again and that we'd really have to evacuate? Once we were away from our house without the stuff we packed, there would be no way to get back if things went south, and everything could've been lost.
But it wasn't. It was just another Saturday. God bless those who have lost.
The next morning the Mama said to me, "You know what?"
"We forgot the key to the safe when we packed everything up."
"Again with the keys," I said.
The Mama laughed. "But it's not like we couldn't have broken into it. It's not that great of a safe."
"That's comforting," I said.