The Valley Fire and Fitting Your Life Into a Car
It felt surreal, standing in my bedroom, trying to think about what we should pack. Could this really happen? I thought. I was stuck, not really wanting to go to a lot of trouble getting things organized and packed, yet circumstances seemed to demand just that. What to take, what to leave behind, where to go if we did have to leave, these and countless other questions flooded my mind.
You may be aware of the fires that are wreaking havoc in California. One of those fires, known as the Valley Fire, started north of us in the small mountaintop community of Cobb and then exploded in multiple directions extremely quickly. Nearby communities like Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake barely had time to get out of harm’s way. Fire fighters called the intensity and speed of the fire “unprecedented.” Drought conditions, combined with hot temperatures and high winds, contributed to the disaster, which as I write three days later is still ongoing.
As of this morning (Tuesday, Sept. 15) the fire has burned over 67,000 acres, including 500 homes, and is only 15% contained.
Cobb, Middletown, and Hidden Valley Lake are all communities that are close to Angwin, where I live. We have close friends that live in each of these places. The teacher credential program at PUC, where I work as a teacher, sends student teachers to schools in these places. Clear, accurate reports of the damage the fire has caused are hard to come by, but information is trickling out that close friends are among those who have lost everything, their homes completely burned to the ground.
The fire began around 1:30 pm on Saturday, but by 6:00 pm it was already becoming clear that this wasn’t going to be your average catastrophe. Although not in the immediate vicinity of the fire, parts of Angwin were put on advisory evacuation status, with some areas of Angwin soon placed on mandatory evacuation status. My house was right on the borderline of mandatory evacuation. As Sunday turned into Monday, all we could do was stay glued to news sources and social media for clues as to the fire’s direction.
On Friday of last week, the day before the fire began, I played in a benefit golf tournament (for PUC Prep) at Hidden Valley Lake. Waiting to tee off on hole #15, an elevated tee that gives you an incredible view of the surrounding area, I remember taking it all in, including watching a glider silently flying over the valley below, and feeling relaxed and thankful. Standing on that tee box today and looking across the valley toward Cobb Mountain would be an entirely different view, a devastating view.
Forty-eight hours after the golf, on Sunday afternoon, with the fire 0% contained and headed our way, standing in my bedroom trying to think about what to do and what to pack, I was no longer relaxed. I suppose you could call it an intense choice theory moment. How do you fit your life into a couple of cars? I was struck by the choices I faced, so struck that I was almost in denial that I needed to begin packing. Rather than being panicked, though, at what our community faced, maybe I had been influenced by Glasser’s matter-of-fact approach to life. I wrote about this matter-of-factness quite a bit in his biography, but now I faced circumstances that seemed to bring the same out in me.
Pack some clothes, assemble important files and papers, box up the family pictures and memorabilia, make sure you have everything the pets will need, but so much is being left behind. If we do have to leave, I wondered, actually have to put the keys in our cars’ ignitions and drive out of the driveway, where would we go? And for how long?
Our hearts go out to those who not only had to go through this preparation, but who did have to drive out of their driveways into the unknown, especially those whose houses were ultimately completely destroyed.
We are supposed to get rain tomorrow (what a blessing!), but the wind is predicted to turn back toward us as well. We will continue to stay in touch with news sources, social media, and friends.