This past Tuesday started out normal enough. I woke up groggy after the long weekend, and I tried to figure out what was what after a not-great-night’s sleep. Tuesday was hot and dry, and we had a wicked wind coming out of the SSE that was gusting up to 50 mph. It had started overnight and I spent my first 15 minutes awake taking apart patio furniture and moving it so it wouldn’t blow all over the yard.
We live in southern Oregon, it’s a dry region that has only gotten drier in the past decades and that has meant fires. In the two years we’ve been here, we’ve dealt with the smoke, but we’ve never had to deal with the actual threat of fire. That all changed on Tuesday.
At about 11:15 am or so I was working in my office and suddenly heard sirens. Living in a small town you hear them, but not too often, but this was a lot of sirens and they were all quite close by. I got up, went out the front door, and saw plumes of smoke that looked to be a few blocks away. I went back in the house and my phone dinged with a text message from the city. There was a fire, and it started very close by.
I went back outside and the sirens continued to roll past. Now the county sheriff’s office and the wildfire trucks were heading towards the fire. Another text message: part of the neighborhood was being evacuated, but not where I was exactly. The Interstate was closed down in both directions, and the state highway was also closed. More text messages came. I stood with my neighbors on my driveway.
Within an hour we were told by the county to evacuate, and we started to pack up the car with the things we deemed vital. After the Camp Fire in California, the fire that ravaged Paradise, CA, we had taken steps to prepare for a quick evacuation, and on Tuesday I was so grateful that we did. I got the folder with the vital papers in it, and we started to go down the list and pack the items on it in the car. We packed a few days worth of clothes, I filled water bottles and grabbed some blankets and portable chairs, and we were ready.
Then the question: where do we go? The entire west is burning, it’s a pandemic, we couldn’t really go anywhere, so we headed up the hill towards our downtown, thinking it best to get ourselves further away. Within 30 minutes the city texted to say no evacuations were necessary and we could go home. This was the biggest frustration of our day: the county and city communications were not in sync.
We went home and watched reports of the fire moving north, away from our house, we watched reports of the towns near us burning. In the evening we called family in other states so they’d know we were OK. We talked about how we felt with each other, we started to process a day that was stressful and difficult.
And in the days since I’ve continued to think about that day. The destruction of the Almeda Fire has been incredible, it’s a suspicious start and the state police came to our door Wednesday asking if we saw anything Tuesday morning. But the thing that has stuck with me is how little I truly cared about stuff in those minutes we were packing up our car. What was most important to me was us, that we were safe, that we were OK.
I also realized how doing a bit of planning, which to be honest we don’t have the full-on kit that authorities say we should have, helped us more than we could ever imagine. A folder of the things we really needed and a list of what to grab made a huge difference. It’s odd to say this, but I feel a bit better about how we’d handle this if it happens again, I feel like we figured out what really matters.