Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Life Hangs in the Balance

I have lived in Southern California my whole life. The San Gabriel Valley is east of Los Angeles and nestled into the foothills. As a kid, I always knew that north was where the mountains were. And every fall, we entered into "fire season." The hot, relentless Santa Anas whip up and fuel any relentless spark and the mountains go up in flames.

While I am used to having some smoke in the air every once in a while in fall, I have never seen anything like this Station fire consuming La Canada/Flintridge. To exacerbate matters, I have friends who live near the firestorm. When the fire started on Wednesday or Thursday, I didn't pay it any mind, but by Friday night, it bacame evident that the spreading was moving more toward homes than away from them.

(photo by Robin Swanson from LA reader's photos)

This is what the fire looked like from the top of my hill, probably 10 -15 miles away.

By Saturday morning, my closest friend's family was evacuated from the canyon. Our house has become a respite and a hell for them. They have two kids, a cat, and tons of computer equipment as they both work at home. They don't know how dangerously their house is threatened. They can't get enough information on the news or the Internet specific to their exact area. They are sequestered, isolated, and even in the age of technology with iPhones and instant information in the palm of your hand, they feel so desperately unaware of how close to their home the fire is burning. Facebook is their only link to their friends still staying to fight or waiting until they are mandatorily forced out. The posts on Facebook are heart-breaking. Some people are leaving their homes for what may be the last time. Do they know if they've missed anything in their frantic rush to leave and keep their children from inhaling any more smoke?

My friend threw clothes in suitcases yesterday as the Sherriff's' cars were coming by to tell them to evacuate. She's amazing in a crisis. She has training in crisis management in a mental health setting, but when it's happening to you, you don't react as carefully. She managed on Thursday and Friday to pack all of the important papers, pictures, kids' baby books, etc. You know, the stuff you remember to take. But this morning, she cried, "I wish I brought everything." My heart sank. I can't possibly know how she's feeling.

The house is chaotic. The girls, my T2 and their 6-year-old are watching TV in the front; the boys, T1 and their 9 1/2-year-old are watching episodes of X-Men on the computer. We have make-shift beds in several rooms, make-shift offices in the dining room. Making meals is like a army KP production. Industrial quantities of paper plates at the ready.

As I support my friends, I think about how natural disasters leave us completely powerless. What would I do if I had to leave my home? I remember when I moved in here. I didn't like the house. I longed for my old house and neighborhood; as a mother with toddlers, I felt isolated and sadly lonely, away from my community. Now, five years later, we have built a circle of friends. We see our neighbors in town, at the store, and I can't imagine living anywhere else. If I had to leave I'd want to remember to pack the brick that identifies our family name near the front door, but, obviously, I'd have to leave the lemon tree. My friends worry that their house will burn in this apocalyptic fire. There won't be anything left to buy or rent in the neighborhood. They will have to start over, they fear.

I feel scared along with them because all parents live to preserve their way of life, their home and community, the routines that make their children feel safe. I am supporting them, hoping for the best.


clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh girl. This is so sad and scary. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for your friends and all the houses and families there.

Grateful Twin Mom said...

It's really coming down all the way to around JPL, not far from your old house. You'd have been covered in smoke. I hope the worst of it is over soon.