The Holy Fire. That’s what it is called. That’s why we left. To get away from the raging flames and smoke of it all. The Holy Fire.
Ash was falling on us as we packed the vehicles. I made my eight-year-old close his eyes when we walked out to leave, so none would get in his eyes as it had mine moments before. The fire had grown quickly.
Nobody was telling us to evacuate that day, but we fled the fire.
Not one to mess around with unhealthy air when I have a child with asthmatic tendencies, I agreed with my husband when he suggested we leave and go to his moms for the night. I told my older children to pack what was important to them as long as it would fit in the car. I told my youngest to pack the toys he wanted to take to Nani’s for a few days. I gathered important papers and photo albums. My homeschool paperwork as well, because who wants to have to redo all that work? I even managed to pack some clothes. As the fire was growing quickly I didn’t spend much time on clothing choices. Clothes can be replaced.
We didn’t take the lizard.
We thought we would be home in the next day or two and he would be all right for that long. We took the dogs, of course. After two hours we were packed and ready. One full car and one fairly full van pulled into my mother-in-laws driveway in time for dinner. By most accounts we didn’t need to leave. By bedtime our neighbors were deciding to stay up and watch to see if the fire made it over the ridge of the mountains onto our side. We headed to bed, calm, knowing our family was safe and we didn’t need to listen for bullhorns in the night telling us to evacuate. Even so, we kept checking our community Facebook page for news and texting with the neighbors on our street who were making sure that no one slept through any announcements.
They are ways to stay informed.
One good thing about social media is the immediacy of information. Word spread about how to get updates on the fire. Word also spread about why it was called the Holy Fire. Named for where it began in Holy Jim Canyon, there was nothing “holy” about it. I guess there was nothing holy about Jim, either. “Holy Jim” became a sarcastic nickname for a man they used to call “Cussing Jim,” or something to that effect. It can be fascinating to learn the story behind a name. The Holy Fire took on its own connotations as it spread from 700 acres, to 1200, to 4000 acres with zero containment. And still it grew.
To leave or not to leave.
Some left when Voluntary Evacuations were called. Others started to pack in case evacuation became mandatory. Still others remained determined to stay no matter what. They patrolled the neighborhoods, watched over everyone’s homes, and tried to help the trained professionals. The vote is mixed as to whether or not those that stayed should have stayed. It depends on who you ask. Civilians blocking the road so that emergency personnel are impeded is not good. Civilians sheltering in place, staying out of the way, and being otherwise helpful may be seen as not so bad. As I understand it, most of those who stayed did evacuate any young children they may have had. The air was hazardous.
The order for mandatory evacuations was a mute point for us.
We had already left. Quite frankly we had a strange sense of calm having distanced ourselves from the fire early on. Yet knowing you aren’t allowed to be in your home was a bit strange. Social media was hopping. The news media was reporting it, finally, it seemed. My son’s lizard was still at home. Every time my son mentioned Zander and hoped he was alright my sweet boy had tears in his eyes. The parental discussion regarding the lizard situation intensified. We were 45 minutes to three days away, one way, depending on traffic. If you know Southern California you will understand my sarcastic hyperbole.
Saving Zander from the fire was my duty as a mom.
I had to do it. My husband agreed that since I had to be out there on the freeways anyway with my oldest daughter I could stop by and get the lizard. It sounds more important when you say his name, Zander. Simply calling him “the lizard” is far less personal. This was assuming we would be let in past the barricades at the entrance of our community. Hopefully saving a child’s pet, albeit a small reptile, would gain me entrance. The whole way there I kept praying that Zander would still be alive. I had left him plenty of water, but he was out of crickets when we left. Had been out of crickets. How long can lizards go without eating? How long had it been? Through the smoke we drove. It was surreal to see with our own eyes the difference in the fire since the day we left. It was awe-inspiring. The danger of it smacked me in the face. The bravery of the fire-fighters brought tears to my eyes.
I admit a drove past the barricade. It was pretty easy as no one was guarding it at this early point in our mandatory evacuation period. Also someone had already moved aside part of it, so the way in was clear. We drove through the quiet, ash covered streets to our house, praying to find Zander alive and in good health. It was oddly strange to walk through the ash on our steps, up to the front door, breathing air laden with smoke. Once inside I went immediately to look for Zander, my son’s lizard. I peered into his cave, praying to see him open his eyes and look at me. Nothing. Well, lizards are nocturnal, as my son often reminds me. I made enough noise to waken him and discovered all was well. The large water-thing-that-keeps-the-water-dish-filled-that-I-cannot-remember-what-to-call-it had done it’s job. We grabbed his habitat along with some other items that we wanted and left. I still forgot my hairbrush and lipstick.
We had to do it. We drove a few blocks to the park at the edge of our community. The parking lot was filled with cars of people taking pictures and video of the fire coming down the mountains towards us. I joined them. I couldn’t help it. Two fire fighters in their regular uniforms were there and I spoke to them briefly, asked a few questions and of course thanked them for their service. The picture above shows just a small portion of the Holy Fire. The firefighters are truly heroes, and we are all so very grateful for them.
As we drove back to our refuge from the fire, our place of stillness, I reflected on our many blessings. That also, is a way to find stillness. The statistic at the time of this writing is 22,714 acres burned and 51% containment. Evacuations are being lifted and new ones given. It’s not over yet. But as we begin to clean up our community and get back to our normally scheduled lives, we take a moment to be still and know that He is God; to remember that no matter what happens to our “stuff,” we have what is truly important. And that includes Zander, the lizard who survived the Holy Fire.