California’s fire season has been a record-breaker. This latest wildfire, dubbed the Holy Fire, has had me keenly interested. Photos of a suburban neighborhood showed thick smoke billowing from hills overlooking the area where our son and family lived less than two years ago.
Thanks to an arsonist, the streets and buildings we visited south of Corona were evacuated as firefighters moved in and aircraft dumped water and pink retardant on homes and lawns. I’m trying to imagine that subdivision with its palm trees and irrigated lawns covered in ash and soot and a pink coating of Phos-Chek.
When the alarm came to move out, most people scrambled to collect their pets and valuables. Residents loaded vehicles with their cherished possessions, deciding quickly what to save and what to leave behind.
I remember an exercise in school in the 1960s—you have a bomb shelter and the alarm has sounded. You can only bring so many things with you. What do you take? What do you value most?
Pets of course, are the top of any emergency list, along with jewelry, money, wallets, birth certificates, diplomas, passports—stuff that’s a hassle to replace.
It amazed me that news reports said that once a mandatory evacuation order was issued in my son’s old neighborhood, residents were not allowed to return to pick up small animals. Maybe some people were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get home when the evacuation order came. I can believe that. So Cal traffic is bumper-to-bumper at any given hour.
What many forget is that much of this stuff is “safe.” Some valuables are already secured in a safety deposit boxes. Computer services such as iCloud and Carbonite back up digital records and photos that have been scanned and saved. Most all financial records are available on-line.
If I had an hour to grab things from our house and had just one vehicle to drive, my husband and I would first round up our two dogs, then I’d grab my jewelry box.
My next quandary would be the four-drawer file cabinet full of family files that took 40 years to collect, most of which is not scanned. I would grab our wedding album, photo albums and scrapbooks though I’ll admit so many bulky items would occupy half the space in the vehicle.
Original paintings, signed books, memorabilia, old toys, grandpa’s clock, family silverware, grandma’s dishes. Sometimes I think we live in a museum instead of a home.
And what of the family quilts? One of them went from Illinois to a Kansas homestead in 1868, and great-great grandma isn’t around to stitch another.
Like my ancestors packing a Conestoga wagon, there’s no room for pianos or heavy chests of drawers or desks. Very little furniture will make it out the door.
Going through such a list does separate the valuable from the clutter, and there’s plenty of the latter.
I probably wouldn’t pack my wedding gown and veil that occupy a boxes as big as half the back seat. I wouldn’t bring many clothes, either, which makes me wonder why I have such a full closet in the first place.
Almost none of attic contents will go with us, the stuff we’ve saved because we’ve never gotten around to a thorough weeding. What I’d grab in each room would be minimal because I have only two arms and so little time. All said, I’d probably wind up with an odd mix of stuff to go with my memories—things that wouldn’t hold much monetary value, necessarily: the family christening gown, the high school yearbook I edited in 1972, the handwritten cookbook my Dad gave his mother in 1937, the framed photo of my grandmother in 1904.
I wouldn’t be like the die-hard homeowners in Corona who chose to stay behind and listen for helicopters with gigantic water buckets and low-flying aircraft spewing Phos-Chek fire retardant over roofs and palm fronds and manicured lawns. I’m not brave enough to hunker down and stand my ground on dry-as-bones grass, and turn on the sprinkler system and hose down the roof and pray.
As it turned out, Corona appears to have escaped the inferno with about 50 percent of the wildfire contained, as of this writing. Residents can return to their homes.
I wonder about my son’s former neighbors as they unpack what they whisked away. I wonder if last week’s nightmare showed them what to value. I know it would me.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Dom Riccobene, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24397625