This post is adapted from my article “How I was evacuated and nearly arrested” in the 9/18/2012 Lassen County Times
I was at work when we heard over the dispatch radio there was a fire on Cheney Creek Road where I live. My 21 year old son, Zeke, was home, but he doesn’t have a car. I grabbed my keys and bolted.
“Don’t forget your camera,” Sam, my editor, called, so I snatched up camera bag with one hand while calling Zeke with the other. Once I talked to Zeke and knew he was safe, I relaxed a bit.
Up at the house, we stood outside and watched the cloud of smoke billowing over the next hill. Every now and then a tongue of flame leapt up. It seemed like it was time to get packing, Fortunately, due to the advice of a retired fire chief (thank you TAB), we were pretty well prepared so we threw a few things together, gathered up the dogs and cats. As we were packing, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and told us it was a voluntary evacuation, but it was probably a good idea to leave. I thought so too.
I’ve never had to evacuate my home before, and while Zeke and I had the necessities ready to go, I found myself going through the house, grabbing family photos, my mother’s childhood diaries, the fossil rock my oldest son had found and given me, the cheap dinner plate with a painting of the house I grew up in. It’s true what people say—material things like clothes, jewelry and knick-knacks become meaningless. The things that are irreplaceable are those that hold memories.
As we left I stopped and took a few photos of my house in case I wouldn’t see it again.
We drove down the driveway and at the bottom found it blocked by a highway patrolman. I turned off the engine and got out to learn the latest update. He told me the fire seemed to be getting under control and there was probably no need for us to leave, although he did suggest we stay close to home.
I tend to believe authority figures. If a person is in a uniform and official car, I figure they must know what’s going on. So we turned around and went back home, put the animals in the house and sat on the front porch and ate some mint chocolate chip ice cream.
The fire did, indeed, seem to be dying down. There were no more flames and the smoke appeared to have lessened. Helicopters and planes flew overhead dumping whatever it is they throw on fires, and fire trucks continued to race up the road, but all in all, we felt safe.
Around four o’clock, the fire looked like it had diminished even more. I had left work undone at the office, articles that hadn’t been printed out or finished, so I decided to head down, take care of my unfinished work, grab some Chinese food to go and come back home.
At the bottom of the road I saw all my neighbors parked along South Street and a handful of sheriff’s deputies who didn’t seem happy to see me. The evacuation had gone from voluntary to mandatory, and I had no idea.
“I need to go back up and get my son and my animals,” I said.
“You’re not going back up there,” the deputy answered. “But I’ll go get your son.”
“And my animals.”
“The animals stay there.”
That’s where things started to go poorly. My animals are like family. “No,” I said. “They come.”
“They do not,” she answered.
I didn’t think. It was a visceral, gut reaction. I slammed the car into reverse and started spewing dust. The sheriff leaped in her car and swung around blocking my way. She jumped out. “Lady, I’m going arrest you, put you in jail and impound your animals and you’ll have to pay to get them out.”
That probably should have deterred me, but sometimes, I can be mouthy. Not a good thing when dealing with authority.
“You’re overreacting,” she said, “Making a mountain out of a molehill.”
She was right. The fire was contained, the house was no longer in danger. I knew that, but somehow I didn’t care.
I called Zeke and told him to get the animals together and head on down the road. The deputy left to pick him up and when she drove back a few minutes later, Zeke, the dogs and the cat were in the car with her. Yogi, my problem dog had peed in the back seat.
“Your son is a lot more level headed than you are lady,” the deputy said. “You could learn something from him.”
And I did learn a few things. Not so much about my son. Like most mothers, I tend to think my two sons and step-daughter are the most wonderful people in the world. Zeke is level-headed and has always been wise beyond his years.
What I learned is how many people cared about us. The phone rang constantly with offers of help and places to stay. After a while I couldn’t answer them all, but I was touched. People say when you hit hard times or a crisis, you find out who your friends really are, and people I hadn’t heard from in ages called to make sure we were okay. When the excitement died down, I found even more friends reaching out on Facebook, through emails or text messages.
And I learned in spite of a regular meditation practice, tai chi and positive affirmations, I’m still really crappy at handling stress.
I owe an apology to the sheriff’s department. They were doing their job, and I did overreact which didn’t help. I’m sorry my dog peed on the seat of the cruiser.
Thank you to all the firemen and firewomen who have been working so hard this summer.
And thanks to the sheriff’s deputy for not arresting me.