Fire season is upon us once again in Southern California. While Montecito and Yorba Linda go up in flames, San Diegans brace for another one. Years of little rain make the land brittle and ripe. A casual cigarette tossed from a window is all it takes for the Santa Ana winds to have their way with us.
If you haven’t lived through the massive blaze and ensuing evacuation of entire cities, it is surreal from your TV set. There is no way to fully grasp the fear it instills in you.
On the ground, nothing is certain. Streets and freeways are blocked off leaving many desperately searching for a way out. The fire weaves an unpredictable path through neighborhoods leaving some houses unscathed, others leveled.
The aftermath is like something from an Armageddon movie. For days, you’re lost in a dry gray fog. Ash rains down and masks are worn for safety. Schools and businesses close. The mail goes undelivered. Bustling cities become barren ghost towns. Some families come home to celebrate their good fortune alongside families in ruins.
Our first experience with fire was five years ago. We awoke at 2:30 a.m. to pounding on our front door. It was our neighbor warning us that we had only seconds to get out. Fire trucks were racing by. Out our front window, the blaze engulfing 11 homes on the next street was four stories high and edging closer.
I shook my kids awake along with their two friends who were sleeping over, or so they thought. There was no preparation for this. There was no time to grab clothes or items of sentimental value or even food.
I reached for the one necessity: my son’s insulin kit. We piled into the two cars and suddenly it hit me. I had forgotten something very important.
“Hold on!” I yelled to my husband.
“We need to GO!” he yelled back, the car running.
I dashed in and put on my bra like a good Bostonian girl. The thought of bouncing around at time like this was unimaginable.
“What were you DOING in there?” he shouted as I came back with nothing in hand.
“I needed to get a BRA on!” I called to him.
“WHY!!!???” he cried.
“High beams!” I replied.
We all have our priorities in life. The next fire (in 2007), I was prepared. Bags were packed (fully stocked with Maidenform, I might add) as we saw the red line spreading across the mountain’s edge, knowing the fire was headed our way. Videos were taken for insurance purposes. Photos and family movies were in the trunk along with teddy bears and laptops and tax records.
Each time, we drove away taking one final look at our home knowing it might be the last time we saw it. What hits you in moments like this is an odd perception of two opposing ideas: the possibility of devastating loss and ultimate freedom.
The thought that you could lose your home and every detail of your life in a matter of minutes summons up the sadness associated with a death contrasted by a strange sense of freedom. To be unencumbered, almost “cleansed” of all the trappings of your life, is a feeling of rebirth. You take notice of all that you hold dear: your family, your friends, your life. Everything else is replaceable.
Well, except for a good bra.