What Would You Take?

heloAs I sit here trying to feed my poor starving blog, helicopters fly back and forth at low altitude over our house, rattling the windows, a reminder that the 2,000 acre Canyon Fire, to the east of us, is under control but not out.  Wildfires are a fact of life here in Socal and the heartbeat of anyone who has lived in proximity to the many wilderness areas here is sure to accelerate at the sight of a smoke plume nearby.   And they all look closer than they are.  The Canyon Fire started 5 miles to the East of us, almostcanyon fire exactly where the devastating Freeway Complex started in 2008.  That monster burned 20,000 acres and took 190 homes, several within a mile or so of us.  We were evacuated for that fire and the 2006 fire 2 years earlier because our house is one house-row away from a wilderness area.   As a wildfire veteran, when the smoke first appeared on Tuesday, the first thing I noticed was which way the smoke was blowing.   It was not blowing over our house, which is a good thing, at least for us, but it’s no promise of safety.  In the late summer, early autumn winds shift frequently from primarily eastward offshore to Santa 0926_nws_rpe-l-corefire-wp12.JPGAna winds, which howl westward down the Santa Ana Canyon where we live.   The Canyon Fire spread rapidly eastward toward Corona, prompting the evacuation of 1,500 homes, including our good friends who live in one of the neighborhoods most closely threatened.  It is never good when you see pictures of a friend’s neighborhood on the news.

Being evacuated, leaving your home and wondering if it will be there when you get back, is an existential experience.   The first time, it’s likely that although you’ve been watching the smoke and listening to the firefighting aircraft overhead, you don’t really believe you’ll be evacuated.   But California wildfires move with stunning speed, not simply burning what’s close but filling the air with burning embers looking to ignite anything they encounter, so the order to evacuate usually comes with little warning, a police car driving through the neighborhood, announcing,  Evacuate now.  This evacuation is mandatory.   The first existential decision is whether to obey, leaving most of your possessions to the vagaries of the winds and the considerable prowess of the firefighters.  My wife and I chose to leave, which brings on the second existential question: Given a few minutes to gather and the limits of a car as a cargo vehicle, what do you take?   What, exactly, of all the things you’ve gathered, do you value most?  Like many  people, we took what documents, both paper and electronic, we could, so that we could recover our lives should the worst happen.  But beyond that, we mostly took memories, memorabilia and photo albums and hard discs with lots of photographs.   While I would not wish being evacuated on anyone, it is a moment that lets you see what’s important.

So, imagine.  A few minutes to evacuate.  What’s important to you?  What would you take?

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