Friday, March 25, 2011

Hey! Where's the Fire?

Whew.  What a day yesterday. 

I hadn’t slept well the night before so I was pretty much operating in a fog anyway.  My kids had gone to stay with my parents the day before so that I could get some work done (they’re on spring break).  After finally falling asleep at 3 AM on Wednesday night, I was looking forward to picking up the kids and just spending a quiet day at home on Thursday.

That wasn’t meant to be. 

First of all, after the kids got home, I noticed a really strange man I’d never seen before, wandering around the neighborhood.  He was wearing a backpack and carrying a small camera and kept wandering around the streets around my house, stopping every once in awhile in someone’s driveway, looking, and then walking on.

If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn he was casing the neighborhood.

I talked to my neighbor across the street who was having a garage sale.  She said she hadn’t noticed him, but as we were talking, he came up the street again.  Her son said hi to him, but he didn’t make eye contact and just kept walking

I made the grown-up decision to call the non-emergency line at the police department and have them come out and take a look.

About 15 minutes after that, my neighbor called me and said, “You should step outside.  Do you smell smoke?”

I had noticed the faint smell when I was out talking with her a little earlier, but this time when I walked out...I could barely breathe.  It was obvious that it was blowing in from somewhere as the street kept getting foggier and foggier.

But from where?

She decided to pack up her garage sale and go drive around to see if she could find the source.  In the meantime, I got online to see if there was something going on around me.


About 10 minutes later, my neighbor called to inform me that a grass fire had broken out in the (very) dry land just to the south of our neighborhood.  She said that once she drove to the edge of the area...she couldn’t see anything through the smoke.  I wasn’t panicking quite yet because I kept thinking, “If we’re really in danger, surely they’ll do a reverse 911 or something.”

That changed when she told me the police had barricaded the entrance to the neighborhood and weren’t letting anyone come back in.

Screw the reverse 911.  I’m outta here.

I told the kids to dump the bags they had had packed the night before and put 3 days worth of clothes in them.  It was then that I really started to notice how full of smoke the inside of my house was.  I ran around and grabbed my computer (because it has pictures on it), my video camera bag (because it had the tapes in it), and my photo album of my husband that I keep next to my bed.  I threw clothes in a bag and pets in the car and we were bolting out of our house within about 10 minutes.

As we started getting out of our neighborhood, cars were flooding the main road, packed with dogs and boxes.  There was a line of cars trying to get in and the flashing emergency lights looked unusually bright through the fog of smoke.

And like a 5-year-old...I ran to my parents’ house.

By the time we got there, the news was reporting on the 5:00 news that the fire had burned 120 acres.

By the 6:00 news it had burned over 1200 acres. 

Forty mile an hour winds and hardly any moisture this winter has made the state of Colorado the ideal place for a beginner fire to really show what it’s made of.  I watched in utter disbelief, the live shots of the area surrounding my neighborhood turn black and charred.  I watched as the flames barreled through the dry grass to within feet of a home...where a firefighter would be spraying it down to spare it.

No homes were destroyed in this fire.  Unbelievable.

The news crews showed shots of it snowing...yes, snowing...because the fire had gotten so hot, it was like it was creating its own weather system.  I wanted to hug the meteorologist through the TV when she said the winds had shifted and would start dying down within the next few hours.

What happened yesterday has been a fear of mine since my husband died.  I mean a’s a very real fear for everyone.  But I always wondered what would happen if I was ever faced with an emergency like that.  I am one adult taking responsibility for three kids and, if I can manage it in an emergency situation, two pets.  I’ve always wondered if I had it in me to do what needed to be done.

As with many things in widowhood, we get tested and, most of the time, we exceed our own expectations.  Once the moment of panic is gone, there is usually a moment where we just feel...well...proud of ourselves for doing what needed to be done and stepping up to the challenge.  We all know that life can change in an instant and as I drove away from my house yesterday, I knew that if it should all go up in smoke...I would make sure that we would still be okay.

Today, I went to the ridge at the southern border of my neighborhood and took in the black landscape where a few spots are still smoking (the fire is 95% contained).  Until I saw it, about 2 miles from my house, I don’t think I realized how close to the “edge” we really were.  As scary as it was to look at, I took a deep breath of the smoky air and knew that I had done it.  The question “what would you pack if you only had 5 minutes to get out of your house?” had been asked and answered.

And as my 5-year-old reached for my hand in the dark last night while we fell asleep at my parents’ house...I knew I had gotten everything that I needed.

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© Catherine Tidd 2011

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