I’d just plopped into the chair and dipped my aching feet into the pre-pedicure foot bath when every phone in the nail salon simultaneously buzzed. Emergency alert. Uh-oh, what’s up?
In SoCal on a windy, dry Monday afternoon in November, the answer is always FIRE.
One to five acres off CA-154 it said. In other words, about 10 miles away from us.
One to five acres isn’t all that much, I thought lazily, as the nail tech scrubbed my heels. But the Twitter notification came with an ominous kicker: this fire began with the same footprint as the Painted Cave Fire back in 1990, the one that burned 400 homes, ultimately jumped the 101 Freeway and made its way into neighborhoods not far from ours. We weren’t living in this house then; we were up a hill in a different part of town, living in a house that had been built after its predecessor was consumed in another fire.
Fire is a way of life here. Us old-timers remember the Sycamore Canyon fire in the late ’70’s. The CE helped a friend scavenge the site that had been his home hours before – all that was left to find in the ash was a teacup.
More recently, we’ve watched flames from the Tea Fire and the Jesusita Fire lick the hillsides across town. And then the Thomas Fire and the tragic debris flow that followed. We were mercifully unscathed every time. Grateful, but well aware that our turn might come.
It was dark by the time I arrived home with my bright red toenails. You know what else was bright red? The view out of our upstairs window.
The CE tossed a canvas bag in my direction and said “Whatever you can fit in this is what we’ll take.” The one-to-five acre fire had exploded to 3,000 acres in just a few hours.
We didn’t really think it would come to that. But we’d never seen flames from our house before and it seemed the prudent thing to do. If we’d had just five minutes we would have grabbed coats, and, of course,
But there was no evacuation order for us, so we dallied. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed by what I decided was “irreplaceable”. (Tina and Angie, you’ll be pleased to know the 20-year-old Gucci leather jacket made the cut.) I remembered to grab small bills – cash is king in an emergency – but later realized we hadn’t taken our passports. For the CE, however many books he could fit in the trunk of the car:
I gazed wistfully at my piano, and my heart tightened as I thought of our hens. What if we really had to leave them behind?
Meanwhile, the fire had roared down the mountain. Helicopters hovered overhead. The fire eventually consumed nearly 4,000 acres. They called it the Cave Fire, presumably because it started near Painted Cave Road, so named for the ancient Chumash Indian cave drawings nearby.
I think these, or at least some of these, are Mike Eliason photos:
In the last few decades, the science of firefighting has progressed to an art. I don’t know how they do it but they stopped the blaze and not one home was destroyed. Just incredible. We are grateful again, and again the silent acknowledgement: our turn could still come.
Next day, the usual ash. An eerie glow. The hills belched smoke; it looked more like a volcanic eruption than a fire. But relief: rain was on the way.
It poured that night, washing away the fire and every trace of ash. As if nothing had happened! So much to be thankful for in this week of Thanksgiving. We even ended up with snow on the mountains! God – and the firefighters – are good!
Oh – and so is my manicurist:-)