The following post was previously published in The Fresno Bee on Saturday, September 12, 2020.
“We have to get out of here today,” my sister buzzed around in her Bass Lake cabin kitchen while our kids played and dogs ran around outside. It was around 8:30am. Her husband was already making neighborhood rounds to help a 90+ year old couple collect their things from down the street. My husband stood at the back door with coffee and looked up at the red (yes, red) sky. “This is not good,” he said to me. There were no official evacuation orders in place, but everyone needed to leave. Right then.
“Get the kids dressed and loaded up,” I told my husband. She and I walked down to the dock to protect equipment and property. No flames could be seen from anywhere, but ashes were falling like rain. The second we blasted ash away with her leaf blower, they piled up again. It was useless. We (mostly she, as I didn’t know what the heck to do and basically just followed her instructions) covered and anchored a boat. We then rolled up and carried one of those crazy-heavy ‘Neptune’s Island’ water mats back up the hill to her cabin. Because — save the lake mat, right?!
Strange things happen in your brain when you’re scared but trying to remain calm.
The kids were ready to go and my oldest daughter’s eyes were wide with worry. “Is the fire coming here? Is the house going to burn?” Here we go, I thought. “We are all safe, just do what we say.” Bags were loaded. Kids were loaded. The fridge was unloaded. “We are taking all this food back with us!” my sister asserted. (I didn’t push back… the brisket my brother-in-law made the night before was too good to leave there.)
As we drove away from what was supposed to be a fun family weekend, I looked at their American flag and literally prayed for there to be a ‘next time’ there — for everyone affected in the area, for longtime friends and strangers I’d never meet. The kids kept asking questions as we drove down the hill and back onto 41. I kept saying “We are all safe,” and then continued to add, “Do I look worried? (No.) So if I’m not worried, then why are you worried?” But man, was I worried.
Just fake it for the kids, I thought…. because that’s what parents do. Don’t cry, panic or scream until there’s really something to cry, panic or scream about. [NOTE: At the time of this writing, everything is still standing and reportedly safe in that specific area.]
I am thankful for our safety. I am heartbroken seeing pictures of the tragic devastation and reports about how so many people lost so much in other areas. I am still worried, because I know that this will likely happen again to all of us — in another area, at another time, concerning livelihoods and properties that might next time personally belong to me. (Which explains why I promptly packed bags of sentimental items and made a ‘things to grab’ list as areas in Southern California are burning very near to me now, too.)
And while I’m willing to fake feeling in-control of almost everything for the kids, I refuse to fake any respect towards decades-long, poor statewide leadership whose accumulated and devastating policies continue to cause too many of these tragedies. That, I tell my kids the truth about. Always.