It began much like a smoking campfire John had spotted on one of his walks up a high ridge with his little girl Pearl, a sweet black puppy that must be loosed at times to run her heart out. I remember him telling me about a man clothed in shorts, wearing flip-flops, and looking country ragged, who suddenly joined his watch, saying how worried he was about his property nearby. That was Saturday, August 17th.
Our land was bone dry, and dangerously fragile. We kept hearing about terrible fires everywhere else, and looked at families in newscasts who had lost everything, picking through ashes and debris, hoping to retrieve some precious items.
Now it was our turn. On Tuesday, I panicked because the fire then was absolutely uncontrollable, and doubling, tripling in size overnight. John looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’re not going to freak out, are you?” I was trembling inside, but pulled my self together. Our neighbors Mike and Susie were packing boxes, and told us to do the same. The advisory evacuation order was given to all Pine Mountain Lake residents. Our dear friend Terri Schumann called to say goodbye. She was at the airport and saw how close the fire was, and then received a knock on her door that meant mandatory evacuation. She and her son Will stayed with her daughter Hope. Her husband Brad was working at a construction job in Salinas, and told her to take important papers and get out of there.
The next day it was John who panicked as we looked at the skyline from Dunn Court Beach where massive smoke plumes were exploding “just over the ridge” it seemed. He turned and said, “Maybe we should leave now. I don’t want to get trapped here!” I reasoned with him, and said, “We aren’t trapped. There is a way out. Let’s wait for the knock on the door.” From then on, that’s what we did. But we did dream a of a log cabin we could build because our insurance would cover us to half a million dollars! That was during one of our daily debriefings in the hot tub. Then we thought, but there would be no trees, and we would have to start landscaping from scratch. That killed the daydreaming scenario, and we just told the Lord how much we loved the home we had, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Every day I obsessed on tracking the fire, combing through two websites to see where it had spread, reading maps and data, and trying not to lose hope. The Rim fire, as it was called because it started at the “Rim of the world Vista”, brought us to the edge of life’s possessions, the gathering of things that became precious to us only because of the people and events attached to them. We had boxes packed and our little trailer was ready to go. A television crew from CBS interviewed John one day and expressed surprise at his calm attitude, commenting that he had a “Zen” attitude about our possessions, and home. They took pictures of our garage, and noted that it wasn’t packed to the gills. Case in point: we have a small car and trailer.
The first week passed and the fire was only 2% contained, but the evacuation order for PML was lifted. We couldn’t really breathe a sigh of relief because a thick curtain of smoke was there to greet us every morning, instead of sunny blue skies. It had been a tense week, and I eased it by cooking and baking everything within our larder. John did a lot of hikes with Pearl to relax. Our granddaughters Jessie and Viki came for the next weekend, and were startled by the amount of smoke still surrounding us, and that they could see flames burning in the distance from our deck. We invited Tom Radonovich and his triplet daughters over for dinner so they could play either volleyball or foosball. They actually preferred to play with Pearl, their dog Maizie’s littermate.
The fire crew numbers grew to 5,000 before they could dig their trenches and fire breaks, and get it to 35% containment. Governor Brown officially declared a state of emergency and more funds became available. We learned that Berkeley Family Camp burned to the ground, but the Thousand Trails Camp and store had been spared. Of course they had no power, and lost all their refrigerated items. Our friend Tina still had her job and little trailer home. The fire miraculously had burned all around the property.
An amazing number of “hotshots”, the recon division of firefighters, risked life and limb, but thankfully no one had to pay the ultimate price. It was definitely a war!! Planes were called in to bomb the fire with retardant, and even a DC-10 came to the rescue, as well as military helicopters to drop water and a drone with infra-red vision to locate hot spots at night. They brought the fire to its knees, and finally it was 80% contained. No more structures were in danger and only a handful of homes had been lost to this voracious fire. “Thank You” signs popped up everywhere in town for these men who had saved our community from a major disaster.
John and I were able to help at the Food Closet that Friday, and 75 families showed up so thankful we were open. Keeping an open and grateful heart and a peaceful mind in the midst of danger and fear of loss can only be attributed to God’s grace.