Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hot times in the old home town

When Emie and I planned our trip to Disneyland for our anniversary, we didn't even know the half of what we were going to get!My mother was the first from our group to hear about the Jesusita fire. In her words:

So, there we were at Disneyland, in line for the Toy Story ride, and I was checking Facebook on my PDA when I saw that a couple of friends here in SB had posted notes about a new fire in the SB foothills. I wanted to know more about it!! So, I checked a couple of usually reliable sources, and really couldn't find anything much - - - the fire was only a couple of hours old. When we finally located it on a Google map, it was just a tiny spot somewhere in Southern California.

What began as a small spot many miles away from home became a cause of much fear and alarm in the coming days. It was our actual anniversary, May 6, and we were visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo. We had debated between the Zoo and the Botanic Gardens, but I decided the Zoo would be better, since it's right next to the ocean. I had it all planned - A romantic walk on the beach to watch the sunset on the ocean followed by dinner at the Beachside Cafe.

It was as we got up from eating our lunch that we noticed the massive plume of smoke rising to the north. Having lived through the painted cave fire when I was a kid, my panic instincts started to kick in - this actually looked WORSE than the clouds that were gathering over the T-ball field those many years ago. Calling Mom (with interference from the smoke making the call cut out constantly), she told us that a mobile home had just gone up in the blaze, but it was nothing to worry about.

A few minutes later, we heard a zoo employee on his cell phone telling his family "I don't care what the police say, it's getting worse fast and I want you out of there! I'm coming to meet you at . . ." My panic rose. With my body on fight-or-flight mode (Emie, meanwhile, calmly wandered through the zoo's snake house), a romantic walk was out of the question, so I decided it would be better to just head back to my parents' house before things got any worse instead of our beach walk.

We checked in on the fire and didn't seem to be in immediate danger, so we went to the Elephant Bar instead. We returned hours later after some less-than-stellar service and realized that the fire could now be seen from our front door. It was on a distant hillside, true, but it was a frightening sight. We knelt together in family prayer and I called upon God to send His angels to fight the blaze, asking Him to use his power over the winds and elements to fight the flames. We felt somewhat better but the fire was still too close for comfort.

Emie went to bed and was sleeping soundly while my mother and I stayed glued to the news watching the blaze spread and destroy people's homes and lives. The Botanical Gardens were burned, striking a personal sorrowful note - I was glad we hadn't been closer to the fire, but sorry Emie never got to see the Gardens in their splendor. Mandatory evacuation zones expanded and multiplied quickly - the sundowner winds were taking their toll. Dad was out-of-state on business, but assured us that he had, while praying, gotten the distinct impression from the Spirit that we would not have to evacuate.

I tried to get back to sleep, but couldn't - it can be tough to share in that same Spirit of safety when you're scared to death. When I next emerged, Mom told me to get my shoes on - we had just been placed in an "Evacuation Warning zone." Essentially, we were being told that, while we didn't have to get out right now, we should be prepared for that order to come within the next hours. Much as we do our best to be faithful and trust what the Spirit says, God rarely favors an unprepared fool. We decided to start packing things into the van.

Mom and I had been through this sort of thing before, but only when I was a little boy. Mom said that, during the painted cave fire, she mainly held me while Dad took command of the evacuation. Without Dad there, our psyches took a heavy hit, but it was time to dawn the Superhero mindset again and set to work. Between the two of us, we managed to keep each other sane, though, sufficient to start working on top priority items to load into the van.

Our top priority thing to save - the cats. From the 6 cats I grew up with, Mom and Dad are now down to three. Two of them, Tribble and Q (am I from a family of Trekkies or what?) are wonderfully placid, docile creatures, easy to pick up and toss into the van. The third, Molly, is half feral, so we knew we'd have to get her caged. Molly was already on alert (probably smelled the smoke from the fire) and was difficult to catch, to say the least. I finally pinned her against the bed with my knee, then grabbed the nape of her neck and her tail while she dug her claws into the knee of my pants. I slowly rose from the behind the bed with Molly forming an obtuse triangle then got her into her cage. First task: Accomplished.

Mom was taking care of clothes, pills, money, checkbook, etc., so my task was to load the van with other "precious things." For Mom, this means her needlework, crocheted afghans, tatted doilies and her grandmother's quilts. I spent an hour or so wandering the house, collecting the symbols of Mom's hard work and loading them into the back of the van. They may not be worth much monetarily, but they have enormous sentimental value and represent many hours of Mom's labor.

We decided to let Emilee sleep (a fact about which she laughs) for several reasons - we didn't want to worry her, but we also wanted someone to get a few hours sleep in case we needed to drive for a long time in a car full of nervous cats. About 2:00 AM, having done just about all we could to prepare and observing that we could no longer see the fire on the hill, Mom and I decided to try to get some sleep ourselves. I awoke frequently to the sound of sirens in the distance, so I think I got about 2 good hours in preparation for our long trip home.

It's now several days later and we see our prayers being answered. The winds died down miraculously, the humidity rose enough to create mist, the fire is mostly contained and people are returning to their homes. As my father prophesied, Mom and Dad never did have to evacuate, despite being only a few blocks from a mandatory evacuation area. As my mother said, "There were angels on the fireline." God's promise came through for us again - no great surprise, but a wonderful reinforcer for faith.

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