Are you wondering what’s taken me so long to finish the story about the wildfire? The problem was, I didn’t quite know how to say what needed to be written. I knew it would be an emotionally draining process, so I put it off. And it has been grueling to write about it.
When we drove away from the cabin about 4:30pm on June 11, 2013, I had absolutely no idea it would be the last time I’d see that place standing. I knew the fire was coming and we had to get out of there quickly. So we packed up the computer, our overnight bags, the photo albums and the two cats. As we got in the car, I looked up at the black clouds billowing above the trees and saw the orange glow from the flames.
I remember being so worried about my daughter, who was working at my brother’s store across the road. They were staying open as long as possible to provide gas, water and food to evacuating residents, police and fire responders. She assured me she would be leaving soon. It felt strange to drive away and know I was leaving her behind.
My neighbor, Ken, raced up on a motorcycle as we started down the driveway and asked if I’d take some bags of bills and papers he couldn’t carry. Another neighbor was running up the road trying to catch a ride out of the area. I had been trying to stay calm this whole afternoon, but now I was stressed. The two cats moaning from their carriers in the back seat didn’t make it any easier. There’s nothing worse than a moaning cat to set your nerves on edge!
We evacuated to my Mom and Dad’s house, got the cats settled in the garage and glued ourselves to the TV. We stayed that way for the next few days watching as the wildfire raced back and forth through Black Forest and threatened adjoining neighborhoods. We checked the lists on the county website to see if they’d posted our house as safe or a total loss. It was agonizing not to know. Those three days felt like three weeks. Speculation ran wild. Did my brother’s house burn? Was his store okay? What about the old Community Center and the Log Schoolhouse? My Dad and my brother tried to get back up there to see if the cabin was still standing, but access was denied. Fires were still burning.
People were calling. My cell phone was ringing off the hook and my email in-box was full. People were so kind. Everyone asked, “Is there anything I can do?” I kept up with people on Facebook. Thank God I had taken my computer out of the house with us. It was a lifeline.
My Mom, Dad and siblings were so supportive. My brother and his family were living in their camper, then a house my Dad owned that was vacant, then a hotel. They had two dogs to manage. They were exhausted. My son moved over to a friend’s house because they had more room and he’d gotten tired of sleeping on my parents’ couch. I was on the sofa sleeper. My Mom was cooking meals and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Then, on Friday morning June 14th, as Mom and I sat on the front porch having our coffee, my brother came outside and quietly mentioned he’d just checked the list. He said, “Laurie, the cabin is gone.” I remember standing there as the news sunk in and the tears just started flowing. I’d been trying so hard to be strong during those days of waiting. All I could think of was my sweet little log cabin being eaten alive by those flames. (Even as I write this, the tears spring back up.)
So we were homeless. What a feeling that is! You have no place to go back to. And all the family heirlooms and boxes of memories no longer exist. All the years of business files, my books, our clothes. Everything we owned was gone. But the strangest feeling was not knowing what to do next.