My friend sat down and told me her story. There are many such stories. What drew me into hers as I listened to her talk, was the calm, matter of fact tone of voice – no emotions – in which she relayed her experience. It was almost as if she was telling someone else’s story.
Half-way through her monologue, I realized she was still in shock. She has not begun the grieving process. It had been over three weeks since she lost every single thing she owned, except a burned, charred foundation and black skeleton tree stumps. She was lucky and she knows it. Rather than tell you why, I’ll tell you the events. I won’t give her name – so let’s call her Betty.
Tuesday, June 11th, began with a trip to a nursery in the morning to buy some bedding plants and a rose bush. Betty’s husband had gone to work as usual. After lunch, she puttered outside – despite the hot wind – planting her newly purchased greenery. Sometime before 2:30 she smelled smoke and wondered why anyone would be burning trash on such a windy day. By 2:30 she knew the forest was on fire and went inside to turn on the news. She immediately called her husband.
It took an agonizing hour for Betty’s husband to get home because of the traffic trying to evacuate and the emergency vehicles trying to get in. In that hour, Betty packed everything essential. When her husband arrived (now 3:30) he parked his vehicle and hooked up their trailer to the pickup. They loaded everything she had packed, including the two dogs.
At approximately 4:30 their neighbor’s house blew to smithereens and a wall of choking smoke descended on Betty and her husband. They jumped in the pickup and he tried to start it but a vehicle will not run without air. They got out and their older dog panicked and ran. Her husband went into the acrid smoke and found the dog but his throat was now scorched.
They now jumped into their small Honda in the garage where it still had air. They had to ram the trailer out of the way and actually drive over it to get out. They drove through a wall of searing heat and flames. She could hear her husband gasping for air like someone having an asthma attack. Betty described it this way, “I thought we were in hell.” When they reached the end of their drive, all they could see were some flashing blue lights so they turned that way – and they got out.
“I haven’t shed a tear since it happened,” Betty told me. A purse, two dogs and her husband were what she came away with. The small car died the next day – the engine ruined. She is lucky – and she knows it.