Search this Blog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Up in Flames (49er Wildfire) :(

Yesterday night I called my Mom to recant tales of my weekend, as usual. This is a regular Sunday thing that only gets messed up on my end when I slack on calling. My Mom is usually home by 3pm, relaxing after church. Only this time, at 5pm (her time), she didn't answer. I thought that was weird but decided maybe she was with friends for dinner or had choir practice or something. It happens.

Nearly 2hrs later (and no phone call back) I got a text from my high school best friend, Kaci, who now lives in OR, letting me know that there was a large vegetation fire making it's way through the northern part of my adorable Auburn, CA. hometown. The area where I grew up, and where my Mom still lives. Kaci, caring person and true friend that she is, had already placed a call to my Mom but hadn't gotten a hold of her and wanted to know if I knew where she was? I sure didn't. Making matters less easy, my Mom doesn't have a cell phone. She also doesn't have internet. You can imagine how much more stress free this makes my already drop-of-a-hat-dramatic family life. I called Kaci and she filled me in on the fire and said that it was going past my house towards other parts of town but that my Mom had probably been evacuated as a precaution. Not feeling too worried I chatted with her for a while and then decided I should probably attempt to track down my Mother, since she still hadn't called me from someone else's phone.

Before using my incredible resourcefulness, I figured I should check out the fire first. I went to Fox40 News Live Channel online and caught a mid-broadcast of flames and smoke being battled AT THE END OF MY STREET!!!!

(The very first part of the clip is the intersection where Quartz Dr.--my street--meets 49 where the fire started and rapidly spread. Then video continues up and around the corner onto Dry Creek where many of my friends have (had) homes.)

The fire was lapping up vegetation, and had already consumed 5 businesses on Locksley Lane. The kitty-corner street just past mine where I worked for 2yrs! That was the end of my calm. If those flames jumped Hwy 49 (which is one of those highways that isn't a highway but a 4 lane street) the hillside lined with apartments (one of them mine!) would go up instantly. Not good! Power had been lost and cut off to 3700 people (my house included) and no one was answering their cell phones (probably because their batteries had died!). A 7 mile radius had been evacuated to my Elementary School. I made a few calls to locals but couldn't reach anyone and finally got a hold of my Grandparents (who live in OR). They told me they had heard from my Mom earlier in the afternoon and she was evacuating to a friend's house. I got that number and reached her in the middle of dinner.

MOM: Hi honey! Boy, you can find me anywhere!
ME: MOOOOOMMMMMM! Don't you think if our neighborhood is going up in flames and there's a mandatory evacuation ordered you should maybe, I dunno, CALL ME?!?!?!
MOM: Oh yeah, sorry. I'm here. Just sitting down having a lovely dinner with my friends! How was your date?
ME: MOM. Auburn is on FIRE. My date was fine. There are flames at the end of our street.
MOM: I know. It's awful. When I got out of church I could see them! They were big, and everything was black from the smoke. I went home and knew I'd have to evacuate. The Sheriff's Dept. called as I was heading out the door. I only had time to grab a few things! The X, Y, and Z families all lost their homes!!!
ME (gasping louder as she said each name of families I've known my whole life): WHAT?! NO!!!! OH MY GOSH! Well, what did you get out of the house?!?!
MOM: Well, I was pressed for time so I just grabbed some food.
ME: I'm sorry...FOOD?! Our house is threatened by fire. EVERYTHING WE OWN is in there. Pictures, memory boxes, files, irreplaceables, and you grabbed FOOD?!
MOM: Well yeah. I didn't know how long I was going to be gone for and I had to leave fast!
ME: You better hope that fire stays on the other side of the street.

Well it did. Lucky for us, not so lucky for many others. The wind blew and the houses burned and the sky stayed black and I stayed up watching cul-de-sacs I know and love turn to ash and rubble.

(My house sits directly under the middle of that green 49 on the bottom left & we go to church up Bell Road)
(These pictures were taken by a friend on the hill behind Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital where I volunteered as a teenager. It's a 7 minute walk, 2 minute drive, from my house which is on the upper left of another hill in all that smoke.)
This is at the end of my street where it dead ends into this tire factory.I felt completely helpless from 3,000 miles away, but I found comfort knowing that Auburn is a very tight-knit community. That's what makes it so attractive for raising families, and why so many families have been there for generations (like mine). As the Harley Davidson shop went up in flames people were scrambling to pull all the bikes out. The shop is gone but the bikes are safe! The Elementary School evacuation shelter's were so overwhelmed by food donations (much of it home made) that they had to tell people to stop bringing them! Not to mention the wonderful LDS church members who are like family and have all raised their families together. Those not affected were ready and willing to offer whatever help and support and shelter was needed.

Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, freeing up state funding to drive resources to the fire, and even showed up for a visit this morning. (I didn't watch his statement because I can't understand a word he says and always feel like he should be holding a machine gun...but it was nice of him to come!) Over 600 firefighters battled the fire, including 90+ fire engines, 8 air tankers and 6 helicopters. The damage done was 275 acres and 60 businesses and homes were lost. Amazingly nobody was killed or injured, but sadly some pets didn't make it out. By 10pm it was 50% contained and a perimeter had been established and, since it was 1am my time, I finally pulled my eyes away from the news and went to bed.

My Mom was able to go home this morning and when I talked to her she said, "The entire neighborhood off Dry Creek is leveled. Completely gone. It's devastating."
I'm so thankful everyone is safe, so sorry for the loss of those beautiful homes and will keep them all in my prayers as they begin to rebuild their lives.

The video below sums it all up pretty well, but if you don't want to spend 12 minutes watching it this link gives a good account: Auburn Wildfire Tears Path of Destruction
And a few others:
49er Fire Destroys 60 Structures
KCRA 3 Burning Video :(


Karley said...

a few things. A) fires suck B) glad your home is standing C) glad your mom isnt hungy ;) D) glad you are for once in your life letting others do the dirty work so we can casually go skydiving on monday E) sad your compadres homes are toast :( F) glad your compadres are physically ok

Ms. White said...

i'm so glad that your mom is safe! summers in california are always so eye opening.