How I was evacuated and nearly arrested
Left, The response from the various fire departments was quick.
Right, billowing clouds of smoke and flames could be seen coming over the hill.
Sept. 18, 2012 — Let me begin by saying I can be a little high-strung at times. I don’t like this about myself and have been trying hard to change it for years, but we all have our character makeup, and I guess that’s just part of mine.
I was at work when we heard over the dispatch radio there was a fire on Cheney Creek Road where I live. I panicked. My 21-year-old son, Zeke, was home, but he doesn’t have a car. I grabbed my keys and bolted.
“Don’t forget your camera,” Sam, my editor, called, so I snatched up my camera bag with one hand while calling Zeke with the other. Once I talked to Zeke and knew he was safe, I relaxed a bit.
Up at the house, we stood outside and watched the cloud of smoke billowing over the next hill. Every now and then a tongue of flame leaped up. It seemed like it was time to get packing, so we threw a few things together and gathered up the dogs and cats. As we were packing, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and told us it was a voluntary evacuation, but it was probably a good idea to leave. I thought so, too.
I’ve never had to evacuate my home before and it’s true what people say -- the material things I’ve always enjoyed like clothes, jewelry, art, little knick knacks I’ve picked up on my travels, were suddenly meaningless. I grabbed family photos, my mother’s childhood diaries, the fossil rock my oldest son had found and given me, the cheap dinner plate with a painting of the house I grew up in.
As we left I stopped and took a few photos of my house in case I wouldn’t see it again.
We drove down the driveway and at the bottom found it blocked by a highway patrolman. I turned off the engine and got out to learn the latest update. He told me the fire seemed to be getting under control and there was probably no need for us to leave, although he did suggest we stay close to home.
I tend to believe authority figures. If a person is in a uniform and official car, I figure they must know what’s going on. So we turned around and went back home, let the animals out and sat on the front porch and ate mint chocolate chip ice cream.
The fire did, indeed, seem to be dying down. There were no more flames and the smoke appeared to have lessened. Helicopters and planes flew overhead, dumping whatever it is they throw on fires, and fire trucks continued to race up the road, but all in all, we felt safe.
Around four o’clock, the fire looked like it had diminished even more. I had left work undone at the office, articles that hadn’t been printed or finished, so I decided to head down, take care of my unfinished work, grab some Chinese food to go and come back home.
At the bottom of the road I saw all my neighbors parked along South Street and a few sheriffs who didn’t seem happy to see me. The evacuation had gone from voluntary to mandatory, and I had no idea.
“I need to go back up and get my son and my animals,” I said.
“You’re not going back up there,” the sheriff answered. “But I’ll go get your son.”
“And my animals.”
“The animals stay there.”
That’s where things started to go poorly. My animals are like family. “Oh, no they’re not,” I said. “They come.”
“They do not,” she answered.
At that, I slammed the car into reverse and started spewing dust. The sheriff leaped in her car and swung around, blocking my way.
“Lady, I’m going to arrest you, put you in jail and impound your animals and you’ll have to pay to get them out,” she said.
That probably should have deterred me, but as well as a poor ability to handle stress, I can be mouthy. Not a good combination, especially when dealing with authority.
“You’re overreacting,” she told me, “Making a mountain out of a molehill.”
She was right, but I still wanted the animals with us.
I called Zeke and told him to get the animals together and head on down the road. The sheriff left to pick him up and when she drove back a few minutes later, Zeke, the dogs and cat were in the car with her. Yogi, my problem dog who is even more high-strung than I am, had peed in the back seat.
“Your son is a lot more level- headed than you are, lady,” the sheriff said. “You could learn something from him.”
And I did learn a few things. Not so much about my son. Like most mothers, I tend to think my two sons and stepdaughter are the most wonderful people in the world. Zeke is level-headed and has always been wise beyond his years.
What I learned is how many people cared about us. The phone rang constantly with offers of help and places to stay. After a while I couldn’t answer them all, but I was touched. People say when you hit hard times or a crisis, you find out who your friends really are, and people I hadn’t heard from in ages called to make sure we were okay. When the excitement died down, I found even more people reaching out on Facebook, through emails and text messages.
And I learned in spite of a regular meditation practice, tai chi and positive affirmations, I’m still really crappy at handling stress.
I owe an apology to the sheriff’s department. They were doing their job, and I did overreact, which didn’t help. I’m also sorry my dog peed on the seat of the cruiser.
Thank you to all the firemen and firewomen who have been working so hard this summer.
And thanks to the sheriff’s deputy who didn’t arrest me.
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