Recent fires make me assess my priorities

Who is my neighbor? As the death toll following the fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties rise, this is a question we all should answer.

As I scrolled through stories on the Web, following the fires that erupted late Sunday night, Oct. 8, tears flowed freely as people described the fear and panic that gripped them as they raced from their homes in a chaotic escape from flames and ash. My heart broke for those who could not escape.

In a story posted Oct. 13, I read most of the fatalities by that date were in Sonoma County, a result of the fire that burned into Santa Rosa … and the average age of the dead was 75. One article I read earlier in the week mentioned a 27-year-old woman who had died, but she was physically disabled.

Would the death toll have been lower if a neighbor, more physically able and perhaps more mentally alert or emotionally stable during a crisis, helped them from their home to a car?

Shortly after my husband Terry and I were married, his parent’s ranch house in San Martin burned to the ground. His mother and younger siblings went out to lunch and returned to ash, for the old house burned quickly. Although his elderly grandmother was at home, neighbors went into the house and guided her to safety. Terry’s grandmother was rescued by a neighbor who knew she had a room at the back of the house.

To be neighborly is to be especially helpful, friendly or kind.

Redwood Valley in Mendocino County was described as a “close-knit ranch community.” When fire was approaching, neighbors beat on doors and left the area in a caravan to drive to safety. I imagine this community to be similar to the rural area where I grew up. You knew your neighbor, and you didn’t have to be of the same political party or have the same viewpoint on life to have conversations and laugh together. You genuinely cared about your neighbor.

My mother set an example of what it meant to be neighborly. She didn’t work outside the home, but she worked hard within the home. Yet no matter her workload, visiting neighbors was part of her routine. We would go to visit Mrs. Simas and while my mother talked, my sisters and I would play on the porch swing. We also visited Miss Bryant, who lived in a house down a long dirt road and we visited Grammy Dawson who always had a jar filled with homemade sugar cookies in her kitchen. Dropping in for a visit isn’t as common as it once was, but taking time for conversations is how you get to know your neighbor. You learn that grandma lives at the back of the house and other useful information that might help should there be an emergency.

While reverse 911 calls or text message alerts are useful, knowing your neighbor may work best in crisis situations. After tragedies such as the recent fires occur, you begin to assess priorities, which might include taking the time to be neighborly.