Thursday, November 15, 2018

What would you grab in a fire?

    The California wildfires causing such devastation have drawn attention, concern and sympathy across the country—well, except for Donald Trump, who saw them as a chance to lash out at the state for ... well, forest conservation, insanely enough. It was almost funny to see him suddenly start heaping praise on first responders, trying to cover for his initial mean-spirited slam.
     Our Fearful Leader notwithstanding, it's impossible to avoid being caught up in the drama of the raging fires in the Golden State, the courageous efforts to battle the blazes, and the sight of ordinary people forced to flee their homes, sometimes at a moment's notice.
     Which raises the question, if only in the back of the mind: what would you take? Confronted with the same situation—the fire approaching, you have to run for your life, what would you grab going out the door?
     Having pets, that's easy. I would grab the dog, try to corral the cats, get them in the van and get out. Nothing else in the house is worth the time it would take to pick up.
     That's something of a fudge, I suppose. Given a couple minutes, I could come up with something. An armful of old journals—they're irreplaceable, and useful in reconstructing the past, which I sometimes do. I might grab our wedding album. But really, with Facebook, so many photographs are safe online (not to mention about 40,000 I have tucked safely in iCloud) that fire doesn't pose the threat to memory it once did.
     At least I assume they're safe. It's always remotely possible some computer worm or sun storm could wipe out the Internet. But I doubt it....
     That said, I didn't want to take chances. I do have 10 years worth of jottings on the boys, when they were small, that I did worry might go up in smoke if the house burned down. I didn't see the need to worry, in this day and age, so spent the hour it took to photograph each page, then transfer the pictures onto a thumb drive and toss it in the bank vault (this was before the iCloud). It seemed prudent.
     Part of me worries this is a sign of shrugging age. Isn't anything precious? But to be honest, I believe it reflects proper values and priorities. Once you've cleaned out the home of a departed relative, as I have, the grip of things loosens. It's just stuff.  Like money, it's just not that important.
     The realization is something of a comfort really. Dozens of people have died in the California fire, a few no doubt because they were lingering to load up their cars with crap. Maybe the fires just moved so fast, maybe they didn't realize it, and I don't want to criticize the dead. But I like to think that before the fires were 10 miles away I would be camping out at a Motel 6 somewhere if I humanly could. That might not be possible for everybody. But if it is, that seems the path of prudence. You can always buy new stuff. You've got the one life, and it's foolish to risk the latter for the former. Grab the wife, grab the pets and get out. That sounds like a plan.


  1. II think I learned something from the Katrinia disaster. After I got the cats ouy, I'd go for the practical stuff. My purse (DL, cash, bank card). I have a blue file folder handy with my birth certificate, will and a summary of accounts, bank stuff, doctors, etc. My house/car insurance info is available online. I'd also grab my bag of meds, of which there are many. If I had time, I'd throw my jewelry and photo albums in a pillow case. There were so many people escaping Katrina that had no ID, money, their meds. I'd go for practical

  2. If there's a fire raging up the hill by the side of your house you hope your car keys are in the jacket grab as you run to the car. You don't take anything but the wife and kids. Fires like this are unbelievable. You run for your damn life.

    Now if it's some relatively slow moving disaster like a hurricane. I'm taking my camping gear my water purifying pump the pets, and fill the trunk with some mementos. My important paperworks in a lock box at the bank.
    Liberal snowflake that I am I'm going to grab a firearm and some ammunition.

    But that's just me

    1. Me, I'd also take a beloved stuffed animal instead of a firearm, though their purpose is the same.


    2. I like that: the placebo effect of a firearm. And if feeling safe is better than being safe, a stuffed animal will do better than a gun for sure.


  3. "Shrugging age". I've reached that. You know you're there when you look around and say things like "The house is full" and "Don't give me a present that takes up a lot of space" or "This will be my last truck". It's when you say to a friend "Here, take this, you might enjoy it. No, I don't want it back." It's a freeing time.

  4. I would grab my "I Read Bob Greene So You Don't Have To" columns from the old Reader. I still find them some of the best American Literature ever written. Irreplaceable.

  5. 1985, living in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a few miles north of Placerville, firefighting planes carrying red Boraid(?) flew by, heading toward the smoke rising behind the ridge to my south. When the flames peeked over the ridgeline ,I turned my vehicle to head out(I lived at the end of the road) and loaded up my few valuables. With my dog, I watched the planes and helicopters dropping their loads on the flames trying to crossover into the valley that was my front yard. Fortunately this fire was controlled and I didn't have to run. The house I rented was built atop a ridge that was cut as a firebreak 10 years previous, so you were always aware of fire danger. Had a fire started to my east I would have bugged out immediately as roads out snaked in wild courses, with few alternatives. I am sure the current victims were caught in such traps. The forest service would check us every spring for fire breaks between our houses and the forest itself, but a big fire could rollover most similar properties. Trump knows less about this than he does about NATO or voter fraud.

  6. My wallet and pets.
    Every thing else is just stuff that my children will be happy they don't have to inevitably deal with.

  7. No matter the sequence of events leading up to an emergency evacuation, I'd make a bee line to my rare book collection. Top of the list would be Licht und Materia by Louis de Broglie, with a vorworte von Werner Heisenberg. It was printed 1944 in Hamburg, it survived one fire bombing, I think it deserves another chance.

  8. Of course, first I'd make sure my family and pets were safe. After that, time willing, I'd grab my cello and violin, possibly my signed and numbered Theodore Roosevelt's The Wilderness Hunter. Those three items I could not replace. Luckily, around here there are 36 lakes within 6 miles, we would high tail it to one of those.

  9. There are fires and then there are FIRES. The ones in California can move faster than a person can run, and if you wait even a few minutes too long, you will probably die. Some folks tried to drive out of harm's way, and became skeletons clinging to melted steering wheels, along with the charred remains of their pets. Someone who made a video of those vehicles had second thoughts, and edited out the corpses he saw. And probably prevented countless nightmares.

    Hurricanes give you time to prepare, but if the storm's track shifts a few miles, you come home to bits and pieces on a slab. Andrew jogged left instead of right, so I still had to clean out my parents' condo and truck much of it North, a decade or so later.

    A rising river flood presents an inexorable force, but you usually have time to moveat least some things to a higher level. The most dangerous threat to life and property is a flash flood, in which seconds mean the difference between life and death, along with which way you decide to turn to escape. And then there's the house fire, which can have the same result.

    Tornado Alley residents can feel even more helpless. But you can practice for the time when you hear the warning and see the sky darken and the hail begins falling. You can learn how to grab the kitties and drop them down into their carrriers, which you've already placed on-end on the basement floor. The carriers are stacked in the phone-booth-sized toilet under the stairs. You take a weather radio and your car keys and pull the door shut and huddle over your terrified pets...hoping the refrigerator doesn't come down through the floorboards. And you're suddenly reminded of the stories your uncle's mother-in-law told you about surviving the bombing raids in Germany, during World War II.

    I've often wondered what I'd save if I had to flee a disaster. Long trains of rail tank cars pass two blocks from my house 24/7, so the possibility is always there. Maybe it would be the journals I kept from seventh through twelfth grade...a page a day. Two thousand-plus pages of teen angst and trauma and yearnings and lust. Girls desired, boyish pranks, movies watched, dangerous escapades, parental anger, and Cub scores. Maybe it would just be letter to let all that burn up or be gone with the wind.


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