It's the kind of fire that takes me back to another fire. The Cedar Fire, 2003.
This one, at least for now, is still far away from densely populated neighborhoods, but as anyone who's lived with fire threats can attest, distance can mean nothing if this wind is blowing hard enough. The nature of this place where I live now is so very different from where I come from.
Here, whether you are socked in, the sky obscured by a thick layer of choking smoke, or whether it's just a plume over there resembling a brewing thunderstorm, depends on whether a front has just come through.
Fires like this one make me nervous. Fires like this one remind me that I can grab the most important things in my life, load up the car with them and flee. And that I can do it quickly.
I've had the sheriff knock at my door wearing a bandana around his face to filter the air, tell us that we needed to go.
Back then, in that place I used to live, the sky didn't tell us where the fire was coming from or give any prediction of where it was going. We took our babies and our dogs and our cats, grabbed the irreplaceables and descended upon the home of a friend. Little did we know that we were actually headed towards more danger than we were running from.
That fire burned entire neighborhoods of expensive homes with ocean views, yes.
|This is what they showed on the news. |
Too bad it wasn't the whole story.
I am still angry after all these years.
We did have some good times though, crammed into a house not much bigger than ours was (and ours was a whopping 1100 sq.ft.). Our friends had, at that time, 3 kids of their own, a cat and a dog. Between us, there were nine humans and six animals trying to coexist in a tiny three bedroom house.
We knew it was too dangerous to go back to our house for clothes or diapers, so we would make fast runs to the store, crossing over roads lined with fire trucks. We'd fight for the last loaf of bread and hope the car was still there when we got out of the store, the parking lot stacked with horse trailers. Watch the flames descend to the edges of the asphalt.
Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me. There was something left behind. Something precious and irreplaceable. Something I needed to go save.
My freezer full of breastmilk.
I had to go get it. I had to try.
My friend, as crazy as I am, was my doula partner and in training to become a lactation consultant. She knew why I needed to go get it. She knew how hard it was to save up that much milk. She knew how precious every last drop of it was. We'd go together, she decided.
We reasoned with our husbands that we wouldn't go if it got too dangerous. We'd turn back if we had to. We would. But we had to try.
We drove, alone, back to the house. The traffic lights were out, no power in the area. I was afraid it was already too late, but as it turned out, the power had just been lost. The smoke was dense and thick, hanging in the air like a thick brown blanket. We feverishly loaded coolers with tiny little bags and walked away. I locked the door not sure I'd ever see that house again.
I did. Several days later, after the power was restored and the fire out, we went home. I gathered the milk I'd stashed in the fridges of her family, and put it back, safe and sound, in mine.
It's funny, because even after all these years, there are people who still give me a hard time for taking that risk. I know why I did.
And so would any mom with a freezer full of milk.