Thursday, July 5, 2012

We Didn't Start the Fire...

* This post is lengthy and goes into a bit of detail, I apologize if it gets tedious, I'm just trying to remember as much as I can because who knows if I'll ever be a part of a wild fire again! 

The last 10 days have been quite a blur! On Wednesday, June 27th, a fire started in New Harmony, UT. It didn't look very bad in the beginning, and we weren't that worried. New Harmony is the town next to ours and we could see the blaze and smoke from the house. I'm not sure why I wasn't worried, probably because I've never been in a fire before! We drove down the road to see the fire better to decide whether or not we should start packing. Before we got home, a police officer had shown up at the house and said that we were on stand by for evacuation and to started packing some stuff up. He didn't seem too concerned, just taking precautions. But I, being an overly worrisome person, started panicking and running around the house trying to find things.

The first things I thought of saving were all my journals I had written since I was 8 years old. And since we are living here temporarily they were packed away. Way away. I was throwing boxes left and right trying to reach my journals, which were of course at the bottom of the stack. I heaved a huge sigh of relief once I had those boxes in my arms. They were big and I didn't know how much time we had, so I ripped them open and started picking out the ones I knew were written in the most or had special memories in. This was probably one of the most difficult things I've had to do in a long time. I don't remember much before I graduated high school so if these memories burned, they would be gone gone gone. I got a box together of journals and my baby pictures (hopefully the rest are digital and I have them somewhere right?!) then booked it up to our room to grab everything else. Seriously, I don't know what I would have done if I had had only 10 minutes to get out. I have so much memorabilia that contains heirlooms and original paintings by family and friends, I would be devastated if I lost them. In the end, I waddled down the stairs carrying two backpacks of clothes, a suitcase of vintage dresses and family jewelry, travel knick knacks and such, two paintings under my arm, and a green quilt that was Jared's mom's in high school. It was so much stuff, and yet I kept thinking of other things I wanted. Luckily, we ended up with about an hour to pack so I got quite a bit.

Anyway, I guess that's the long way of saying, I am a pack rat and can't let go of things haha! The cop came back and said we had to get out. We went to the cars and looked down the valley at the fire and watched as the flames wrapped around a house on the hill next to us (this house amazingly survived!). I was freaking out. We had recently moved all of our possessions into this home and it was all about to be gone. Jared and his dad were calm as could be though so that helped my nerves. We drove off the property, not sure of how we would find it the next time we came back. There's a bridge that goes over the highway just down the road from us so we headed there to watch if the house burned. This is what we saw...
It was precariously close to my in-laws house, and we had to just stand and wait. There were a lot of neighbors, on-lookers, and news team members with video cameras milling around. It was pretty hectic and yet watching a fire seems like the calmest thing in the world. It's not a very noisy thing. At least when you're a safe distance away. It was very windy so that created a bit of chaos in the mind, but otherwise it was just like watching clouds float by. Hungry clouds with fiery tongues. The cops on scene started announcing that we had to leave the area right when the fire reached our property. We saw a two hundred foot blaze go up behind the house then the entire scene was engulfed in smoke. Right there, we just stood there and watched as we thought our house was being destroyed. The cops were pushing us out though, so we didn't get much time for grief. We just got in our cars and made way for Cedar.

I bawled the whole way. Ok, maybe I'm a little over dramatic. It's not like it was MY house. And there were people going through much worse than me at the moment. But I allowed for some selfish tears to be shed for my belongings. I had left a box full of letters from Jared while we were dating in the basement. Other little things like that that I would never get back. It was decently stressful.

We stayed at my grandmother's home in Cedar, we were lucky to have such a nice place to go. I'll pick up the pace here because really, time was spent eating, worrying, planning and sleeping. That night we drove down the highway to see if we could spot the house in the burn zone. We did! It was very dark and the ground was all black so it was hard to make out anything but saw the reflection of the cars off the windows and knew there was at the least some of the house standing! We couldn't tell how much damage had been done, so we went back to sleep a bit. Apparently Jared's family can't sleep in stressful situations. I am completely the opposite. I sleep sooo well when I'm stressed out. My body just gives in and tries to recuperate while I'm not paying attention. This has actually served me well throughout my life.

The next morning, we got to see the property from the highway. The entire house was there and about half of the property burned. It was a shock to see it still there. I had already reconciled in my mind that my belongings were ash. The fire was still uncontrolled and there were hot spots all over the burn so we couldn't go back to the house. We were just biding our time until we could get in.

While I have some time here where we're eating and sleeping, let me just say that it is interesting how differently people behave in emergency situations. I panic on the inside but get things done. My husband doesn't panic and keeps me calm. These are pretty normal reactions I think. But oh boy, there were some people involved in this that were just plain crazy. One man was screaming at police because people were on his land (trying to save him house but you know, whatever) and saying he was going to sue the government or some such nonsense. Another man said that if he couldn't get into his house, he was going to commit suicide. I don't know what is going on in people's minds. Another lady snuck onto her property on an ATV while the fire was still going and took a bunch of firemen away from the fire to find and protect her. I'll just say this, people react in different ways and we can never guess what they're going to do. (All of these people ended up safe and happy in their homes).

On Friday, June 29th, my in-laws went to see if they could get into the house and the road had been opened up! They were letting people back in to save what they could from their freezers and survey the damage. The fire was still uncontained but safe around the homes. There was no power or water at this point so we didn't want to stay anyway. Jared and I drove out to help them load up their deep freezer to plug in at my Grandma's house. The house was rank with old food odors but really didn't smell that bad of smoke. It was in better condition than we were supposing. After cleaning out the fridge and loading up what was still frozen, we took off. The ash was just swirling in the wind, and the smoke burned my lungs and eyes. Even now, my eyes get slightly irritated from the ash that's still there. Later that night, we decided to go night fishing at Sand Hollow by St. George, UT. We went to pick up the boat and saw that the power was on at the house! Hurray! We were delighted  by this, which made our fishing trip even more enjoyable.

It was beautiful that night! I didn't catch anything (not surprising, I rarely catch fish, they must know I don't like seeing them wriggle...) but everyone else did! It was a fun night!

The next day we got to move back in to the house and everything went (somewhat) back to normal. With the disaster averted, we can sit in the living room and not even see the burned section of the property! It looked a lot worse from the highway than it did from the house. One amazing thing we did find was by the propane tanks outside of the house. They are above ground tanks, set in the ground outside of the garage. The trees all around it were burned. But the tanks didn't blow up/burn/etc. I don't know if a fireman stood there with a hose and kept it away or some miracle happened, but either way it was a crazy thing to see!

I am so thankful for all the fire fighters, police officers, power company people, pretty much anyone who worked long days to get our lives back to normal. The fire did claim 7 homes/trailers and many outbuildings. It's a devastating thing, but people have been blessed still and no lives were lost.

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