One year ago today, my sister called me in a panic, crying because there was a fire at the elementary school and they evacuated both schools but she couldn’t find my brother. I normally let calls go to voicemail, even for family, because I’m afraid of talking on the phone. But something told me to answer this call. I had no idea that this call, that this fire at the elementary school, would really mean.
From that second on, the next two days or so are a heavy, hazy blur. Photos popped up on social networks, damage creepy my closer and closer to my childhood home.
At some point I turned on the police/fire scanner and listened as shots were called and crews were directed. I sat in shock, my hand clamped over my mouth to keep myself from screaming, as I heard them say the thing I had been dreading most: “This part of Arbaugh from Morris to Center can’t be saved, let’s try and save everything east of that.”
My knees weakened and I finally let myself cry. I’d been crying off and on all day, silent tears streaming down my face. But it was mostly just concerned, scared crying. What came next was full-blown grieving– ugly, snotty sobs and hyperventilating turned up full blast. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. My home. My childhood home. All of our memories. Our pictures. Our pets. All of it was gone. Just like that.
Later that night (like 2am because there was no way I was sleeping that night), I still held out hope. I heard some houses on that part of the street suffered minimal damage. So I got back on Facebook and looked through the newly uploaded photos. As they got closer and closer to my home, my hope started dwindling. And then I saw it– the picture that would be used in headlines for the next couple of weeks: my dad’s 1950-something Chevy, gutted, my mom’s car blown out, and our house, beams still burning, in the background.
Their neighbor’s house was saved. Just damage from the hose outside, and some smoke damage on the inside. They drew the fire line there, and all of the other houses around hers were gone. It still doesn’t seem fair to me.
At some point, I called my dad, confirmed what he already knew, and fell asleep at my computer. I woke up to more pictures of damage, more bad news, more gut-wrenching heartache.
My family nearly fell apart that day. I called my mom, and she told me she was staying with the kids at a church member’s house. She intentionally didn’t mention my dad in that sentence, and I didn’t miss it. My dad called me, crying because he wanted to make sure my mom was okay but she was ignoring his calls.
When residents were allowed back into Angel Valley, I was sent pictures of the ashes of my childhood and it hit me all over again. They told me that our kitty, Jake, probably didn’t make it. Then a fire fighter found Luna, my sister’s kitten, hidden in a spot where everything else had been scorched and charred.
Things are better now. My family is whole again. They have a house, they went from run-down everything to new or nearly-new everything. We are all moving on. Personally, some days are harder than others. I’ll be grateful for my family’s safety one minute, and then pissed off that one man’s foolish mistake and fire ignorance destroyed the lives of so many people, and destroyed all of our family’s keepsakes and pictures and writing and books and security and…
It’s hard to believe that our new normal started a year ago. It seems like so much longer, but it also seems like it just happened. I’m still not over it, and I don’t think I really ever will be.