WE ARE ALL FINE HERE. Most of my friends and I had our first real night of sleep last night. The threat of impending doom was slightly alleviated for those of us living in Napa, and heightened for those living outside of Napa. It was either this lessened threat or sheer exhaustion that helped us to really sleep.
The smoke is REALLY bad here today. If you looked at a still photo, you would think, "Oh, it is a lovely wintery, foggy Christmas scene." Nope. Ash is falling everywhere like snowflakes, but I gotta be honest; it isn't pretty. We didn't venture out much today - the kids haven't left the house. We won't even let the Boy open the door to let the cat out. The cats don't want out anyway.
There is a strange stillness outside. Smoke, ash, and no birds or butterflies. Five days ago, you could look in any direction and see hot air balloons. Now our sky is filled with beautiful, glorious planes that fly endlessly trying to douse the flames. The world famous, Super Tanker is here - a 747 that looks to all of us like the beautiful shinning light come down from heaven.
If you venture out into town, which you shouldn't, you would probably run into a National Guardsmen or two. Cafes and restaurants have signs posted that firefighters, officers, and the military can get free coffee or sandwiches. Little kids have posted signs all over town - bright drawings that say, "Pray for the firefighters" or "Thank you, first, second and third responders!" They are sweet and adorable.
When I was in the 6th grade, we had a horrible flood. The downtown area had water up to 6 feet inside some businesses. My memories of that time are all the news trucks, and my dad and I going out in a little boat to rescue folks who'd been trapped. Our high school gym was turned into a evacuation center, just as it is today. But my strongest memory of that time was the tremendous disparity between what was happening and what those news vans reported about what was happening. It was first lesson in not necessarily believing what the news was saying. The same has been true this time around. It seems that when the news should be telling about dire stories, it glosses things over, and then when people have been reassured at a community meeting, the news reports FALSELY that citizens inside the city of Napa have a mandatory evacuation. It isn't just a lesson in the news enjoying creating a good "story", it is also dangerous- and can cause panic. Anyone who has lived through a news story can tell you this absolute truth, "They don't quite get it right."
The fires here are epic and historically bad. No one has ever seen anything like it. Homes, businesses and buildings have been destroyed. I know so many people who spent today sifting through the rubble that was their home just six days earlier. The air quality is horrible, and more and more people are leaving to get a break from the air. It is like you are living your life inside a chimney as you are sweeping it - this isn't an exaggeration. We have all our windows and doors closed, and keep the air running constantly. The Husband tapped around the windows and doors we don't use, and you can still smell the smoke. Many people have been without power for days, and some just got power back yesterday and today. Many of my friends had to throw out everything in the refrigerator. One friend, had just spent a fortune at Costco before the fires swept through, and now all that brand new food is ruined.
I don't say all that to bum you out, but I am writing to you from inside the fire ring, and it is now day 5. The fires are still burning and the last thing we do before we got bed each night is line up our bags by the door, and make sure we know where are shoes and keys are. Late last night, a friend of mine showed me a picture from her backyard - you could see a huge fire in the distance. "Should I be worried?" She asked.
Of course the compassion and kindness is just as prevelant. Strangers stop to ask one another, "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" If you go to the facebook pages dedicated to communication and support regarding the fire you will see post after post that go something like this, "My 3 teenage sons have a truck and can help anyone move anything." Or "I have an extra bedroom and can take two people." The list goes on and on and on. I called to check on my car today (no estimate yet), and the FIRST thing the receptionist asked was, "First, are you guys okay? Do you have another vehicle?" Never mind that her house is ON Partrick road which is where one of the fires is raging right now. People are quick to help, quick to give and quick to listen.
Crisis can have a way of unifying things. Everything narrows to a singular focus - survival and all the outside things drop away. Maybe you read the story of the couple that spent an entire night in a swimming pool as the fires raged all around them. They lost their house, and even the clothes on their back, but they are alive and together, and if you ask them, they will tell you they feel very fortunate. There is a unity that comes from shared calamity and destruction. Right now, the volunteers are distributing all the donations so that very evacuation center has what it needs. In other words, so much has been given that it needs to be sorted and shared out. This is wonderful. If you are thinking about giving, you can go to Napa Valley Community Foundation and the money goes directly to those who've lost their homes and businesses. They are saying the best donations are gift cards because those who've lost their homes need money.
One last thing, all this time, during all this crisis, the construction workers next door have been working. That's right. During the threat of fire, horrible air quality and crisis they have been working away. This is the cruelty of those who live paycheck to paycheck; you have to work. So many people cannot miss a day - if they don't work, they won't have money. It is a simple and horrible concept. I am fortunate that I will still earn my pay, even during these days of disaster. We got emails from our teacher's union reassuring us that our pay will not be docked. We report to work on Tuesday, and school should resume on Wednesday, but I've not had to worry about losing pay while I am worrying about impending fires.
Now, we must wait out a night of possible high winds, and hope that the progress made so far is enough to keep the fires from spreading. Lord knows, those firefighters have been working tirelessly toward that end. When next I write, it will hopefully be from the clear air near the ocean.
Unless you are a wildfire, keep moving forward,