THOMAS: the Perfect Fire
I had a strange feeling that Monday as I picked out my clothes for the day: a suspicion that I would feel rather differently about these clothes when I took them off; that I was entering into some kind of a special relationship with them.
That evening, around 9 o'clock, a friend texted me: "Have you heard about the fire?" No, indeed I had not. I pushed aside a gnawing sense of unease – Santa Paula was 15 miles away, surely a comfortable distance - and called Robin who was still at work, blissfully ignorant of the fire. He told me he would come home directly. By now my sense of dread was had grown to unbridled fear; I wished Robin would hurry up and come home. Surely once he was home, everything would go back to normal! But news grew still more dire: much of Santa Paula was under mandatory evacuation orders, while Ventura - well, it was hard to know what exactly was going on in Ventura. We heard rumors – a brand new apartment building burned to the ground; bone dry vegetation erupting in flames at the touch of a single spark. dozens of homes in flames, the fire, 100% uncontained, spreading like . . . , well, like wildfire.
Helpless to do anything to help apart from pray and stay out of the firemen’s way, Robin and I sat on our patio praying the rosary, and watched the orange glow move along the mountain peaks at an alarming rate. I went to bed with my clothes on, (see “special relationship” above), just in case we needed to evacuate, while Robin made himself fairly comfortable on the sofa in the living room, setting his alarm to wake him every hour to check on the flames’ progress.
He never got the chance: at 2 AM the sheriff knocked at the door. “Evacuation in your area is not mandatory, but if I were you I would get out now, and I wouldn’t stop to think too hard about what to take with me.” That was enough for us! I stumbled about, trying to think of things I would need and, for the most part, failing miserably. My own personal Eeyore was silent, replaced by a sort of desperate positivity: "We'll just have to spend one night out, and then it will be all clear and we can go home.. So I don’t really need to worry about clothes, do I? " Meanwhile, Robin grabbed the yearbooks that were the record of our homeschooling years, and which, I am happy to say, came quite willingly.
Not so Pyga the kitty cat, a hissing, spitting ball of fury who, lacking any clue as to Robin’s good intentions in cramming him into his cat carrier, let out a shout of protest on every outbreath. I know, I know, cats don’t “shout”, they “meow”. Not Pyga. He shouted. It was the most unearthly racket – I later tried to imitate it, but try as I might, could not attain the decibel level Pyga achieved so effortlessly. At least, I assume it was effortless – he was able to keep it up for hours on end, with no appreciable wear to his vocal cords.
Another indefatigable family member was our daughter Lorna. From her apartment in Seattle, she kept us informed of damage thus far, of the fire’s progress, and road closures. Thank God for a computer literate daughter! It was eerie, driving through the night in pitch darkness with only Lorna’s voice for company. And Pyga. Mustn’t forget Pyga . . .
The Ojai Valley is ringed with mountains, and there are only four roads going in, much the same number coming out. (Thank you, Fiddler on the Roof). Hwy 33, the main road, was closed, so we took our chances with Hwy 150, the grossly contorted hypotenuse of the triangle formed by Ojai, Ventura and Carpinteria, bordered by Hwys 33, 150, and US Interstate 101.
News relayed by Lorna was increasingly grim: the fire (nicknamed "Thomas") was spreading at the rate of one acre per second (you read that right - one acre per second), fanned by winds of 60 mph, gusting up to 80. Hundreds of homes in Ventura were in flames, the firemen too occupied with their efforts to prevent Thomas from spreading to deal with houses that were already ablaze - a sort of real estate triage, in effect..
We reached Carpinteria, pulling to a halt by the sea, not far from where Eldest Son Iain had camped with his family last summer, under somewhat rosier circumstances. I didn’t know what the morrow would bring, but one thing was clear:
Thomas looked as if he was planning to stick around for quite a while.