Biff America column: Saving skis and goldfish during threat of wildfire
My thanks and much respect goes out to the men and women who’s dedication, skills and bravery help keep us safe.
Bill ruined it for everybody.
My mate and I were sitting in lawn chairs watching 200-foot flames burn the forest across the valley. Along with the fear and concern for life, limb and home, there was a thread of anger because it was likely that this forest fire was human caused. We were soon joined by many friends and neighbors.
All of us there might be called upon to make painful decisions during the next 12 hours. They would be the difficult choices of what we would save and what we would leave behind. Now granted, even if we were all forced to evacuate, then it still would be unlikely that our homes would burn, but certainly when those tasked with public safety tell you to pack up and leave, only a fool would ignore the expert’s warnings.
The contrast was profound; here we were sitting under clear skies on a beautiful day as flames were visible across the valley. We passed the binoculars back and forth as we all were glued to our smart phones for updated information. One neighborhood, 5 miles away, was under a mandatory evacuation notice while the entire community was on “stand by alert.”
Before long there were more than a dozen of us, mostly couples, sitting on our lawn watching the fire raging across the valley. All of us knew many who were forced to leave their homes and we reached out to them. But along with that gesture of fellowship there was also a fair amount of self-interest, wondering if we would be the next to be ordered to pack up.
It didn’t take long for us all to consider what we would prioritize to take and what we would leave to the whims of wind, fate and flames. Most of those around us had homes that housed both pets and children and all declared their kids and animals would be the first go into the vehicle. Our neighbor Luke was insistent that he would not leave home without his gold fish (named Cletus). Now, certainly prioritizing family and mammals was a no-brainer, but if it were up to me, then sushi would be a low priority. I was reluctant to offer an opinion on such a personal matter, but I did anyway.
What to save
We were all debating the difficult calculation of how much space we’d have, what we would take and what we’d abandon. The group in unison decided that we would prioritize financial records, insurance information, deeds, legal documents, passports and IDs.
Dan and Carley said they had already packed computers, cameras, photo albums and plenty of cat food. None of us said anything to that but I knew what we all were thinking — Dan and Carley don’t have a cat. Who was I to judge — but now I understood why both were so thin.
For the most part, we all had similar priorities. My mate was somewhat of an outlier with her declaration to first pack her winter and summer recreation gear (seven pairs of skis, two pairs of boots and three bikes). She added that we could save space by leaving the vacuum cleaner behind (as if she knew where it was located). I asked if she would include me on her list of stuff to bring and she said she’d need me to carry the heavier items.
The youngest couple in our ’hood were Bill and Rory. They had been married only a year or two and just purchased and moved into a home a few doors down. I felt for them more than the rest of us. They were a hard working couple with no kids and had just purchased their dream home less than a year ago and might be forced to leave it to the fate of the fire and hope for the best.
Rory asked Bill, “If we had to leave what would you bring?” Bill said, “You.” Every guy in the crowd had a guilty look on their face while most of the gals smiled and nodded. Except for my mate who asked, “Well then, would you have any room for a few pairs of skis?”
In retrospect, my lead, “Bill ruined it for everybody,” was too harsh and simply not correct. He pointed out something we all knew but sometimes forget. Anything we might have in our homes is just “stuff.” Stuff, which can be replaced or done without. What is irreplaceable is our health, safety and those we love. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a newlywed to remind us.
The wind shifted and the smoke cleared a little and the first to leave were Bill and Rory. We all watched as they headed toward their house holding hands. Of course I can’t know what any other guy in our group was thinking, but I bet it was “I wish I had said that.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book — “Mind, Body, Soul.” — is available at local shops and bookstores or online.