Surviving the Creek Fire

LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
(Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

You may have heard that we’ve been having a lot of fires in CA this week. Unless you live in a cave, I doubt you’d been able to avoid the coverage. And sadly, the media likes to play up the worst aspects of a devastating event like this and get people even more worked up than they already are. So, I thought I would just tell you my story – perhaps it will provide a little perspective.

Monday night the winds were high and my friend and I went to dinner. We were even making jokes about how ‘wind’ was southern California’s version of winter. We’d heard about the Ventura fires of course, but they were far far away.

Tuesday morning, the wind wasn’t so funny. Around 8 AM my room mate told me we had some smoke and a few little flare ups on the hillside just down the street from us. I heard the helicopters flying above and was confident they’d snuff them out quickly. Just after 9 AM, the police came to our door and told us we had to evacuate.

Shock. Even during the Station House fire, which was horrendous, we hadn’t been told to evac.

Things went from somewhat concerned to flat out terrified in moments. I stood in the middle of my room trying to figure out what to take with me, feeling like a hand was pushing me out the door at the same time. When people say things about your mind spinning, this was it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so scared.

I ran around tossing things in a bag—toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, my external hard drive, charger, kindle. Then I had to think about my pets. I have a little dog but also two cats. There was nowhere to take any of them. And with all the commotion – the cats were hiding and I couldn’t find them.

The only thing I could do was put out a lot of food and water and hope like hell nothing would happen to the house. I threw what I could into a bag, put my dog in her carrier and piled everything into the car. Of course I had no idea where I was going. The one shelter in the area was already full. The other shelter was on the other side of the red flag zone, and the two friends who I might stay with were smack in the middle of things.

As I drove toward the street corner, I saw my room mate outside a neighbor’s house and stopped to ask him why he was just standing there. They all said they were staying. I was torn. Should I stay or should I go? Though there was a fair amount of visible smoke and a few flare ups on the hillside (a somewhat common sight when you live up here) we didn’t really seem to be in any danger. And I had nowhere to go. I also knew if I left, the chances of being able to get back in where slim to none. So I pulled back in the drive, leaving all my stuff in there, and went back into the house. I settled the dog and then joined my neighbors.

Photo by Ben Kuo on Unsplash

As the day went on, we saw more fire. Closer. We saw huge billowing clouds of black and brown smoke. We saw flare ups on the hillside and in the Wash (a dry riverbed that runs behind our house). But we also saw the helicopters racing back and forth dropping water and retardant.

I turned on the news. I scoured the internet for any updates about our fire and where it was but more importantly where it was headed. I cringed every time the wind gusted and rattled the rafters.

I called my two friends. One was okay. The other had flames shooting up behind her house.

Throughout the day it was a cycle of calling my friends for updates on their situation, watching news coverage, gathering outside with neighbors to watch the firefighters, and praying. A lot of praying.

I went on face book to update friends and family so they wouldn’t think I was dead or trapped.

My eyes burned, I smelled of smoke, my lungs hurt. My body ached. My mind raced.

We climbed up on ladders and kept eye on the Wash and the hills. We hosed each others’ roofs and lawns and the causeway behind the houses. We reassured each other. We cried. We – none of us – really slept that night. The helicopters flew all night. In the darkness the hills glowed like live coals, orange and hot. Nothing seemed real.

For the next three days, our lives were about keeping watch, praying, checking in with friends, trying to get damage reports, hoping nobody would end up homeless. It was a weird kind of prison. I’d committed to staying and I couldn’t leave.

BUT the thing that I started to notice as time passed was the way the media was reporting the fires. I noticed that they kept putting up pictures from the first day as though that were still happening, they only showed the scariest and worst images they could find. Not once did I see them take a crew to an area where things were okay, where neighbors were helping each other, where people were keeping vigil, protecting each other and their homes.

And to me, that is the story that should be being told. Yes, the fires are God awful and I pray that they are all out very soon. And my heart breaks for those who have lost everything. But it’s times like these where you really see and feel other people’s humanity, their hearts, and their love.

We are out of danger and our evac has been lifted.

Thankfully, no one I know personally lost anything, nor was anyone injured. In fact, in the Creek Fire, the last I read it was only 15 homes that were lost. Not the 30 or 40 they kept reporting. We did lose some animals, horses mostly, and that’s terrible, but no people.

And I truly believe that our staying made a difference – that the constant watching, the watering, the working together kept our area safer and maybe even saved a few homes.

From the bottom of my heart I thank anyone who uttered a prayer for us – friends, family and strangers alike. We felt your prayers, we really did – and they helped.

If you can, please donate to relief organizations to help the victims. So many people were not as lucky as we were and need so much help. Ventura Country United Way, Salvation Army Ventura, LA Country Animals

And so my friends, thank you again, and I pray that this never happens to you or anyone you love.