Sunday, October 28, 2007


The fires in Southern California have brought some memories of another firestorm rushing back to me.

I remember it as if it happened yesterday. On Sunday, October 20, 1991, I had been lolling around, having a lazy day, debating whether or not I should drive out to Berkeley to see my boyfriend in his new apartment at the Parkwoods complex. Then I got the call. "Honey, stay where you are; don't come to Berkeley. I'm o.k., but my apartment and the hills are on fire." WHAT?! I remember running out my condo and looking west, toward the Berkeley/Oakland area. All I could see was a gigantic plume of black smoke.

Panic began to engulf me. Fire scares me like nothing else. Earthquakes, I can tolerate. After all, I have been extremely lucky with earthquakes. I get a ride that spikes the adrenaline momentarily; but I have had the good fortune to be in safe structures during "tremblers" (A small sampling: the Whittier earthquake, Loma Prieta, Northridge, and countless other small shakers). Fire is another beast altogether; it has a life of its own and leaves very little in its wake.

I spent the next few hours, worrying and trying to get any information I could on television. Why was it taking so long for my boyfriend to get to my place? Was his sister o.k.? Did they get the cat out? It was really windy, was the fire going to jump the hill and come towards us? Eventually, my boyfriend and his sister made it to my apartment safely. They were unscathed, but lost almost everything.
Including this poor guy. I still miss Oliver.

We spent the next few days looking at scenes like this. Word finally came that we could go back into the area, to see if there was anything salvageable. When people describe firestorms, they often say that it looked like a bomb went off. It's true, it looked like Armageddon. But fire is a funny thing, it can take one structure and leave another one untouched five feet away. As we went back into the apartment complex, we were stunned to see the lobby of one of the other buildings untouched. The entire structure had been gutted, but the lobby and its white sofa were pristine. While my boyfriend and I stood looking at the burned and rusted shell of his sister's car, our jaws dropped as a man drove his shiny sports car out of the building's garage. Life sometimes is really just the luck of the draw.

I don't think that people affected by that firestorm would have been able to get back on their feet without the help of the Salvation Army or the American Red Cross. These two organizations were our lifeline during the first few days following the fire. They mobilized quickly and helped with the most pressing needs of the fire victims. Later on, FEMA (they were good in those days) and countless others pitched in at offices, churches, and fundraisers. If you have the means to help, please do. You may not get a thank you note, but you have the eternal gratitude of the people you are helping! Hmmmm...I wonder if any knitters have a group up for this? *I just found the San Diego Wild Fire Blanket Project via the 25 Things for Charity blog. I believe the group is also on Ravelry. (Good thing I took that granny square class!) If you know of any others, please let me know!

By the way, if you live in a wildfire area, the Red Cross can help you get prepared. Cleaning the gutters and clearing a 30-100 foot safety zone around your house may seem like an odious job, but it does pay off in the end.


emicat said...

Fires are not things to mess around with. I was amazed to see people there refusing to leave their homes, despite firefighters practically yelling at them that they have to leave. I understand how much a home means to someone, but not worth it if it means losing your life. When they say you need to leave, they aren't kidding around.

It's so strange to see the photos when the fire jumps and misses one home in an area and to see the rest of its surroundings in total devastation. It really is the luck of the draw when it comes to fires raging through a housing area.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. I'm am so, so sorry for your loss with the cat. The is never a replacement for that. mar

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the Fire Blanket charity. This helps with my need to do something to help.

Thinking of you,
-your SP11 pal