We all see stories about disasters everywhere and we react to them with a detached sorrow for those impacted. I have seen tornado damage in Wyoming and Nebraska. Floods and fires in Colorado. Some of which I have been involved in and seen the aftermath. It is a different feeling when you are involved and not reading about it later. I have seen businesses that I frequented in Nebraska where not only they but the whole town was devastated by a tornado. My antique stall in Loveland was washed away by the Colorado flood that changed Big Thompson Canyon into a different landscape. Now I am in Phoenix and see the Monsoon damage, uprooted trees, roofs ripped off buildings, flooding, dust storms that blind drivers. My grandkids have a safe zone with us when they need it while our daughter tries to go about a normal life.
I lived in San Francisco a few years and when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened, after I had moved away, I saw the damage to areas I had frequented. The collapsed freeway that I had traveled hundreds of times in Oakland. But I was long gone and knew few that remained there. The Oakland firestorm that destroyed the hillsides, did the railroad park survive?
I was in Anderson when the wildfires and floods seemed a normal part of living in the northstate. One flood the waters came across the strawberry fields within yards of my house. I drove through rivers on Rupert Road to get to Stingy Lane where the roads on the west side were flooded as well as houses. There seemed endless flooding off Balls Ferry Road south of Deschutes Road.
When the Jones fire ripped through the countryside south toward Anderson I watched from Buenaventura Road as the demon smoke advanced south. The scary part was when night came and we were home in Anderson and brought with it the patrol cars sounding the alarm, “Prepare to evacuate”. We had the car packed with mementos, photos and such. What is really valuable changes when you realize it could be destroyed. Pictures of my family were much more important than a TV or VCR. I sat in the front yard and watched the flames from afar as they seemed to get closer, and when they hit a section of manzanita the flames would light up the sky. Friends would call, landlines then, to see if we were okay and if we knew if their relatives in Anderson were okay. Thankfully the fire was brought under control because I believe to this day if the fire had jumped the Sacramento, Anderson would be in cinders. Ironically, a coworker of mine at SLC had a newspaper route and lived in Jones Valley. Instead of delivering newspapers he went door to door waking people about the firestorm. He was one of the heroes who stepped up. The area was blocked off but another coworker got his friends in the back of his pickup, all with yellow rain jackets and picks and shovels. and told the people at the blockade they were volunteer firefighters and they were let through and saved a friend’s house.
A prescribed burn of blackberry bushes by Lewiston that got out of control ignited the Lewiston Fire which changed the landscape there for decades. I picked up my sister-in-law in Douglas City and raced up Buckhorn and wondered if I would beat the flames I could see north of me to the top. The Lewiston fire never made it over the hill but it left a charred countryside by Lewiston.
The difference then from now I was there. I could help.
Reading the streets that are being impacted by the Carr Fire, Redbud Lane, Rock Creek road and others I know people who live on them, or did. My niece in Lewiston, lived her whole live in Trinity County, has never been through an evacuation, and now has been evacuated twice in the same day. I wonder if Shasta High School will survive as I see the roads around it are closed/open at times. My just married son is set to fly to San Jose and visit his wife’s sister. Then they were going to rent a car and drive to Lewiston to see family. Now he doesn’t know if that is possible.
Being in the midst of a disaster one really is kept busy helping out, watching for looters, feeding and housing the displaced. There is little down time. When one is no longer there a hundred questions pop up and there is no one with which to communicate. News is spotty and confusing for those in the disaster area but they can usually find someone to talk to. That is not the case when one lives a thousand miles away. I can’t drive by Shasta to see if it is safe. I can’t help my relatives in Lewiston. I can only hope they are safe without truly knowing, even in this digital age.
That is the helplessness I feel.
Bruce Vojtecky lives in Cheyenne, WyomingClick here for more fire stories.