Just after 3 a.m. this morning, John asked me if I was awake. I was and responded ‘yes’. He heard the sirens of police vehicles and fire engines nearby. The noise went on for a long time so got up to investigate. Seeing that the electricity was out, he turned on his cell phone to set the alarm so I wouldn’t oversleep and miss work (I was out sick yesterday). He mentioned the smell of smoke in the air and asked if I could smell the same. I couldn’t at first but after I came back from using the restroom, I could smell wood burning. Even through my congestion the odor was quite strong. But since the commotion didn’t appear to be in our immediate neighborhood, we rested our heads on our pillows to get some sleep.
Then the phone rang. It was our landlord calling to warn us that the fire was very close to our neighborhood and we should pack up our stuff in case we need to leave home. After peeking out of our windows to see the glow of a huge fire not too far away, we took his advice and collected our critical items and packed our cars. Havi and Elgy were placed in to the hamster cage, ready to go. Then we huddled in the dark of our living room and waited thinking perhaps the fire would be under control before we would need to leave.
From the patio we could see the glow of the flames across the way on the golf course light up the otherwise dark sky.
The fire silhouetted the homes right across the street from ours. It was still dark so it felt like we were in a dream as we decided to walk down to the end of our street and assess the seriousness of the fire (at the time we read the news online, the fire had spanned over 400 acres).
The police officer by the vehicle blocking the road encouraged us to evacuate. The flames raged through the canyon and the strong winds surely didn’t help the situation or help the firefighters.
Watching the homes burn along the ridge burn before our eyes gave me goose bumps. I was reminded of a call from my father in the middle of the night when he helplessly watched our family’s first home engulfed in flames. “Gone.” He said. “Everything is all gone”. The strong winds facilitated the gutting of my parents’ home the same way this fire, named the Caughlin Fire (f/k/a the Pine Haven Fire), shredded the homes and fields in front of us. Some of the embers flew in to the yards of our neighborhood but quickly distinguished when the wind gust blew again.
Still we did not leave yet, the fire appeared to be under control. By dawn, the blaze seemed less threatening as if it died down…so we let the cats out of their cage and went in search of breakfast in one car. We didn’t get very far before we encountered streets blocked off by fire trucks or police vehicles and we realized we may not be able to go home after our meal so we better bring our cats with us. The police vehicles had already blocked off the street leading to our neighborhood but we told the officers we needed to retrieve our cats from our home and they let us through.
That’s when things took a turn for the worst. The howling wind started blowing harder, there were fire trucks down our street, uniformed men with gas masks banging doors and windows instructing residents to evacuate including this officer walking down our block.
|by David B. Parker/RGJ|
Outside ashes fell from the sky, the wind pushed me around as I loaded the car with the last of our stuff. We didn't pack our cars with much…our cats, their food and litter, important paperwork, computers and external hard-drives, and two bags of clothes to change in to and our bikes.
The Reno Gazette Journal was outside our house, taking photos as we got in our cars.
|John getting in car|
|by David B. Parker/RGJ|
|Daly leaving house|
|David B. Parker/RGJ|
Even though our friends and co-workers opened up their homes to us, we didn’t want to be a burden (especially with me recovering from the cold) and so we settled in a hotel with our cats for the night. It felt so good to have a hot shower, I could smell the smoke rise up with the steam off my body. Even after soaping up and a shampoo, I still cannot get rid of the odor that has filled my nostrils since this morning.
We waited to hear if our house and the possessions within was the next loss. We waited to hear when we would be able to return but there was no timeline yet. The fire grew from damaging hundreds of acres to 2,000 acres. In the end, about 25 homes were destroyed (this is a Google Map of the homes: http://www.rgj.com/article/20111118/NEWS/111118012/Google-map-affected-fire-areas). The cause is unknown at this time and so far, only one fatality (an elderly man suffered a cardiac arrest during evacuation).
I hope our home is there when we return (hopefully tomorrow), even if it smells like smoke…as do our cats but their baths can wait. They’ve had enough excitement for today.
As for John and I...we've been up since 3 a.m. and are finally resting on our hotel bed. At one point this afternoon, the thought of having nothing but what we could fit in our cars, having to start from scratch for simple things choked us up. Now, as I'm sitting here saying goodnight to you all...Havi is passed out on the table (she hasn't stirred since she fell into her slumber and she's usually a light sleeper), John is on the bed next to me laughing at some comedy on t.v. and Elgy is nestled between us...I honestly mean it from the bottom of heart when I say that I have...all I need...what's truly important is right here with me. And I cannot be happier knowing this.
Reno Gazette Journal:http://www.rgj.com/article/20111118/NEWS/311180001/Caughlin-Fire-has-destroyed-20-homes-nearly-all-Washoe-schools-closed-new-evacuation-center-Galena-High?odyssey=mod|mostview
NBC News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57327823/wildfire-tears-through-reno-10000-evacuated/
KTVN News: http://www.ktvn.com/story/16072251/caughlin-fire-grows-to-2000-acres