Friday, November 18, 2011

Holy Smokes

Thank you to our friends, family, and co-workers for your thoughts, concern, and kindness in opening up your home to us. We are safe, doing fine and in good spirits. Our girls are resting and are also with us. We moved to Vegas for an adventure and things are going well but we never expected things to be ‘smokin’!

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.
PB180016

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).
PB180006

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.
PB180008 

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.
IMG-20111118-00193

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.

southwest-reno-fire-evacuation
by David B. Parker/RGJ
Inside our house Havi was wandering around, curious about the buzz in her surroundings so she was easy to pick up and put in the carrier. Elgy, on the other hand, was NO WHERE in sight and I suspected that she was underneath the master bed. Well that’s where she was but she wouldn’t come to me after I called to her. She has a tendency to run away and hide when she’s scared (no doubt sensing the urgency in my voice). John came to help me and we chased her from bedroom to living room—and it wasn’t easy in a candle lit house filled with smoke from the big fire.

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.
southwest-reno-fire-john John getting in car
by David B. Parker/RGJ
The scariest part for me was when I couldn’t get a hold of Elgy so we can leave the house. Fear crept in to my heart and tears welled up in my eyes, not only from the smoke, but from the thought of having to leave her behind if I can’t get to her. I was so relieved to driving down the street, following John with the girls in tow. All around, the air was cloudy…like a fog, except it was smoke. Our street is one-way but we couldn’t exit at the end so we had to go the opposite direction. As we left, firefighters were hosing the flames all along Ridgeview Drive.
southwest-reno-fire-daly Daly leaving house
David B. Parker/RGJ
After that we ate breakfast at the Big Bear Diner so we can discuss our next steps. Then we hunkered down in a coffee shop, the owner was kind enough to let us house the girls in the back office while we stayed warm, out of the gusty winds and veil of smoke, and watched the news.

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.
close-up-map
caughlin-fire-destroys-homes

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.

Articles:
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

3 comments:

M said...

Daly, I'm so happy to hear that all four of you are okay. I'm glad that Elgy let you finally catch her. You're right. It's events like this that force you to evaluate what's really important in life. I hope your home is a-ok!

Anonymous said...

The photos of the houses with a backdrop of firewalls look like something from a horror movie. I am so glad you all are okay. I feel for all of those people who were not as fortunate.

- Kashmir

Daly said...

Hi M, thanks for the comment. We are home and the home is a-ok! Thank goodness.

Kashmir, that's what it felt like...a horror movie and we were both in disbelief. I feel terrible for those who lost their home and are living the reality of what we feared would happen to us.

It is good to be a part of a community that is very caring and supportive. People are giving goods and monetary donations, or offering room and board to families and displaced pets. I pray that everything will be okay in the end and that their lives can return to normal soon.