Beginning in June our county slipped into drought again. We had what’s being called a flash drought, when the water suddenly and drastically left the soil, leaving plants gasping in the summer heat. I was caught off guard and lost quite a few plants, mostly berries, blueberries, strawberries and new blackberry plants.
All through July the temperatures soared and the drought deepened. By the end of July the tree were giving up their leaves and going dormant. At this time I was preparing for some minor surgery to take care of a problem I’d been dealing with for 5 years. I had cooked meals, made snacks, stocked up on food, cleaned the house…I had everything ready. While making my preparations, during the first few days of August, fire conditions went from high to extreme and the potential for firestorms were everywhere in the state.
I went into hospital on the Friday around lunch time, but surgery was delayed. By the time I recovered enough to leave it was nearly 5 PM. It was at this time that Peter told me our county was on fire. As Peter drove me home, I watched smoke billowing into the sky, while I fought post-surgical nausea, and was quite aware that we were heading towards it. Friends’ homes were in danger and they had evacuated earlier in the day. At that point, the fire was south of the highway, headed north but a few miles east of our house. We settled uneasily at home.
When scanner traffic started to indicate the fire was approaching 120th St. (a mile to the east), we decided to make preparations for a quick departure, just in case. There’s only one way out of our neighborhood, and a wind shift could cut off that escape route. From the couch, barely awake, I tried to think of everything we and the dog would need. With a few bags packed by the front door, I went to lie down in bed while Peter kept monitoring the information streams: radios, tv, and internet.
Around eleven, with the dog barking, I was conscious enough to notice the flashing lights in our driveway. The wind had shifted, the fire was still out of control, and the police were recommending evacuation. Peter packed everything up as I made my slow way to the car. We watched the progress of the fire from the gas station on the highway until midnight. It wasn’t getting any bigger or closer, but it wasn’t getting any better either. At that point I told Peter I needed to lie down, and our seemingly endless search for hotel room began. Hotels that accepted dogs had no rooms available. By three in the morning we were finally settled in a hotel in Moore, with the help of a clerk at yet another full hotel. By then I was in a lot of pain, and we had forgotten to pack any analgesics. Luckily the hotel vending machines had an assortment. I was also hungry, with all my carefully prepared food, left behind. Again the vending machines offered emergency rations.
By Saturday morning, after about four hours of sleep, we attempted to go home. I was disturbed by my flushed cheeks and nose. The vending machine was out of Acetaminophen, and we had forgotten to grab some dog food. Highway 9 was blocked but we took back roads to within two miles of our turnoff, and security let us through when we said we were going to 108th. Beyond 108th, the highway was completely blocked. The fire was still out of control but the winds had shifted away again. Our neighborhood was intact, thanks to the huge effort of firefighters and volunteers from all over the state who fought to contain the fire all through the night.
The Saturday is still a bit of a blur. I was running a fever and spent most of the day in bed. Peter napped with me until the power went out in the afternoon. The temperature outside was 110F. Luckily we had the foresight to make reservations at a hotel for the Saturday night as well. With more time to prepare, and my brain a little less fuzzy, we packed up again and rejoined the refugees in town. The power did come back on, but the fire wasn’t yet contained. Both Peter and I were exhausted, so we got a good night’s sleep in a comfortably cool room.
We packed up again the next morning and headed home for good. The fire was finally contained, although the firefighters were battling spot fires and flare ups throughout the day. Around fifty families lost their homes, including one of my agility instructors, and over 9000 acres burned, from a fire which turns out to have been deliberately set.
Having been through this experience, I realize that all the planning in the world won’t do you any good unless you can adapt your plans on the fly. I never expected to include an evacuation in my carefully planned post-surgical recovery, but I think we handled it masterfully. However, there are some preparations that I plan to implement, such as keeping an analgesic supply in our overnight bag, and having a three day supply of food for D’Argo in his travel bag at all times. Beyond that, be flexible is the best advice.