I’m sitting at my kitchen counter eating breakfast – Malt-O Meal and bacon. It’s my favorite winter breakfast. It feels like winter today – that morose, gloomy feeling that lives in the pit of your stomach at the apex of a season whose very nature is death after harvest; the darkest hour before the birth of spring. Where unease, doubt, and anxious anticipation swirl around inside your head without a distraction to absorb their energy.
I feel guilty for writing those words; for being fortunate enough to be sitting in my home, which is safe, which hasn’t lost power, which is far from the destruction just a short distance away. There is a tinge of shame present in thinking this post is a good idea, or in good taste. Of all the times I could (poorly) wax poetically about the plight and misfortune of others I am torn on whether to keep my mouth shut or allow myself the opportunity to grieve in the only way I know how, which is through words.
I feel like I need to carry a thesaurus in my pocket for the next several months. The language that is needed to express the heart ache – the sorrow – the sheer magnitude of hurt that is felt for my community isn’t present in my current lexicon.
On Monday, July 23rd the Carr fire broke out in the Whiskeytown National Forest a few miles west of the edge of Redding proper. By Thursday morning it had ballooned from 4500 acres to 20,000 acres overnight. Several communities were put under immediate mandatory evacuations. As Thursday progressed, we all watched in horror as our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our families were forced to flee from their homes. The nature of the fire and its incredibly fast and unpredictable movements combined with insane heat and winds created what I can only imagine was a nightmare for logistics and public safety.
As the sun set on Thursday evening, the real terror began as the fire jumped the Keswick reservoir and headed straight towards the North West parts of Redding, while simultaneously reeking havoc in Old Shasta – making it’s way into West Redding from multiple angles and directions. The Fire was also heading North East creeping towards Shasta Lake City and Shasta Dam. Thousands of residents began to flee their homes trying to find somewhere safe. It was utter madness to watch.
As Friday dawned, and more information and news became available we learned that the fire had now increased to over 45,000 acres, the rate of containment had dropped to 3% and two fire fighters had been killed battling the blaze. One of the men was a Redding Firefighter stationed a few blocks from where I work. I think about how we both got up and went to work a short distance from each other everyday. I don’t know him, and he doesn’t know me. I go to an office and do office stuff. He died trying to save lives and property. It’s a sobering realization. The perspective, the truth, the true meaning and nature of life can hit you like a bat to the face in times such as these.
Footage began to surface on the web of entire neighborhoods leveled. Apocalyptic Hollywood movie type images. The emotional rollercoaster of hearing good news over hear, and bad from over there. I’d watch one Instagram story of elation as someone discovered that their family home was intact. Then immediately you’d see someone discover the exact opposite.
The destructive tentacles of the Carr Fire are stretching over as much of the area as it possible can – like the villain in a shitty super hero movie, satisfaction will not come until every sentient being within eye sight of its destructive plume feels the weight and impact of its strength.
We are far from done with this. This is not a reflexive, past-tense post. It is dispatch one.
I feel helpless. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to be forced from your home in the middle of the night with just the clothes on your back and not knowing if your home is still standing. Or to wake to news that everything that you own, everything you have worked so hard to build, the physical epicenter of your family is gone. I’m actively watching this happening and its unimaginable.
My heart aches today, as it did yesterday, and the day before. As I watch the ash rain down like snow, I realize that it is time to put this exercise to bed. It is time to catch up on the latest information. It is time to get back to facebook messages and continue checking in on folks. It’s time to get to work and help in any way I can.
The horrors and chaos that arise from natural disaster do not easily fit into the paradigms and social constructs that we have built the past few years. Hyperbole and sensationalism hold no weight in the visceral realities of survival and helping thy neighbor. Love, compassion, empathy. These are what matter. They are at the core of who we are as a species. It is ironic that their true value shines brightest in trying times, yet that irony should’t prevent us from grasping onto their presence and lessons and then thrusting them back into the world.
As the days and weeks progress, I will be posting links to various Go Fund Me pages and the like as they become available. We get by with a little help from our friends.
To the family and friends of Redding Fire Dept inspector Jeremy Stoke: I realize that no words can fill the hole left in your hearts after this loss, but I want to say thank you anyways. Thank you for being selfless.