My Life and Work in the California Fire

My Life in the California Fire

I lived through the northern California fire. I just saw a map of the Tubs Fire. It came a lot closer to me then I had thought — perhaps just too short blocks. I’m going to talk about my experience with the fire. It is light-hearted. But don’t take that to mean that I don’t take the fire very seriously. Over 40 people died. Some people were identified by the serial numbers on their replacement hips. Roughly 3,000 structures were burned to the ground. At least another thousand were partially burned. It was a horrible thing. People were very afraid and for very good reason.

Evacuation From the California Fire

Sunday night I had been smelling a wild fire. I sleep with my window open because I have south-facing Windows and my room tends to get very hot during the day. Then at 3:00 in the morning there was a knock on the door. My neighbor Jodi told me that there was a fire and that people were evacuating. I could see the main street from my doorway and indeed it was bumper to bumper traffic — at 3:00 in the morning.

Then at 3:10 in the morning I got a very loud knock on the door from Charlie, my next door neighbor, telling me that there was now a forced evacuation. I threw on some clothes, grabbed my father, and drove to Coddingtown, the biggest mall in our area. The mall is less than 3 miles away. I walk to it all the time, and it takes me about 50 minutes to get there. It took us longer than that to drive there.

Hanging Out in Coddingtown

We sat in the car and listened to the local news. Most of the local news was not what I consider news. But it reminded me very much of the news coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. They didn’t know anything. There was no new news. And they were going to repeat that over and over again.

The only cool part was at around 5:00 am when the fire got close enough to them that they had to evacuate. I don’t say that because it’s cool that they were In Harm’s Way. It just broke things up. And it was some actual news for a change. And note they were all safe and so was the station. Unfortunately, our local NPR transmitter was completely destroyed. So now I have to listen to the San Francisco feed which is not very good.

Back Home — in Retrospect, Not Too Smart

At around 10:00 in the morning we decided to go back home. I could see on my phone that although we were in the evacuation Zone we were at the very edge of it. If we simply crossed the street we were not in it. So we went home and sat around there. My bed is much more comfortable then a car seat.

The next few days we’re all the same. I spent the days reading books which was nice because I get so little time to do that. And at night I tried to read by flashlight but found it very difficult. I’ve seen this in movies a lot. Maybe it’s just kids who are able to do it. I usually just gave up and slept an excessive amount.

Life Without Internet

If I had taken the money back the gods would surely have cut the electricity again.

My biggest problem was that I was unable to work. We had no electricity; no internet; no gas. It was kind of interesting though. You could drive 5 miles away and everything was just fine. So we ate out a lot. But that would only go so far because if I didn’t get an internet connection soon I wasn’t going to have any money to eat out. My work is entirely dependent upon having an internet connection.

But on Wednesday I had an idea. I called up my friend Barbara who took care of my brother when he was still alive. I asked her if I could rent some space in her home where I could work. She said sure — that I could do it for free. But I was certainly not going to do that. Barbara has a lot more people to care for than I do. She deserve to be paid.

Renting Office Space Outside the California Fire

So Wednesday night I brought my computer and everything else over to her house and set it up. It was great. Thursday morning I made my way over to her place and worked my first day. I was thrilled. Then I went home.

Tribute to the Gods

And then the electricity came back on! That included the internet connection. Thank all the gods!

So I drove back to her place and got my computer and set it up. Barbara tried very hard to give me the money back. But I was sure that was a bad idea. As far as I was concerned the money I had paid was a tribute to the Gods. If I had taken the money back the gods would surely have cut the electricity again.

The Journey’s End

We only got gas back yesterday. Which means that we went for another 4 days without it. And it is impossible to cook anything substantial in my house without gas because the stove is gas.

But I didn’t care because I had electricity and I had internet and I could work. And we were extremely lucky. We could easily have lost our home. The picture above is of the house of my sister-in-law who lives about a mile away from me. It looks like Armageddon. The first couple of days of the fire it looked like Armageddon everywhere. But it’s mostly over. And I hope there will be little more destruction and no more death.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

8 thoughts on “My Life and Work in the California Fire

  1. Excellent news that you made it through that relatively unscathed. As for cooking, I assume you have a gas range and oven and neither were usable. Where I live now has a gas range and an electric wall oven. When we moved in late August we didn’t have a microwave for a week or two and that’s usually how I cook vegetables. So I was having to steam them in a skillet. Do you have a grill in your backyard you could work with? Or were there restrictions on that due to the fire? Also, the crock pot is an underrated thing.

    • My goodness, this is the best advertisement — ever — for owning an outdoor grill. When the power goes out, all your frozen food is on a clock to being trash, but you can still grill it. Grills are always sold with pictures of happy family/friends gathering out in the backyard. That’s nonsense, Americans all hate each other, nobody gathers for a barbecue anymore.

      However, grills as a survivalist thing — that’s a marketing angle right there.

      (I’ve actually done this. But it was when we lost power for a few days, not when we were struggling to survive. There was a plethora of grocery stores and restaurants nearby which where working just fine. I simply didn’t want all the frozen food to go bad.)

    • Thank you!

      I’ve decided that I’m going to buy a small gas hibachi. I’ve been wanting one anyway. This is a good excuse. Actually: I know I have an electric burner, but I couldn’t find it. With that and a toaster oven, I can cook Christmas dinner!

  2. You gotta pay your neighbors for their assistance, when you can. That’s what a decent society is. It doesn’t mean you love all your neighbors. Heck no! Sometimes your neighbors are complete twerps. But a decent society means you respect your neighbors as fellow humans, and you help them out when they need it, and they pay you back in kind.

    I’m not surprised your friend tried to refuse the money. Money kinda taints a gesture of goodwill. It’s too bad we’ve lost the custom of bringing cooked foods as gratitude. Yeah, often the cooked foods were stuff the recipient doesn’t like to eat, plus the recipient has to clean the serving vessel (one was always told, “don’t worry about washing it,” but courtesy demanded you washed it). It was a good way to say “thanks” without money changing hands (as was offering to repair a broken faucet, knitting a scarf for cold weather, etc.) You were definitely right to pay her, though. Food gifts are outdated, and an Amazon gift card is something you give at Christmas to a relative you don’t like.

    That smell of fire is unmistakable. And unless you’re in a campground, it is a terrifying thing to smell. Since 1999, I’ve lived in exactly five different buildings, and two of them have caught fire. (I didn’t cause either!) You smell that smell, and your brain goes “oh, SHIT.”

    So sorry for your sister-in-law, that’s awful. Thank goodness, though, California has a pretty decent governor, so I think many people will get the help they deserve. That fuckwad governor in Texas is being awful about helping Houston people.

    Best wishes to you and yours. We live in interesting times, as the old Chinese curse says, and we’re going to have to learn to pull together if we want to make it through.

    • We have a very interesting neighborhood. I live with my father, and all the kids are glad because he really does need to be taken care of (he’s 85). But he also helps out all the neighbors with their little problems with their houses and cars. (My father was a building contractor and still does beautiful woodwork.) So everyone in the neighborhood is really protective of him. And they do indeed send us food over when they have too much. I do the same thing. For example, there is no way that my father and I can eat a who pie. And when I make a chicken pie, I usually also make a couple of little chicken pies that I give out to the old people who live alone. I know that’s nice to do, but it is also really nice for me to be able to give my food to people who appreciate it.

      So our neighborhood really is like something out of the 1950s. And it isn’t totally white. We have a number of immigrants from Africa. (I’ve learned about some very interesting sweet wines from them!) It’s really idyllic. Of course, it’s pretty liberal. They all put up with my father because he is so liberal in a personal sense. He does more for the neighborhood than anyone else. It’s pretty amazing. I think he has shaped the neighborhood. People see him helping others and they follow along.

      I’m not worried about my sister-in-law; they are rich. And I realized something: the reason only the house burned was because they grow grapes (on an industrial scale) for the local wineries. Because of all the water in grapes, they actually act as fire breaks. They will be perfectly fine. It’s sad, of course. But if they were poor, it would be so much worse. (And I know: they don’t think of themselves as rich; but they are well into the top 5% — and maybe into the top 1% — of income earners; they are rich.) I will help them any way I can, but I don’t worry.

      As for us: other than losing 3 days of work, we were and are fine. I think of the people who were really harmed by the fire — and there are many. But we aren’t. I appreciate everyone’s kind wishes, though. It shows just how random our lives are. We could have lost everything.

      • Sounds a lot like my wife’s late father. Nader supporter in the 1970s, turned into a Fox News addict. But he was a good neighbor and people liked him. Quite the tinkerer, which is sometimes a problem for us as he didn’t always fix things “by the book” and so there’s some stuff in this house that we literally have no idea how to fix if it ever breaks.

        Being a caregiver for a relative is certainly a full-time job! It’s definitely rewarding and worth the effort, but it can be stressful at times. Some people have it going both ways — older children AND aging parents living with them. I’d probably break down and join the French Foreign Legion.

  3. It’s impressive how different things can be a few yards away from each other. That was one of the horrors of the blitz in England. One house would be completely destroyed, but the houses on either side of it almost undisturbed. I’m glad your house was on the safe side of the line.

    • Tornadoes/severe thunderstorms, too. You can walk through city streets and one block is just wrecked, with downed trees smashing houses & parked cars, then the next block … nothing. Not so much as a few branches on the sidewalk. It’s crazy.

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