Cambrian: Slice of Life

Tree fire could have been much worse

Recently, I promised y’all that the Tanners would do a fire drill/test evacuation and short overnighter trip to see whether my recovering stroke-patient husband could handle being away from home.

Have we done it? Well … not exactly. But recently, we came much closer than we would like to have done.

It was not a drill. We almost had the real thing and were ready to evacuate, until we were told that a nearby fire was limited to one lightning-struck tree that had been smoldering all night.

Yes, that night.

Stormy hurricane remnants had swooshed over the county in the wee hours of July 19 and “just parked there,” according to a firefighter who was out all night, dealing with the results of lightning strikes on a tree or power pole. 

For more than an hour, there were concurrent lightning strikes all around our hilltop home, bolts continually lighting up every skylight and window at the same time. Overlapping thunder claps shook the rafters (and everything else in the house, including us and the foundation, I think).

Much too close for comfort.

Dramatic? Exciting? Terrifying? Yes, times three. Especially since the rain didn’t start until after about 20 minutes of Mother Nature’s flaring, flashing and booming light show. With so much dry brush and so many dead trees all around all of us, that lightning could so easily have triggered “the big one.” 

Eventually, the storm’s intensity dwindled, leaving behind off-and-on thunder and showers and pudding-thick humidity.

After what felt like a few minutes of very restless sleep, we staggered out of bed. I saw fog in the forest below us. That’s nothing new. 

But this fog was roiling, spreading fast. It wasn’t fog! It was smoke! I couldn’t see fire, but there was a lot of smoke, and the plumes were expanding rapidly.

Sure enough, here came a fire engine. And then another. Thank you, firefighters!

 “Forget about the shower!” I yelled to Husband Richard. “There’s a fire below us! We’re evacuating.” 

As I collected essentials, I cross-checked my mental evacuation packing list with the one I’d committed to paper and put by the front door:

Medicines, check. 

Cash, yes.

Several days’ worth of clothes and underwear, check. 

Cellphones, computers, tablets, cameras and chargers, check. 

Flashlight, extra batteries, extra wheelchair and walker? In the van, check. 

Water, food, first-aid kit, copies of vital documents? In our “go bags” and ready-packed suitcases.

As I started packing up things I can’t put in a go bag — such as Husband Richard’s medical equipment — a firefighter walked across our meadow. I rushed out to ask what the situation was, and whether we should evacuate.

He said the fire was basically confined to the lightning-struck tree that had smoldered away all night. He suggested that we shelter in place, closing windows and doors tightly 

because Husband Richard is so sensitive to smoke.

So, that’s what we did. 

A smoldering tree. The same fire trigger that flared up into a half-acre blaze near Scott Rock on Friday, July 24. Five days after the lightning storm. 

Yes, that could have been us. How terrifying. Fortunately, air-attack pilots and firefighters doused the Bridge Fire quickly. But more lightning could be in our meteorological future in this oh-so-weird summer. 

What did we learn from our mini-fire? 

We’re probably more prepared to evacuate than many people, but have much more to do to be instantly prepared. I’m a champion-level procrastinator, but I think this experience has blasted me off my everlovin’ and into action. 

We will be auto-notified if emergency commanders call for an evacuation because, for some time, we’ve been signed up for Reverse 911 (in the upper right corner of www.slosheriff.org) and nixle (http://local. nixle.com/register). 

I don’t think we’ll need assistance in evacuating, but if we did, we could register for it at www.slocounty.ca.gov/OES/Evacuation_Assistance_List.htm

And the Tanners do know from painful experience what to take and what to leave behind. You see, we’ve already survived one house fire that destroyed everything except us, our dog, our vehicles and what we had on our backs. We weren’t prepared, and we know now what we wish we’d taken then.

We also know that, if necessary, we can leave it all behind and save ourselves. Because in an emergency, that’s all that really matters.

What to pack

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office recommends the following contents for your go bag. At a minimum, you should have the basic supplies listed below:

  • Water — 1 gallon per person, per day (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
  • Food — nonperishable, easy-to-prepare items (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • Extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Medications (seven-day supply) and medical items
  • Multipurpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cellphone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area

For more detailed information about how to create a kit for your family or workplace visit The Red Cross website — www.redcross.org.

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