One week ago this morning, we awoke to the unthinkable.
The choking smoke and the barricades and the still-rampaging Carr Fire kept us from even knowing exactly what had happened. But we knew it was bad. Worse than our fears.
The night before, many of us had dropped everything to race ahead of the flames. Firefighters had abandoned all hope of stopping the beast that jumped the mighty Sacramento. Sirens blaring, the first responders raced to warn the vulnerable.
Get out now.
As details emerged that next morning and in the days to follow, we learned that more than 1,000 of our neighbors — our people — had lost their homes. Two men who tried to stand between us and the flames had lost their lives. A great grandma and two precious little children, a man too weak to flee — they all had perished.
The grief is fresh and it’s deep. We are hurting and we will hurt for a while.
Thousands are still evacuated, even among the fortunate who still have a standing home. We haven’t had the first of the memorial services. So much of what we boast to outsiders about — the Sacramento River Trail, the mountain bike single track network, the marina at Oak Bottom and the hills around Whiskeytown Lake — are torched.
We are on edge. We wonder how to talk to our kids and grandkids. A routine brush fire, like one near Hilltop Drive last Sunday, brings waves of post-traumatic panic.
But we also have never been more of a community. Emotions unify us.
Grief is certainly one of them. It’s so big, and so powerful. Its cousin, survivor’s guilt, settles over those who haven’t lost as much.
But we are united, too, by gratitude. A little girl in cowboy boots trotting up to firefighters to give them burritos. The yard signs that popped up immediately, the poster-sized page from this newspaper in windows, the large hand-written message on a sheet of plywood leaning against a garage door.
Some of us, aware that firefighters form the front lines but so many others deserve credit too, have taken the time to write longer signs, with lists. Inevitably, they’ll leave someone out. The National Guard, the local cops and deputies, the law enforcement reinforcements from all over, the utility workers, the people of Caltrans, the public servants and nonprofit employees.
We turn our gratitude, too, toward each other. The friends and strangers who’ve taken us into their homes and helped save our animals. The businesses offering free food, an air-conditioned space, even a pair of glasses. The ordinary people organizing fundraisers and starting GoFundMe accounts and looking for ways big and small to show solidarity.
In the days to come, another emotion will unify us as well. For some of us, it’s too soon, and it isn’t the sort of thing that can be rushed. Our future is not some social media hashtag. It’s a long, difficult path.
But when it comes, it will be the most powerful of all of them. When it comes, we will see this community rise like never before.
Editor’s note: Silas Lyons, the executive editor of the Redding Record Searchlight, is a former SLO Tribune reporter, editor and columnist.