11.15.2008

My Take On The Tea Fire

So Thursday night Kyle and I are sitting in the front room of the house with the TV on... it's windy outside. Really windy outside! Our fire alarms do a little sound off... which isn't too big of a surprise. Kyle and I look at each other and just shake our heads. The wind always seems to get our fire alarms to go off... so we don't think too much of it.

The phone rings... it's my buddy and former roommate, Alex. He's calling to chat and find out what's going on with me. We start to chat and I get up to walk around... which is pretty typical. Five minutes into the conversation I'm in the office when all of the sudden someone is wildly banging on the front door. I walk over to the door thinking... what in the world could be so urgent that this person needs to bang so wildly on the door?!?! After opening it... I'm met with some words that will make anybody's gut immediatly twist.

"Fire! Fire! There's a fire really close. Come outside I can show you."

I follow this wonderful woman who has taken the time to help save my life... out to my driveway. I look back behind my house up onto the side of the mountain. Roughly a half-mile to a mile further up the mountain is a wall of flames... looking very similar to this picture actually taken of the Tea Fire. The woman is already gone back to her car and on to find the next house that doesn't already have activity going on outside... Alex has overheard the conversation... says his goodbye and hangs up realizing the severity of the moment. Within seconds my brain makes the connection... it's super windy... the fire is on top of us... we've got 10 minutes to grab what's most important... and the rest will burn. These will be my last few rushed minutes in this house.

Kyle and I don't really panic... but we both know we have to work quickly. Dashing back inside I quickly prop open the inside door to the garage... open the outside garage door... unlock the truck and open all the doors. Quickly back inside... right to the computer. Unplug all the cables and leave them on the ground. Kyle grabs the other PC with his hard drive in it. Computers are in the truck. Another quick trip for 5 external hard drives... minus any cables. Another couple trips for photo albums and loose pictures in shoe boxes. Another trip for the laptop and briefcase. Filing cabinet open... passport... financial info.. tax info... into the truck.

Five minutes have passed since we laid our eyes on the fire baring down on us... the sun is down and the light outside is waning. Omedi comes home and dashes into his room to start filling his car with stuff. I tell Kyle to just start grabbing clothes and filling up whatever space is left in the truck. We both make a couple trips with clothes. Then we both turn our attention to helping Omedi with his stuff. On a trip to his car, Omedi drops and almost tragically steps on his glasses in the shrubs in front of the house. Luckily the glare from the front porch light gives them away to me within seconds and we side step what could have been a huge problem.

Within 10 minutes Kyle and I are in the truck... and pulling away. Kyle's car is in the shop so he is with me. Omedi is in his own car leaving ahead of us. Pulling out of the driveway I immediately begin to pray for our neighborhood... our house... the people... the 1200 students on the Westmont campus right next to us. I stop praying for a brief moment as driving away we are met with a clear view again of the huge flames headed at us. Kyle and I are both certain that our house will not be there after tonight.

Kyle and I are fortunate to have a couple different places to evacuate to... Kirsten has a spare bedroom open at her house in and Jen and Garth open there house up to us as well. We both are glued to the news all night... watching the footage of different houses burn... hoping to catch a glimpse of our neighborhood. If my house is going to burn... I want to at least know for sure... and to actually watch it burn.

Firefighters are quick to respond on this night... but they are fighting a losing battle. Winds are intense and the fire does what it wants. In fact... the wind makes the fire do crazy things. It jumps wildly around the hills of Montecito. Hot embers fly through the air... starting fires in the completely random places. One house burns while the two on both sides of it remain standing.

I get to bed around 2 AM tonight and am up at 4:45 AM checking different websites for the most recent information. The Westmont website gives me some of the best details... 14 houses in my neighborhood have been confirmed as destroyed. This hits me with mixed feelings... I had assumed the worst... but now hope was climbing back in. Which 14? Is the neighborhood still at risk? Will more burn? The sun starts to come up and I need to get in front of a TV again.

No footage of our neighborhood... but over 100 houses are confirmed as destroyed... a 98 year old gentleman from my neighborhood is the only fatality from the fire... but it's not confirmed that the fire is really the cause. Omedi had taken off to his girlfriend's house and his phone goes right to voicemail... I don't know what he knows or doesn't know. I try to get ahold of other people in my neighborhood. I finally connect with Eileen...

Her phone is dying and she can barely understand me. She had most likely sheltered in place at Westmont with all of the students and other people who had been caught on campus. She is my neighbor from two houses away and had been able to walk over to the neighborhood this morning before being forced to evacuate like the rest of us. As I scream my name into the phone so she can hear me and understand who it is she's talking to... she tells me that she is standing in front of what used to be her house. My heart sinks for her... but I have to know... can you see my house?

Yes... your house is still standing.

And quickly she gets off the phone to save battery. A warm rush comes over my body... and again... mixed feelings. My neighborhood has been devastated... but for some reason my house has seemed to make it through. A feeling of relief and sadness at the same time... and still... uncertainty.

As I write this it is Saturday night... two nights later. Evacuation warnings have been lifted in certain places... but my house remains deep in the area burned by the fire... I am still not allowed back. Firefighters will have to assess the neighborhood I live in... yellow cards to deem the house unlivable but safe for retrieving belongings... green cards to deem the house livable. The most recent information says that this may take several more days.

Here is an image of my neighborhood that someone found on a BBC website of all places. My house is highlighted by the blue arrow and a red arrow for each of the houses destroyed. My next door neighbor has lost their house! How does something like this happen?!? Fire and wind are such crazy things!

12 Comments:

Blogger Raleigh said...

wow, brett. what a crazy thing... i've been eager for details and appreciate hearing your perspective! glad you guys are safe and it looks like the house is, too.

11/15/2008 8:28 PM  
Blogger || davidjay || said...

Wow man! I heard that four houses burned down on my little culdesac! : /

11/15/2008 9:35 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Brett,
So glad you are ok! We are praying for you and your neighbors!

11/16/2008 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brett,
Your Mom sent me an email, and I want to let you know how glad I am that your house was spared. I pray that it will remain okay.
Kay Remillard

11/16/2008 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Bob Zangger said...

Hi Brett,

Shirley and I,along with the Overton Church are continuing to pray for you and your neighborhood.

By the way, you are gifted writer!

Bob & Shirley Zangger

11/17/2008 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brett,
Thanks for sharing....we've been so concerned. The aerial view really shows how close it was. So happy to know you are safe but so sad for the others less fortunate.
XX Aunt B.

11/17/2008 11:36 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Hey Brett! I can't believe that all this is happening. I am so glad to hear that you and your roommates got out quickly and safely. : ) Your blog was very well written and informative. : ) Anyways, I'll be praying for you and those around you. Good luck. Keep us posted.

11/17/2008 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brett,
Praise God all is well with you and your safe. Reach out to your neighbors that need help. Great artical U wrote.

rev. paul...LVCN

11/17/2008 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Brett, thanks for the informative blog. I've been praying for you and Kyle and the Westmont/SB communities all weekend and searching for info online. I will continue to pray, as I'm sure the rebuilding of the neighborhood will be a painful process. May God's comfort be with you all.

11/17/2008 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Wow Brett, I'm sure glad you are ok. I know someone that works over at Westmont College and saw some pictures of the damage there. You guys sure had God watching over you. I will be praying for you guys!

Your Myspace friend, Kim

11/18/2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger suzanne said...

Hi Brett,
While I was talking with Shyla, she heard from Annemarie who shared what was going on. I've been and will continue praying for you and all of the people affected by the fires.

11/18/2008 6:06 PM  
Blogger Autie said...

You have gotten so lazy now that you are a couple... Is Hanbury now your official blogger? What will you post about while she is away for a spell? Love ya both!

1/05/2009 11:42 PM  

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