Monday is the one-year anniversary of the Fourmile Fire. At 10:30 AM on a hot, windy, and dry day my emergency pager went off. I heard the last part of the initial message from the firefighter whose fire pit had reignited three days after he doused a fire and proceeded to ignite the hillside. I could tell from the sound of his voice we were in big trouble.
I was on the air as a radio base for fifteen minutes until a power outage knocked me off the air. By the time I had my auxiliary electric generator running the county's communication van had taken over radio duties. I spent the next hour packing up our eight cats and other essentials for evacuation.
I finally left just after 3:00 PM, driving my wife's 4-wheel drive van while my 16-year-old niece (who's now away on a Rotary Club exchange program to Denmark) drove my Subaru Outback. We bailed when the fire crested a hill less than 1/8 mile away.
We spent the next ten days in the Homewood Suites - five adults and eight cats in their two-bedroom accommodations. The cats all settled into a routine almost immediately while we humans tried to figure out if we would have a house to return to. My wife, Suzanne along with her twin sister and niece, are volunteer firefighters. They spent the first 24 hours on the fire and then worked on structure protection several times during the week.
During my forced "vacation" most of the info about whether my house was still standing came from other Fourmile firefighters. Tuesday evening a slurry drop stopped the fire only 150 yards away. That was as close as the fire came to our home. But I didn't know for sure whether my house would survive until Friday afternoon, when the wind dropped off to the point that spot fires could be safely contained.
A year later, what did I learn from the fire? First, I learned how essential an evacuation list can be. Everyone, regardless of your fire of flood risk, should have a list of essential evacuation stuff posted somewhere you can grab it quickly. Believe me when I say that the imminent threat of a fire or flood affects your reasoning abilities in a negative way. It is very difficult to think clearly when faced by an approaching wall of flame. Doing your clear-thinking in advance on a list is the only way to insure even a modicum of clarity. Even with a list I ended up with only one pair of spare underwear.
I also learned how unimportant most of my stuff was and is. I took my entire music library that was on my hard drive. But my CDs, records, and tapes as well as un-digitized photographs and negatives, had to be left behind along with all of my stereo gear. I only took my recorders (packed and portable) and my photo gear. During the next ten days music came from either headphones or my FoxL portable speaker system.
During the last year I've sold off almost half of my record collection as well as many spare pieces of electronics. If I didn't evacuate it I figure I could live without it. Also I made this "deal" that if my house survived I'd try to get rid of half of everything in it. It's now much easier to find stuff in my closets.
The garage is still waiting for the same treatment.