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
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.