After two-hundred and fifty days of zero precipitation, Southern California went ablaze. It began in Santa Paula, swept through Ventura, found its way to Ojai- twice, and then crossed yet another line to Santa Barbara County.
Downtown Santa Barbara was left looking like a ghost town. Neighbors left and right, fled for smoke-free zones. Those people who remained wore masks even to unbuckle their children from car seats and safely get them inside. Helicopters and fire trucks flooded the cities of Ventura, Ojai, Montecito, Summerland and Santa Barbara. More than eight-thousand first responders inhabited the once, blue-skied, spirited towns that hugged our California coastline. And where there used to be an incredible horizon to be admired from sunrise to sunset, a musty-brown clouded the view everywhere you looked.
(Photo courtesy, Todd Fallon)
Christmas lights were made mute by inches of ash. Black leaves fell from the sky. And the fire persisted. It crept into the Los Padres Mountain range, closed roads left and right, stormed through back fires set to protect it from continuing and took the life of a young firefighter and father.
Where families and businesses were planning holiday a get-together, it changed or cancelled celebrations by leaving constant worry about the safety of one’s homes and the safety to breath freely without a mask.
Schools were shut-down and kids were kept inside as Pyro-clouds erupted over-head. Stores and offices were forced to close, neighborhood upon neighborhood forced to evacuate and in the late hours of the night, reverse 911 calls reminded us all to be on alert: the fire was getting closer.
Fire, as an element, leaves only what is essential. It leaves roots, from which new life can grow. It leaves space for creative ideas to bloom. It leaves possibility for communities of people to truly show their commitment and compassion to one another.
Fire, also leaves grief and memories. One hundred homes were lost in Ojai. Many more in Ventura. The Thomas fire left confusion, desperation, sadness and overwhelm.
Like an angry toddler looking for attention, California become angry. Without water for so many days and months, it had become desperate. And if it can only get water from helicopters carrying buckets, scaling the coastline back and forth grabbing water from the Pacific and dumping it upon hot spots, then that is what it would do.
During our second evacuation, we decided to pack what we treasured from our home before leaving town. We packed birth certificates, passports and social security cards alongside sentimental things like baby books, journals, tooth fairy and Santa notes, special art made by our daughters and family photos and relics from generations ago.
We asked our daughters to each pack a bag of what they felt was important. Our oldest, brought her school work and some photos as well. Our second-born brought her computer with all her photos and her IPod with her favorite music. Our third born brought a few treasured fluffy friends, some art she had made and her bucket list box. And our youngest, brought every- single- stuffed animal she could possibly fit in our car before we halted her from bringing more!
Then, I walked around the house a few times, thinking there must be more we should bring, “just in case”. But there wasn’t.
Fire leaves only what is essential.
Our home is filled of nesting comforts. We love and appreciate these. But we don’t need them.
As the fire made its fierce path through chaparral, structures, century-old oak trees, stables and homes, animals were rescued, neighbors stayed up all night to help load trucks for evacuation and there was a flood of messages sent throughout the SB community, with genuine messages just like this: “If you need a place to stay, my home is open,” “If you need a place to rest, come to our restaurant,” “If you need a place to burn off steam, our gym is open.”
Fire leaves roots, from which new life can grow.
Group texts were sent out in a flurry during the peak of this fire; neighbors and friends checking in on another and their safety. Cards, banners and homemade Christmas goodies were made to thank fire-fighters during their short breaks at local hotels.
Fire leaves space for creative ideas to bloom.
Local restaurants and shops opened their doors to evacuees and first responders. There was no hesitation, even during a month where so much business had been depended upon, but was lost.
Fire, leaves possibility for communities of people to truly show their commitment and compassion to one another.
Water, as an element nurtures new life. It sends waves of recovery by washing over land. It allows for cleansing and re-birth and nourishment. It hovers frozen spires over the land, only to melt away with time to uncover new life. Fire can play the same role. We just have to stand back and let it.
Our waves will come again. Water will nourish our mountains and shroud them in wildflowers. Water will fill our dry creek beds and create babbling brooks. Rain will fall from the sky and when it does, we will welcome it with open arms and open hearts because this fire, has changed us all.
Spotlight: Direct Relief, a local non-profit organization that supports people all over the world in their times of crisis. During the first days of the fire, when the air quality hit dangerous levels, Direct Relief set up multiple stations around Santa Barbara and surrounding areas to provide free, N95 masks. We were met with kind eyes when we picked up our masks and it made all the difference in a time where we were feeling insecure about what was happening in our smoky city. Direct Relief often looks for local volunteers and is a wonderful organization to support locally, or from afar. https://www.directrelief.org/ Thank you, Direct Relief, all 8,000-plus first responders. Equally as important…THANK YOU, to all the families of the first responders. Your sacrifice is just as important as the work your fire fighter does. Santa Paula, Ojai, Ventura and Santa Barbara are ever so grateful to you all. Home for the holidays has never been more treasured.
On a side-note, we had the pleasure of seeing “The Great Showman”, this evening as a family. It is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen and it sparked insightful questions and responses from our daughters on the ride home. The film paints an incredible reminder of what is essential and is a powerful story of the beauty that exists, even after a fire.