You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
Fire and Fury.
California is on fire. It’s like a big orange bomb has exploded across the sky and wiped homes off the map.
Southern California is ablaze.
Towns in Northern California have been vaporized.
It happened fast, in the middle of the night, like a cat burglar sneaking into a residence.
But the devastation took a day to be fully understand from sea to shining sea.
Local News really is local. Angelinos knew about the fires. The rest of us needed a day to see how heinous it had become.
Friday night, Like much of America, I was dealing with heavy rains and approaching winter weather.
After a long tough week, on my drive home, I call my cousin to say hello. He answers. There is deliberateness in his voice.
“Hey,” I say. “How goes it?”
“We’re evacuating. Can I call you back.”
His words are perplexing. Certainly not what I was anticipating.
I am driving on the interstate. It’s dark, and rain is cascading across the windshield. Red brake lights are being bent into a prism of confusing visuals across the spectrum of my brain.
While I think about what to say, I’m also considering the stop and go traffic, lack of visibility and the disgruntled commuters texting and driving in this wet weather.
I think about my cousin’s words. “We’re evacuating.”
I think he’s joking. I don’t say anything. I am about to make a joke, but stop myself.
There’s a pause on the line.
In the moment it takes a thought to fill your mind, I realize he’s not kidding, and this is serious.
That’s when I realize I haven’t checked the news in a few hours.
“Can I call you later?,” he asks.
“Of course,” I say.
He hangs up.
The moment is weird. I feel like I should have said something.
Suddenly my thoughts are consumed with “How bad is this?”
We see fires on TV all the time, but this is somehow different; much much different.
I call my other cousin who lives in the same neighborhood.
He answers. I can hear that he’s driving.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Fires,” he says.
“I just talked to Bobby. He says they are evacuating.”
“Yeah, to my house,” he says with a slight chuckle.
What the hell’s going on?, I say, negotiating the diamond lane.
He is driving home on the 118 freeway, that runs north of the Valley.
“Well, I don’t have to tell you,” he says. “I’m sure being in the news you know all about it.”
He says it earnestly, like I obviously know what is happening. But in reality, I don’t. I certainly don’t know how bad things have become.
“It’s bad. It’s surreal,” he tells me.
I think about my day. Why don’t I know how bad this is?
All I see in my brain is the story I’ve just worked on for 8 hours. The Meth bust I spent the day covering. The suspect is a scum bag, a waste of flesh, a guy who bailed, ran through a shopping center and finally got body slammed on the cement by drug agents. When the cops search his car they find not only Meth and syringes, they find injectible Narcan, the antidote to a drug overdose.
“probably had it in case he OK’ed,” the drug agent will speculate.
My cousin continues describing his drive.
He talks of an orange glow, and smoke choking the sky. He tells me about flames whipping across the canyons, dancing along the highway, threatening homes and killing people.
It’s so sad. So expansive. So unpredictable.
The Santa Ana winds are to blame, he will tell me.
As I drive through the dark, cold rain, my windshield filled with the rhythmic wipe of rubber across the glass, I think about the apocalyptic scenario he is describing.
I ask him about his drive and what he sees.
He jokes that our conversation is like a news interview.
In many ways it is.
My cousins woke to a massacre at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday morning.
“We’ve all been there,” he will say.
The bar blood bath is an atrocity. It’s on a level of unthinkable proportions.
Normally, it would take weeks to make sense of this senselessness.
But that’s not in Mother Nature’s play book.
Before the yellow tape is removed, before the tears on a teenagers face can be dried, a fire erupts destroying homes and claiming lives.
Somewhere in the dry kindling of a deep canyon, a tiny spark is somehow ignited. The Santa Ana winds whip that ember into a frenzied fire, fanned by wild winds, fed by an endless supply of fuel.
The news cycle should be dominated by a madman’s insanity, and make shift memorials outside a night spot.
Instead, the heinous massacre is pushed down to page two or the B block.
The fires march to the Sea, extirpating everything in its path.
Homes are destroyed. People and pets are killed.
My cousins are calm, considering they have been evacuated.
MANDATORY EVACUATIONS ARE SCARY, SURREAL, AND NEVER WELCOME.
I remember in 2010, when the 500 year flood struck Nashville.
Cars were reduced to bath tub toys. Homes were filled with sewage water. Roadways became rivers with no tangible beginning or end.
BANG BANG BANG.
The pounding on the door only amplifies the tense night.
I open the door. It’s a group of Sheriff’s deputies standing on my porch.
They are wearing thick ponchos and carrying mag lights. Their radios are loud and crackle periodically piercing the night with a random rescue somewhere.
The evacuation is not mandatory, but it is urged, the sergeant will tell me.
I am tired from covering the flood all day.
I look at my 2 story home and wonder how bad can it get?
If the bottom floors flood, I will just move everyone upstairs. It’s got to be better than a cot in a stinky shelter, I imagine.
I refused. I didn’t think the river would get all the way to my home.
The sheriff is abrasive, telling me that this is my chance to get out now.
“If the river rises any more, we wont’ be able to come and get you and you’ll be on your own,” he says.
The statement feels argumentative and insensitive. I work with these guys regularly, but this is my life and I buck up.
“how many floods have you covered? This one? How many others in Williamson County?”
He looks at me puzzled.
“I cover 5 to 10 floods a year. Here, there, everywhere. I know rivers. I know floods. I know what I’m talking about. I have checked the Harpeth, and I don’t think this house will flood. I built this house on the highest point of land and I am willing to take my chances.”
“We won’t be coming in to get you if you are wrong,” he reaffirms.
I laugh. I know the entire sheriff’s department.
“So if the news guy calls 911 and screams for help, you don’t think the sheriff will send a john boat in here to rescue me and my family? Really? News guy trapped and sheriff’s department won’t help? Really?”
He scowls and leaves, banging on my neighbor’s door, scaring them.
I go to sleep, wondering if I made a bad decision, and put my family at risk.
Before going to bed, I check my grounds. My large back yard is gone. The trees in my backyard are covered with a raging river of angry frothy brown churning river.
The water’s edge is the lip of my garage door. I stare at the river and wonder what will happen next.
My neighbor’s 1st floor is already breached.
But as I told the Sergeant, my home is at the highest point. I had never thought about it before, but my home is easily 20 feet higher than my neighbor’s home.
Today it is obvious that elevation matters.
I stare at the river’s edge at my garage door.
“You aren’t coming in here,” i whisper to the liquid encroachment.
I go to sleep in my bed. I wake up in my bed.
Before dawn, I run to the back yard, and cheer.
The river has subsided, and my grass is visible as a swampy mess. There is a couch in my grass, drifted in from God knows where. But I was right.
My neighbors all around me had 6 feet of water in their first floors.
I have only a dark line on the back of my driveway showing me where the river flirted with disaster, yet spared me.
And such is the calamity in California. Some people are dead. Some people have lost everything. And others, by the Grace of God, have been spared.
There is no real reason for any of it.
The Santa Ana Winds?
Water is a relentless evil that undulates and rises and slowly consumes you.
Fire is another monster.
It comes at you like Hell’s battering ram, a noxious gaseous tank of scalding death and choking fumes.
I can’t imagine what is worse? Being destroyed by water or fire?
The thought is nauseating.
“You guys be safe,” I say to my cousin who is fighting an orange glow of combustible uncertainty.
“I’ll check back with you guys soon.”
Though the fires continue to consume, and the report of death continues to rise, my family is alive and well.
My cousin returned to his home the next day.
It smells of smoke, but it’s still standing, he tells me.
My sister, one county to the North, says they have lost internet and cable, but their power is still on. They have opened their home to friends who were also ordered to evacuate.
They all sound shook up and scared.
I can’t blame them.
Life is fragile and delicate and we often take it for granted until it is the only thing that really matters.
While my family is ok, for the moment, it appears that Hell’s battering ram continues to surge, consuming another hillside, threatening another family that is suddenly fighting a life and death existence they didn’t know they’d fight.