Fire evacuation

(Margaret Tran / Daily Titan)

Natural disaster coverage is a large component of the news. As a result, people tend to form ideas of what it’s like to be in those unpredictable situations and conjure up a hypothetical reaction. I was one of those people, until I experienced the effects of a wildfire first-hand and found out if my hypothetical reaction matched up with the real one.

I have lived in Redlands, California for my entire life. The city is a few miles west of the San Bernardino National Forest, where multiple wildfires occur every year because of the hot, dry summer and fall seasons.

Sept. 5 started as a normal, warm morning. My family and I were attending a memorial service at 10 a.m. and little did I know that my weekend would soon change drastically.

According to a report from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, at approximately 10:23 a.m. in Yucaipa, California, a family was celebrating a gender reveal party at El Dorado Ranch Park. Their method of revealing their baby’s gender was a smoke generating pyrotechnic device that not only revealed their baby’s gender to the world, but it also fueled what would become a disastrous wildfire.

Leaving the memorial service at about 12:30 p.m., I noticed a large cloud of smoke to the east. I didn’t think anything of it because of the frequent fires that occur in the summer. As we finished removing the decorations for the service, we received a call from an early reception attendee that the fire was fast approaching the location of the reception, the home of my girlfriend and her family in Yucaipa.

During the reception I could feel the level of uneasiness in the room. Guests constantly glanced outside to spot the fire’s location to determine where it was heading, in case we needed to take action and leave. It pained me to see that the gathering’s purpose and focus were hijacked by our relentless fear of the fire’s every move.

The following day was a continuation of the routine; occasionally check on where the fire was, try to push the thought from our minds and enjoy everyone’s company. We sat on the couch and watched movies since there wasn’t much we could do. We began to stop noticing the sound of helicopters and planes flying over the house every two minutes.

After a few hours passed, we were suddenly startled by the faint sound of a voice speaking over a megaphone. As the noise became louder, everyone flocked outside to see a police vehicle driving through the streets announcing to the neighborhood that everyone must evacuate. 

It was at that moment our worst fear came true. My hypothetical scenario had become reality. 

There was a certain beauty to everything outside. The sky was blanketed with smoke, resembling a cloudy day with its ominous dark grey color. The ash fell slowly from the sky like snow. I could hear the sounds of the trees and bushes rustling with every gust of wind accompanied by the occasional emergency vehicle siren. Time almost felt slow, then once we went inside it was completely different.

The scene inside of my girlfriend’s house during the evacuation was coordinated chaos. There were people running every which way, yelling to each other about what to take and what to leave. We grabbed personal items, put them into containers, ran them to whichever car had any remaining space and ran back in to see who was needed where. In contrast to the hands on the clock, time flew at a million miles per hour.

We moved so fast that we hardly had any time to stop and react to the emotions and fears spiraling through our heads. Room by room we systematically took all important documents, every last photo, certain sentimental items, most clothes, some electronics and of course, the family pets. It took years to gather everything in that house, yet in a very short amount of time, it was turned upside down with no spot left unchecked.

Despite expectations, there wasn’t a huge rush of relief when we finally left. Yes, I was happy everyone was safe and sound, but the one thing that was on everyone’s mind was whether there will even be a house left to go back to. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything we forgot or didn’t notice. It was a somber time to say the least.

Since then, a week has passed, the fire has moved away from my girlfriend’s house and the neighborhood’s evacuation order has been lifted. That is a cause for celebration, however, not everyone turned out so lucky. As of Sept. 13, a total of six structures have been damaged and another 10 have been destroyed, leaving people without homes or businesses, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire has burned an estimated 14,478 acres and is only 44% contained.

The one thing I hope people learn from my experience is to be prepared as early as possible in case of a natural disaster. When you have downtime, look through your home and find the most important things. Keep them all together in an easily accessible location, so that if the situation arises you can quickly grab everything you need without having to go through too much trouble.

Although it was hectic and intimidating, this experience taught me how to react and prepare for another situation. But most importantly, no one got hurt, the house is still there and I’ll be ready for any situation like this, and I hope everyone who reads this will be too.

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