One year ago, a small fire thought to be set by an arsonist grew into the largest fire in Los Angeles’ recorded history. Just a few weeks ago, we were reminded of last year’s devastation after several fires broke out in the high desert making national news again.
These fires bring to light once more, three answers to the question, What really matters when you’re faced with losing everything?
Below is the September 2009 post written (slightly edited) while we lived with uncertainty day-to-day as the Station Fire held our area in a choke hold for two weeks.
At the end is updated commentary with a link to a moving video.
When the fire is getting close and you have to evacuate, you really get a feel for what matters in life. The lessons are the same for caregiving.
The Station fire, with 148,258 acres (230 square miles) burned and 42% contained (as of this writing), continues to move east along the northeast area of the Angeles National Forest toward where we live. At an elevation range of 4,000 to 5,000 feet, the air is usually clean and above most layers of haze.
This week, the smoke has come in thick like an unwanted guest. Our throats are burning and our sinuses are swelling, leaving us with headaches. We’re barely productive because we can’t think.
The urgency we feel at the whims of the winds, flying embers, and this fire’s path, reminds me of my husband’s and my years caring for my father.
Fears of uncertainty distract us as we:
- exchange updates by telephone.
- monitor county and national websites and Google Earth for satellite images of the fire, its direction, and proximity.
- weigh which invitations to accept or decline in order to conserve our energy and keep one person at home in case the situation suddenly changes.
Like caregiving, we are prepared to act due to the threat of fire.
Our cars (filled with a fraction of our life-possessions) are backed into the garage and ready to depart at a moment’s notice.
Like caregiving, the joys are bittersweet:
- comforted by others–in this case, the firefighters who stand ready, nearby. We know they’re on top of things; yet realize their proximity means we’re not yet out of danger.
- touched by the presence of animals. Deer come down from the burning forest to feed.
- feeling connected with a working telephone, internet, and television. It’s a miracle we still have electricity!
- being in our own home.
During this time, I revisit the question I asked while my father walked the road of Alzheimer’s: What really matters?
- LIFE. That my husband and I and our cat are safe…that our neighbors are also safe.
- Saving our shelter. My husband, David, has spread hoses across our five acres ready to draw on 13,000 gallons of stored water. With 12 helitankers, 7 helicopters, 419 fire engines, and 66 bull dozers, we know that the 4,800 personnel assigned to this record-breaking fire are doing all they can to protect us. However, the winds are not predictable in our foothills and all it takes is one fallen ember to ignite.
- If we can’t save our shelter, we narrow our focus to our possessions. When faced with the potential loss of everything my overwhelmed mind goes blank. David says: Ahhh, just leave it. It’s too much. (I hope he’s referring to all his toys in the garage!) Possessions are often overwhelming. If you’re like most of us–your precious possessions are throughout your home. It was only after talking with my neighbors that I realized: Oh yeah, I need to take those old photos from the closet and pictures off the wall. I’d better grab a few of those irreplaceable memories from my youth and mementos from my parents. And a copy of each of my books and their foreign editions, and … At some point we have to stop gathering things. There’s only so much that can fit in the back of an SUV, because we need to leave room for the cat’s litter box.
Just as when we cared for my father, my hope is that when the fear of uncertainty subsides and the fires are contained that I will have retained these valuable lessons. I want to keep feeling a sense of urgency in minimizing my possessions. Even though many dismiss as minimal what I consider a lot, I’d rather have fewer things to distract me during times like these when LIFE is what really what matters.
Brenda Avadian, MA
(Original article posted: September 2009)
The Station Fire, which began on 26 August and lasted until 16 October, 2009, consumed over 160,000 acres of forest and damaged homes and businesses. It was the largest fire in the Angeles National Forest.
For a moving real-time view of the devastation as the smoke, embers, and fire moves through a canyon in the Angeles National Forest, click on the link below. You’ll spot a cougar and later, bears foraging for food in the now barren forest. Mozart’s Requiem Mass starts shortly after the video begins and provides an awesome musical underscore. It’s amazing the camera survived! Angeles Requiem
For a related article, read: Caregivers, Ask Questions to Learn What to Expect