On the Sand Fire and Evacuating (PT. 1 of 2)
It’s a bit difficult for me to get my days in order currently. Saturday I thought our experience with the fire was over. I wrote as much. As Sunday began, so too did the shifting of the winds. At first the sky filled with grey smoke, that much hadn’t been so abnormal in the previous few days. But then it was met with black smoke, this was less ideal. Fresh fuel being burned at that very moment. With a bit more time we’d see the fire itself creeping over the hillside just down the road from us. I thought to myself that perhaps it would be no big deal, we had seen much more than these flames in the past day. Over the course of the day Liz would glance outside, making sure things weren’t getting out of hand. “It’s raining ash again.” She said. “But it could just be the excess ash blowing off the ceiling.”
Maybe, it was windier than it had been. Throughout the day we heard more details through the SCVSignal twitter. More evacuations being called and their locations the least ideal. Closer and closer to where we live. Evening was coming ever closer when Liz started talking with her Mother on the phone. “We are packed. If we get a message we’ll be able to leave immediately.” The moment she says this, my phone vibrates. A message from the Townhomes office. “We’ve been ordered to immediately evacuate.” Well, shit. Even as I talk about this I get an unease in my stomach. We have two cats, Venus and Artemis, I relate to them fairly well. They both like cat naps, cuddling, and certainty. But most importantly, certainty. Without this they find the first two much more difficult to achieve, perhaps impossible.
I don’t know when it will happen, but I imagine at some point our cats are going to fight tooth and nail to stay out of their carriers. Because each time we use those carriers they experience events they really, really, do not enjoy. I don’t know if it is empathy, or just a general neurosis, but whenever the cats are unhappy I’m fairly unhappy. There are few ways to make a cat less happy than to box them up and drop them off in alien locations. We checked out the reported evacuation center but there was no signage around the entrance we came to. This left us to contact Best Western (the nearest place that had openings and was ok for pets). We arrived shortly, it wasn’t a very long distance. I grabbed our key and we checked out our room. Room 146. I want to place that in its own sentence because it genuinely deserves it.
Not because it was nice. Oh no, this was one of the most ironically named Hotels I’ve ever been to. “Best” Western. The first thing we noticed it was musky. The outside air was nice and dry, but inside our room it was like a Florida Swamp. The air conditioner had no options that improved this situation. It was also as loud as a diesel engine. The walls were thin, as was the door, letting in almost all of the noise from the highway that was just across the parking lot. The hotel was deemed “pet friendly” while having the beds up on hollow wooden risers. These walled boxes provided our cats with a wonderful place to hide. Wonderful in that they could hide from >everything< including us. It was impossible to reach them without removing the box spring and the mattress. The exhaust fan in the bathroom sounded a bit like a screaming banshee. The light in the living room was cracked, taped up, and when you turned it off it would flicker. The internet cut out constantly, sometimes lasting for less than a minute. This made following the news of the fire difficult. And, just to put the icing on the cake, there were no towels in the unit. I realize that's a small error, but on top of literally everything else it kind of got to me. The room cost 170 dollars a night, conveniently they apparently charged us closer to 185. I'll be asking what the additional fees were, because the place was a complete shitshow when we arrived. I can't imagine we left it any worse for wear. What followed our arrival at this hotel was the worst night I've had in years. My heart raced more and more, perhaps because the incredible noise meant that I didn't have a second to myself to relax. Each time I'd close my eyes, formless figures would startle me to waking. I couldn't make them out in any way but they filled me with dread. Impossible puzzles wracked my brain. My body burned, and the only tangible thing I could pull away from it was the number 2. Perhaps not even the number, merely the concept. This happened over, and over, for well over 12 hours. From 8pm well up until 8am the next day. I shivered, I sweat, and every terrible feeling I can imagine flowed through my veins. It was an awful, miserable experience. I don't know how much of it was fueled stronger by the awful room, but it was incredible. I knew we couldn't stay there another night. This place would be the end of me. So I drove out to the evacuation shelter location we had checked the day prior. I walked through the school grounds until I found another person. I asked them where the shelter was. "If you take a right, walk a bit, then take a left, walk a bit, and it'll be on your right." She said. I thanked her and took the journey. Sure enough after a bit I saw rows and rows of bottled water and juice. And then, to my tired eyes, the familiar red cross of-well-the Red Cross. I babbled to a man in a wonderfully air conditioned room, littered with some confused but otherwise calm people. He explained to me how easy it would be to hang there, that they had food, water, cots. I asked him what we can do about our cats and he told me that a bit further into the campus I could find animal control with an air conditioned trailer that they are keeping pets in. I knew the cats wouldn't be happy, but anything was better than the musky hellhole we had shacked up in the night prior. I walked back to the trailer and noticed it appeared to be empty. I walked over to an officer and asked her who was handling the animals. She smiled and threw a very enthusiastic point to her hat. Across it red "Animal Control" and in that moment she told me happily "I am!" I smiled, it wouldn't be the best place to keep them, but I trusted this woman immediately. It helped that the campus had multiple police officers guarding the cars and people sheltered there. I drove back to the Best Western to pick up Liz and the cats. This was the beginning of something also uncertain. But in the realm of uncertainty, I could imagine few things worse than Best Western, and those things were what we had evacuated from, perhaps, only barely.