California Fires (Christi Marx)
Posted: Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:26 pm
This is posted from Christi Marx
Christi Marx wrote: On Thursday, Nov. 8th, I was up by 8:30 and was giving the cats their first breakfast. I immediately noticed how oddly dark it was outside. There were no weather reports of a storm, except for high winds. The whole area was under a Red Flag Warning because of high winds and extreme dryness. PG&E had already sent us a warning that there might be power outages because of the high fire risk conditions.
I stepped onto the back deck. Strange-looking clouds blew through the tops of the trees and wind tossed the treetops around. It looked so odd that I took a video of it. The color of the clouds began to worry me. Randy said, “Do a quick check of the Cal-Fire Butte County Twitter feed.” That’s when I saw that there was a fire to the east in Pulga near highway 70, but it was moving rapidly west toward Paradise. We began to worry.
Shortly after that, we received an evacuation order. When we first moved up here, we signed up with Cal-Fire for emergency notifications, and here it was. We were lucky. Unlike people right in Paradise, we had some time. Randy moved swiftly to bring the cat carriers into the house. I called Tuxita, our only outdoor cat, and got her back inside.
While Randy grabbed vital papers, I got dressed, threw a few clothes and medicines into a bag, did a quick back-up of my latest work from the computer, grabbed my larger back-up drive, my old laptop, and gathered a few other things like bottles of water. Randy had gathered up cat food, cat bowls, their medicines, his medicines, and a couple of emergency kits we had stashed in readiness.
I called two of our neighbors to make sure they knew about the evacuation order and were getting underway. They did and were taking the necessary steps. Randy had immediately gone next door to another neighbor who knew nothing about the fire or evacuation, so that was the only warning they got. They quickly left.
We began hastily putting cats into the carriers and taking them out to the Subaru Impreza. We put the back seats down. Thanks to the hatchback configuration, we were just barely able to fit all six carriers inside. Every other tiny space was crammed with our stuff. Randy put additional stuff into his 1978 Porsche 911SC Targa. We said good-bye to the house, possibly for the last time and began to caravan out of our neighborhood. It was about 10 am.
Then the nightmare began. A total of 52,000 people ended up having to evacuate from Paradise and the surrounding area. There are only three main roads in and out of Paradise to the south or east, and they were all on fire. There was only one road we could take --Skyway…along with hundreds of other people. We all had to head north, up and away from Paradise and into wilderness. It was total gridlock. It took hours to get out of our immediate neighborhood and onto Skyway. We were extremely fortunate there was no active fire around us. We would have been trapped.
For the next six hours, we crept along. Unfortunately, Randy only had a quarter tank of gas. He was about to do some work on the engine and had been getting the tank low in preparation for that. There were two gas stations on the way north, but they couldn’t pump any gas because there was no power. Other people were running out of gas and having to abandon their cars on the side of the road. Eventually, Randy had to find the safest spot he could to leave the Porsche. We transferred as much of his stuff as we could from his car into the Subie. We were more crammed than ever. As a special bonus, we had six terribly confused and unhappy cats airing their grievances. Not quite a cacophony, but not peaceful either.
We crept on to Butte Creek Meadows where we took a connecting road west to highway 32, which goes down another ridge into Chico. We could see our ridge to the east highlighted by flames and sending out a vast black cloud of smoke.
Late in the day, we finally reached Chico. We’d had nothing to eat because we didn’t have time for breakfast and didn’t think of grabbing food in the rush. I hadn’t peed in about eight hours. It’s a good thing I have a bladder of steel. We went straight to a favorite restaurant in Chico, the Cozy Diner. We ate, relieved ourselves, and did urgent research on our phones to figure out where to take the cats. At first, the only small animal emergency shelter was in Oroville, another hour’s drive to the southeast. We dreaded that because the poor cats had been in their carriers about eight hours already.
At the last minute, we discovered that a new shelter was being opened at the Chico Municipal Airport. We drove there and arrived just as the first trucks full of cages and equipment began to unload. Our six cats were the first to be admitted. We did the paperwork and got them settled into six large wire crates. We put Saffy and Opal in one, Ozzy and Tuxita in the next one, Zoe and Jetta into the third one. They had their carriers inside the crates to hide and sleep in. They had food (our own bag that we’d brought), water, and litter boxes. We got them settled in the best we could.
There were massive firefighting tanker planes parked nearby. They hadn’t been able to use them much because of the heavy smoke, though we did see them in the air by Sunday.
Then we had to figure out where we were going to spend the night. As it happened, one of the men organizing the animal shelter was Farshad Azad, a grandmaster martial artist with a martial arts school in Chico. He cancelled his classes and made his dojo available as an extra shelter. He was a kind man with a huge heart, an Iranian emigrant. How American can you get?
We checked out the other shelters, but they had quickly filled up. They were in enormous churches, so basically it was hundreds of cots in large spaces. I can’t think of anything more hellish as a place to sleep or try to function.
We found Azad’s dojo. They had some sandwiches, fruit and water. We claimed a thick mat to sleep on. There were pillows and blankets that had been donated. It was a good-sized, pleasant dojo. There was a young couple with two dogs, and maybe five other people. We didn’t get much sleep. The mat was way too short for Randy (who is 6’3”). He added a couple of handheld punching bags, which are rectangular, to the end of the mat and that helped a little.
Did you know that everybody snores? We had snoring people all around us. There were lights on. There were trains coming through nearby every other hour. We aren’t good sleepers at the best of times.
Friday, Nov. 9: At dawn, we gave up on sleep and roused ourselves. We packed everything back into the car. Around 9 we had breakfast at the Morning Thunder Café, a popular breakfast spot. Outside, it was nearly dark as night. The gloom of Mordor has covered the sky from horizon to horizon. Ash fell. Air quality was hazardous. It was apocalyptic.
We checked on the cats, then bought some essentials that Randy hadn’t had time to pack. Everywhere we went over the past couple of days we encountered other evacuees – in stores, restaurants, anywhere – and shared stories. Many of the people knew their homes were gone because the devastation in Paradise was so quick and complete.
We spent all day receiving and answering texts from our wonderful family and friends who were checking up on us. Lots and lots of texting. We even got a text from Verizon to say that due to the emergency, they were giving customers unlimited data for the next few days.
Smartphones are an absolute godsend in such a time. We were getting info about the fire and researching for info. I went to Orbitz and managed to grab one of the only two hotel rooms left in Chico. With the future uncertain, I booked it through to the 13th. It was a cheap little hotel, but literally every other room in the entire city of Chico was booked. That’s what happens with 52,000 refugees arrive at once. We checked in, surrounded by yet more evacuees, and found it was good enough, with one exception – the supposed wifi connection didn’t work in the room. I urgently wanted to get on-line and put an update on Facebook, but wasn’t able to.
Sat. Nov. 10: We went out trying to buy air-filter masks to deal with the ash and smoke, but they’d sold out everywhere we went. We did finally manage to get some face masks. Not the best kind, but we used them whenever we had to walk outside.
At Starbuck’s, they gave Randy free coffee because of being an evacuee. That happened frequently at stores and restaurants – big discounts and a lot of sympathy. People have been wonderfully supportive.
We visited the cats, handled some financial steps at the bank, tried to get a prescription at CVS (but hit a roadblock), and grabbed a few handy items at a Dollar Store.
Randy came across a notice of a Cal-Fire community meeting, so we decided to go to that. Around 6:20, we went to the hotel to drop off some things. I tripped on the edge of the sidewalk and took a full header flat-out onto the concrete. My right forearm took the full brunt of my fall. The pain was so excruciating, I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything but force myself to breathe. Randy kept trying to get me to talk to him, but I could barely get a word out.
Two men rushed over to help. They had both been security guards with emergency training. They helped me sit up, checked out my eyes (luckily, I didn’t hit my head), checked my fingers and grip, and concluded my arm wasn’t broken. I found it hard to believe it could hurt that much without being broken. They helped me stand up. I managed to get up the stairs, we dropped off the stuff, and Randy drove me to the ER.
The ER was awesome. They got me in immediately. I had a long gash on my forearm, so they cleaned that up. They had a mobile x-ray unit that they brought right into the room to x-ray my arm. Miraculously, I had no break and no fracture. The doc came back and gave me a few stitches. We had humorous chats with one of the orderlies whose in-laws had just lost their home. Keeping a sense of humor helps a lot in dealing with such losses. What we heard many times was “We’re alive. We may have lost things, but we got out alive.”
We were out of there in a little over two hours. I continued to have a lot of pain, but it was slowly diminishing. They gave me a sling, which I used to ice my arm as recommended (put a bag of ice into the bottom of the sling and rested my arm on it). Obviously, we never made it to the meeting.
Sun. Nov.11: I went downstairs to the lobby to toast some muffins. While I stood there waiting, I heard a couple of people ranting Fox news propaganda: “It’s an invasion! An invasion! They have MS-13 in with those people! And that Jim Acosta, did you see what he did at the press conference…” Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I said, “You’re watching too much Fox News.” They preferred to ignore me rather than engage, but as the woman walked away she retorted, “Maybe you shouldn’t watch so much CNN.”
To our surprise, we received a phone call from one of our insurance companies. We didn’t expect that on a Sunday Morning. “Oh, yes,” the woman said, “we’ve been here since Thursday.” They called to check in on us and see what they could do for us. This isn’t our homeowner’s insurance. This was additional insurance we got for our possessions, and especially for our two home offices. We did a special rider for our computer equipment and peripherals. She said they had teams of claims adjusters flying in today and tomorrow to start processing claims. She started a claim for us, even though we still have no idea what the status of our house is. We greatly appreciated hearing from them.
Still lots of pain in my arm and my shoulder is all sorts of messed up. There are certain movements I can’t do with my shoulder at all, like pulling shut or pushing open a car door.
As we left the hotel, we encountered the two men that helped me. They had been wondering about me and were glad to see that I was doing pretty well.
We tried to extend our stay at the hotel, but it’s fully booked. We’ll have to leave Tues. morning. The nearest place I could book for us is up in Red Bluff, a 50 minute drive to the north. It’s going to be a huge pain in the ass. We’ll have to drive down to Chico once a day to take care of the cats.
It’s tough being in limbo, not knowing whether we have a home or not, not knowing when we’ll find out or how long we’ll be homeless. We learned that much depends on the Red Cross and FEMA working in conjunction to assess the area, and they can’t do that as long as it remains an active fire area. There’s no telling how long this will take.
Mon. Nov. 12: We stopped at the Subaru dealer and had them check the air filters. The filter on the engine was fine, but there’s a filter for the car interior that was absolutely horrifying – ash, grit, pine needles, detritus of unknown origin. They didn’t charge us to change it and the filter was only $25.00. We’re literally breathing easier now.
We picked up a few more essentials at CVS, and got a book for Randy at Barnes & Noble. Then we spent quality time at a laundromat. I can’t remember the last time I had to use a laundromat. We encountered three firefighters doing their laundry and chatted with them, but they had no more info about our neighborhood than we do. Tremendously nice guys and we thank them for their help, of course.
We’re burning through a terrifying amount of our savings. I’ve kept receipts for everything we’ve had to buy or spend money on in the hope that one of our insurance policies, or the Red Cross, or FEMA, or somebody will reimburse us.