We had just finished a lovely anniversary dinner, loads of great food great wine and home to bed. It was late, it was Sunday night and a busy week was almost upon us. We didn’t watch the news, we just checked on the animals and went to bed. Should be the end of the story but little did we know it was the beginning of the end as we knew it.
At 12:40 am my husband’s phone rings I had not heard mine, it was our son, my husband sat up and hung up. I asked what ways going on and these words are etched in my memory forever “it’s not good” well that made me bolt up thinking it was some with my son or his family and then he said there is a fire and opened the huge sliding window shutters. Behind our beautiful land and the hills behind that was a deep orange glow pulsating, alive and I knew right there we were screwed. I had not thought about fire much in the past especially a wild fire who does? You might see it on the news or read about it on line, but we lived in a suburban area, albeit on the edge of town nestled between two small ranges of modest hills and a big hill behind us, but never the less we were not in a forest.
As panic started immediately to rise up from deep in the pit of my stomach I tried to keep moving as to not completely freak out. We called all the kids and told everyone to meet at the house. Grab what was important, take your pets and get here, at least we would all be together no matter what happened. In about 45 minutes we started to have issues with the power, light flickering wind howling looking like a movie set, and then, there was that orange glow was it moving closer or was it my imagination, was it coming for us?
As we gathered things to take (by the way you take the strangest things when you evacuate), we lost power. Then lights back on and we thought there is no way no way the fire would come this close surely someone would stop it, someone would put it out before it got here. Now we were almost two hours into it and that orange glow turned a bit more yellow a bit higher on the ridge a bit closer. I was really starting to panic not because of the house or the possessions but two reasons one my granddaughters lived on the other side of town half time with their Mom and they were there that night so I figured they were safe but I was worried. The second reason was my animals, besides the menagerie of dogs and cats, we had one big ol horse named Hank and 5 goats who looked at Hank as their leader. There were there in the pasture and I had no trailer to move them. Don’t judge me on that believe me I beat myself up about that to this day…
The fire was coming closer, we could see it now the yellow flames in the trees ignighting and we determined if it got to the house on the ridge we would leave. No power now, so we had no water either (remember we live in the countryside) then the house on the ridge caught fire. It seemed to explode into a huge ball of fire and we knew it was time to leave. It was so surreal it looked like a movie we were watching rather than witnessing our world in flames. All of a sudden we saw the same orange glow to our east so now we’re had two walls of orange on two sides of us. I was frantic about leaving the horse and goats but we had no alternative at that moment we opened the gates so they could get out and we left, me hysterical with thoughts of what might be, of what might happen.
We ended up in a parking lot of a local grocery store about 1 mile from the house all the kids and extended family were there except my granddaughters, they were with their Mother and I thought ok. From that vantage point I watched as the entire hillside exploded wind howling and swirling and ashes falling everywhere. We had to move again and as we left at about 3:30 that morning to seek shelter at our office closer into town we picked up a few people who did not have anywhere to go and we slowly left again.
Over the next four hours the horrific information starting coming to us, we had power at the office and we had TV which meant news. Now we really saw what was happening the entire area was on fire. It is then I learned that my grands had left their Mother’s home and narrowly escaped the fire the whole neighborhood gone. The fire had jumped the 6 lane freeway and gone into their neighborhood their home gone but they were safe.
By 5 am I could not stand it any longer and begged my husband to go find the horse. I could not bear to go for fear of what I might find and there was still an active fire so I stayed and waited for news. After two attempts to get through the fire my husband found the horse and goats ok on a small green patch of earth that did not burn yet they were circled by fires on all sides of them. He called and said they had made it and I cried some more but the barn our little house and part of the big house were destroyed, the video he took was horrendous. We stayed in the office for several days and when we went back to see the house it was like the apocalypse a perfect movie set just cue up the zombies.
What ensued was heartache frustration PTSD and goodness all in one gaint experience that was The Fire. I could not drive through the neighborhoods I could not go see the other areas where the fire had destroyed entire neighborhoods I think I had PTSD. We lived in a hotel with three cats and three dogs for 45 days before we got a long term rental we were vagabonds staying within the shelter of freind’s warm and welcoming homes. sometimes at a hotel, sometimes at the rental, we could not settle well anywhere.
So I tell you this not to rehash the fire and the devastation but to give you the context for the next part of the story. In the end 40 people did not get out alive, over 5000 homes were destroyed,another 1000 businesses gone it was massive devastation to the outside world and to us on the inside too. When you are in a crisis and loss is eminent you have two choices, to stay stuck in that spot reliving the events thinking about what we should have done,what we could have done, what we didn’t do or…
You think about it differently you think this is our opportunity to denounce the mundane and go for the dream cause hey it could all be gone in an instant. So we thought we plotted what were our dreams what had we not done yet what were we still doing that was wearing us down? What would we stop if we knew it was all gong to be gone in an instant?
There is a certain freedom when you can think of life in this way, you blue sky it, you don’t care as much, you think about what you really want in life now, not the future because there might not be a future, life is short do it now!
So ever so slowly we began to examine our new dreams different dreams and then there it was, FRANCE. A place I loved long before I had ever been there. As a young girl I studied French with my beloved God Mother and when I went for the first time as a nanny at 18 I fell in love all over again. That love affair had become lifelong affair for me and I had helped my husband catch the French bug as we traveled there for vacations. Just before the fires we had toyed with the idea of living there someday. We have friends that live there part of the year and they inspired us to dream about the future.
After the fire (we now say BF and AF) we stopped dreaming and started planning. Our new motto was one that we had heard but not embraced as reality Just Do It . So we did, we stopped dreaming and took action on our dreams we went to France to explore life in a different country and we landed in a small village in South West France. A delightful authentic French village where we stick out as Americans and desperately try to integrate into La Vie France. We have learned to let go, to be silly, to struggle with learning a new language, with being humble when you need help, to feel liberated by not knowing. There is freedom in not being the expert or leader there really is. It opened our world and our hearts for all the world has to offer us, to be open to love more, hang on less and love like it is the end cause you never know when it will be. So just do it now you will not regret it trust me. Now I would not change my new belief system of doing it now life is short and everyday I try and enbrace that belief system it is my reality now. So stay tuned as I journal the journey that is my French Dream with love.