Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Two days of Terror....

Well, it has certainly not been a boring summer.....

Here's the latest in my life. Saturday dawned like any other summer day, hot and clear. My son and I were going down to Bakersfield to see Harry Potter, and pick up the new book. Since I had already seen it with my daughter, she was going to stay home by herself.
Wyatt was in L.A. at the temple, and wasn't due back until about 4:30 pm. He was unreachable by phone. Codi's friend Olivia was here after spending the night, and we were going to take her home on the way to Bako.

It was 11:30 am, and we were about to leave. The house had been open to catch the morning coolness.... we never close all the windows in the summer, we have a deep fear of fire, and smelling smoke is always our first warning.

Until Saturday. I came out from the back of the house to get my purse, and smelled smoke. I went outside, and the entire canyon was billowing with smoke. I stood there in shock. Every time we have had a fire nearby, and there have been many over the years, I have smelled smoke long before it has gotten close. We start the fire chain here with our neighbors, and we have plenty of time to act. This time it was right below us before anyone in the canyon caught it. There was no wind....

The fire below our neighbor's place immediately below us, and the brave pilot.
Immediately I went into controlled panic mode. The first thing I thought of was watering around the house and the pens, like we always do..... but we have no water. Okay, a little more panic and less control here.....

Got the kids, told them to get the animal carriers and round up the animals. Told them to pack their emergency bags - quickly. Called my neighbor with the extra trailer she said we could use, she didn't answer. Called my friends in Frazier Park and asked them to locate a trailer for the animals. I was crying when I talked to Jackie, I was terrified. With only me and the kids home, it was all up to us to do everything, without strong dad- with my back...... Our trailer is big enough for five animals, and we can put four or five in the back of the truck in the camper- but only if the car is here to load up the kids, dogs, cats, and our emergency bags, and pictures.....
First and foremost, my family.

Having been through a few scares with fires, the kids are now pros at packing their emergency bags. Everyone knew this was different though, the fire was right here, not something seen in the distance. We got the female pacas up in the front of the 'safe pen' in preparation for the boys to take the lower half. The safe pen is the one in the middle, with no big oak trees nearby to burn.

Thank God our friends were able to get here in time. Right after they arrived, they closed the road to our canyon and didn't let anyone up. Jackie and her husband Brian, and their son Brady came with their big Yukon and a carrier trailer. No, it wouldn't hold my animals, it was a slat sided flatbed. I called the fire department while I was waiting for them, and the lady on the other end said, yes, they were evacuating Digier Canyon.... wait, no they weren't? Just a minute, she said..... no, they were not evacuating at this time, but to be ready, they were in fact fighting three fires in the area. If the Sheriff and CHP showed up, we would have to leave immediately.

So, I had to decide. Who would go with us?

The fire as it crept up the left side of the canyon and along the ridge, closer to our house.

It was a given, the four cats, the two dogs, but which alpacas? We have 22 right now. I had a two day old cria, and one pregnant female due this fall. The stress caused by transporting them was a serious concern. Taking a new baby to another ranch would expose her to all kinds of bacteria she would be weak against at her age. I started my ranch evacuation phone chain. But no one was home. There was no answer at any of the four ranches I called near me. In the mean time, the fire is creeping closer and closer.... and the wind was picking up. Blowing right up the canyon towards our home. Codi's friend was very scared.

The phone was ringing madly. I had my cell phone in one hand, and the walkabout in the other, talking on both at the same time. Calls from friends in the area who heard there was a fire, could we see it?? Boy, I had to laugh.... yup, I said. Then a call from a friend very close by, we could take the alpacas to her place and put them in the backyard if we had to. Relief.... not a perfect solution, but far better than having nowhere to take them.

Our neighbor above called us and offered her six horse trailer. She has wild mustangs, and said she would not be able to get them out, we had first dibs on the trailer if we wanted it.... my heart leapt and said yes! I could get everyone out then! But then, I had second thoughts, what if she really needed it?? I said I'd get back to her. She assured me she wouldn't need it, but I felt differently. Bless her heart.

Then the phone rang, it was my friend who lived up in Lockwood with alpacas. She said she had been sick and was sleeping when I called, of course I could bring the pacas to her place. Relief....

The smoke through the trees

It was decision time. I had to decide who I was going to take, and who would have to stay behind. At a time like this, you have two forces driving the decision making process. Your head, and your heart. My heart said I couldn't possibly leave my boys behind. My head said the girls were by far the most valuable and had to go first. If there was time, I would come back and get the boys. If there was time...

Brian was great, he said, "Rachelle, tell us what to do, and we'll do it." So, I did. We took all the cats in their carriers, and all the bags, guitars, and the computer modem out of my truck and out them in his and in their trailer, freeing up space for alpacas in my truck. I had to decide what to take out of the house. What do you take? I looked around my house with a feeling of complete exhaustion.... what did I want to take? It was only two hours later, but it felt like many, many hours had passed... The pictures on the walls came down and were loaded. The handful of loose pictures I had in my room were packed. Where were the rest of the pictures? The ones of my precious children when they were babies? They weren't in albums, that was something I had always said I'd do later, why didn't I???
The scaredy cat we couldn't find, she had to stay in the house. Tears.

Then we waited...... We watched the fire as it burned along the top of the ridge, then raced down the canyon wall towards our home. We watched the brave pilots maneuver throughout our narrow canyon. It was amazing. The boys went up by the water tank with shovels and caught the burning ashes, smothering them with dirt before they could spark a blaze. We could hear the crackling of the flames now.

Codi's friend was terrified. I shared with her that I had prayed, and in my heart I knew we would be okay, that after my prayer, a feeling of calm came over me, that I knew WE would be okay, safe.

Then the fire trucks arrived to protect the house. The fireman asked me what we planned to do. My heart sick, I asked him what he would do. He said if it were his home, he would leave, and leave now.
So, no more time. They started working around the house, planning their strategy for saving our home. We loaded up the girls, I kissed them and told them to be calm.

We moved all the boys into the safe pen, the firemen agreed it was the best place for them.
We moved my two llamas up to the pen connected to the house. We left the chickens. We left the scaredy cat. We left the water turtle in the house. We left 13 male alpacas, my nanny llama lady, my precious boys..... and our home. I knew we would be safe, but what about them?

Jackie asked me if there was anything else I wanted to take..... I remember looking around and saying, it's only stuff, right?

My daughter and I cried together, and..... we left.

The burn along the canyon wall to the left and below the boy's pens.

We drove out to Lockwood Valley to drop off the girls. After getting them all unloaded, I remember being unable to think. It was complete and utter stupor of thought. Brian asked me if we were going to come to their house. Several folks had graciously offered their places to us, and I had scatterbrainedly said yes to about three of them, while talking with 911 on the other phone, you know.

I just started crying, I said "I can't leave my new baby! What if something happens to her? Where will you put the cats? I think I'm going to take the cats and dogs and go home." I wasn't thinking very clearly, obviously. And I said so. From then on Brian took charge. He said, "You're coming to our house. We'll put the cats in the garage, the dogs in the yard, and you inside." And so we did.

The burn to the left of our house, as it ran up the draw and back over the ridge.

I spent about half an hour calming down our big fat cat Shadow (AKA- Fat Boy) who is about 12 years old, and never been away from home. He had ropey strands of saliva, had thrown up, and was breathing with his mouth open, totally stressed. He calmed down in my lap, we both did.

My neighbor had to use her trailer. I knew it.

Finally, Wyatt called. He was frantic. He got on the phone with our neighbors below, and called me back. He said, "I just talked with Bill and Shelly, the fire burnt half the house." !!?? What!! I screamed.

The burn as the fire got sneaky and came back over the ridge behind our house.

Wyatt said, "The fire burnt past the house!" Relief.

Long story, I know. The end is short. The house is fine. The boys are fine. We dodged a big bullet. When we returned we found that the fire had gone up the draw to the left of our house when it got to the "V". If it had gone up the right, we would have lost everything. Blessings.

We watch the skies for smoke, and sleep a little lighter. We don't leave the house alone.

My family is safe. The girls are home. My baby is fine, as is the pregnant female due in September. Here they are:

Lessons learned. Picture organization, now! Prayer works! Thank God for good friends!! We love our firemen!!

Thank God for you! I love you all!



Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Oh dear God, bonny lass - I am crying tears of relief. Close calls don't come any closer than that. Huge, huge hugs (arms tight around you). I love you girl, don't go scaring me like that!!! xxx

Rachelle said...

Dear Shrink,
Me too!!

BTW, I forgot to say, yes, it was arson. Three separate fires were set from the freeway down below our canyon. Two of them merged into one, and the other one was quickly quelled.
The two were set one on either side of our canyon.

The scariest thing is, who knows if the loony toons is still out there? And will he do it again?

Hugs right back atcha kiddo!

david mcmahon said...

My word, Rachelle,

You put us right in the middle of the tension and the decision-making and the heartache.

I live in a country where fire is a big threat, too - and I know the danger of burning embers when a firefront approaches.

God bless your protectors and the firefighters. Great pictures, especially the shot of the aircraft in the canyon.

This, truly, is a memorable post in every sense of the word.

Keep smiling


Anonymous said...

Oh My! Rachelle,
I read this at a fast pace to quickly get to the outcome. Relief. Arson, you say, unbelievable.

Mushy said...

So glad David sent me over...what an emotional roller coaster you must have been on...I was having trouble breathing just from reading about it.

Thank God for sparing you and yours.

Helena said...

Yes, like Chewy, I had to read it quickly to find out what happened! I am so relieved that you all are ok.

What a dreadful decision to have to make- who to take, who to leave. Awful.

Here in England right now thousands are having to leave their homes due to floods. Watching on tv I've been thinking, if it came here, what would we take? What would we leave?

If I had to leave cats behind while I was being told to evacuate, it would break my heart.

You are very brave and very strong.

And you have great firefighters!

So pleased to see the new alpaca again.

singleton said...

OMG! I too raced through your words, through the smokey pictures, and prayed... Let my prayers be heard before she's finished typing the end to this scare! CLink! to your friends and the firefighters and you and your strength and your family and
another day at
the alpaca ranch.
Peace my friend, and windows, open to the world.....

dawn said...

Oh dear lord girl, you must have been terrified. Thank god your all okay. That is so scary. Do these wild fires happen all year round there. I was going to say have a great weekend but it would have to be better then your week. Take care of yourself

Victorya said...

oh my!!! I was terrified reading this. Sophies choice but with more fur, I can't imagine. I'm glad the ending was okay though. I can breathe now.

Catmoves said...

Phew. So sorry to hear about this almost disaster. Super glad none of you family were hurt. Like the other posters, the fire was the thing I raced through. Then I went back and read it for comprehension. Now that I've settled down, just wanted to let you know that wede're happy about the outcome.

Catmoves said...

Darn. "we're" not wede're.

it's the little things... said...

Hello, I am here from David a well-written post! You captured the speed and energy of your mission so well.
I am so glad to hear all of your babies are fine!

Rachelle said...

Dear David,
Yes, I know about your fire season, it is terrible! I have friends over there who share the scares and the outcomes on several alpaca forums I belong to.
You guys really do know what it's like. Didn't you have some big ones last year?

Thank you so much for visiting, and for giving me the 'post of the day' award :))

Rachelle said...

Dear Chewy,
As I was writing this, I felt the urgency of the situation all over again. I cried and felt the panic and everything!
I guess I was able to convey the whole scene this time, huh?

I am all for death by fire for arsonists. Seriously.

Rachelle said...

Dear Mushy,
Welcome! And I am so very glad to see you here, I LOVE your blog!

I hope that you visit me again :))
Yes, I thank God every day that we are okay. It remains to be seen whether it happens again this year, but we are treasuring each day as they come.

Rachelle said...

Dear Helena,
I am glad to see you :))
It is so scary having to decide what to take. It actually was all planned beforehand, what would go .... in theory. But when you are faced with it, in the middle of a disaster, you always wonder if you are making the right decisions, and you think of all the 'other stuff' you are leaving behind.
A list beforehand is a good thing, at least you have a reference in the time of crisis!

Rachelle said...

Dear Singleton,
Clinks to you to my dear!
And peace, one day at a time. Without fire.

Rachelle said...

Dear Dawn,
Well, fire season is typically June through September, but it doesn't usually get cranking until July.
This year however, we are so dry, the forest service was announcing high fire danger in April! It went to extreme danger by the middle of May.
We got hardly any rain this year or last, so we have drought conditions. With two years in a row of dryness, it gets hairy. And add all the CA firebugs..... scary, scary, scary.

The rest of the country is flooding! Weird weather....

Rachelle said...

Dear Victorya,
I am so glad to see you come to visit me!
It was a roller coaster ride to be sure.
And I loved Sohie's Choice, in a totally terrifying way that is!
I hope to see you again soon :))

Rachelle said...

Dear Catmoves,
(I love that name BTW)
Thank you very much, we are glad to be okay too! :))
And the wede're I thought to be Swedish.... no?

Rachelle said...

Dear It's the little things,
Thank you so much for following David here! I am very glad to see you :))

Sometimes when I write, I get so caught up in the retelling that it almost makes the situation come alive again for me, smells, sights, feelings, and all.

I am glad I could convey that to you, as a reader.
Looking forward to seeing you again!

Sarah said...

My heart is still pounding from reading this post. I am SO relieved that your entire life is still safe and sound. I can't imagine if you lost a single hair from those amazing animals.

These California fires are a WAY bigger deal in my opinion than the earthquakes. I can't believe how close it came to taking away your precious friends. Thanks to God for sparing you and may those arsonists be hung!

RD said...

Wow, you had me on the edge of my seat! I think that phrase "Prayer Works" sums up the whole experience! I'm very glad that you all are OK. I'm really enjoying catching up: you have such great stories, as always!

Rachelle said...

Dear Sarah,
Yes, as you well know having that big one this year by you!
Crazy nutters, otta lock em all up and throw away the key says I.

Rachelle said...

Dear rd,
Thank you very much my dear!
I am so very glad you are back, I did miss you and your razor sharp wit :))

b. said...

We had a fire by our place too. It's soooo dry! You were blessed....and so were we.

Anonymous said...