Thomas Fire: Day 5 and Evacuation Opinions

Good morning, and welcome to good fire news!

Winds are cooperating and the fire did not move much overnight. It is still only 10% contained, but uncontained in unpopulated areas. I grieve for the trees and wildlife of Los Padres National Forest, but am glad the coast is safe.

Air quality in SB is much better.

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Some of you may not know, but this is the third fire I’ve seen living in SB. I voluntarily evacuated my childhood home during the Painted Cave Fire in 1990. At a time without cell phones, everyone in my neighborhood walked up to the side of our street where we could see the fire burning. Sometimes the flames ran toward us, then the rapidly changing winds turned them away to the south…until the wall of fire swung back our way again.

I will never forget that unending summer evening. I captured a dozen birds from various aviaries and put cats into pillowcases for transport. I kept running up the street, concocting little landmarkers in my head: If it reaches THAT ridge, we’re leaving.

I made calls to friends asking who could take birds, who would allow cats, and who had beds for myself, my little brother, and a friend staying with us for the summer. I was 17, plenty old enough to be tasked with the responsibility of loading cars and evacuating the homestead, right?

My decision was the go/no go decision. You do what you have to do.

I think my father’s night-shift started at 5PM and he had over an hour commute. On his way out the door he said, “Everything is insured, just keep yourselves safe.”

My mom called soon after, and when I told her my father’s instructions, I thought she was going to have a stroke. She was hundreds of miles away for work, so the next half-hour was me taking notes of the documents, pieces of art, and precious possessions that COULD NOT be left behind. We raced, collecting items and animals for hours.

We left after all lives were secure, feathered, furred, and skinned. Sometime around midnight I think, I climbed into a bed at a friend’s house. I had no desire to wait for an evacuation order, continuing the Now? What about now? suspense through a sleepless night. I sobbed out my terror and relief alone in the dark. No one comforted me because no one heard me. Or if they did, what comfort had they to give?

My house didn’t burn down. 427 houses did. These experiences are not ones you easily forget. They are the memories that become real again under similar circumstances.

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The psychology student in me has been utterly fascinated by the various human responses to authority, crisis, and panic during the Thomas fire. Thanks to messaging and Facebook, the thoughts and feelings of those affected are just scrolling by for the reading.

There has been a visible lack of thinking and acting in a way I judge “rational.” I fully recognize this is me being judgmental, by the way. On the internet and at community meetings I have watched a–to me, distinctly bizarre–tendency for people to be angry with the commanders and Sheriffs intent on saving their lives.

In particular, I am surprised that people are unwilling to lock up and leave when a voluntary evacuation order is given. Sure, it isn’t mandatory, but why wait? Do these folks fear theft of what they leave behind? If that is the case, how do they leave their home to go to work everyday?

Do they fear lack of control? The existence of a raging fire is the definition of ‘lack of control.’

Do they not trust the authorities? I trust anyone who gets between me and a raging fire.

Or maybe they have a deep fascination that pushes away fear? Another friend of mine (who did voluntarily evacuate before nightfall on Day 3), put it humorously but with a great deal of self-awareness, when I asked on Facebook, didn’t he want to leave:

Heck no. This is a surreal Temporary Autonomous Zone. The internet is back, and perhaps more importantly, I have chips and salsa…I’m not under evac notice and this is fascinatingly surreal. I must have the foreign wartime correspondent gene.

 

Whatever reasons each of us have to stay or go are developed gradually by beliefs, values, and life experiences, catalyzed with lightning speed into decisions and actions by the threat of fire.

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This is my blog, and I have a very strong opinion: Get. Out.

Let firefighters do their jobs. I am of a fundamentally lawful alignment.

But I know people who stayed, and I wonder why. I wonder how long they would have held out. One big question for me is, are these people so panicked that they are considering solely their own well-being?

If you are in this camp, I ask, How long would you stay?

Would you stay even though civilian evacuations can impair the firefighting efforts?

Would you stay until when your turn comes, you are trapped in a slow moving traffic jam, trying to drive to safety with other panicked neighbors, watching flames chase you in a rear view mirror?

Would you stay even though the water may not be safe to drink?

Would you stay until you put an officer or a firefighter’s life in danger?

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The thing is, no one, whether they evacuated or entrenched, has all the information. We make decisions based on what we know and feel at the time. As humans, that is all we can do.

Some of us get a request from an “authority” and we say, as I did when I was 17–as I would do under a voluntary evacuation today–“Sir, Yes, Sir!” Because I respect that the authorities would not ask me to voluntarily leave unless it was for the greater good.

I pay the salaries of “authorities” through taxes, in order to keep us all safe. The best thing I can do is make it as easy as possible for them to do the job my taxes pay for.

Other people are not in my camp.

I would like to understand them better, to understand our differences, but I know, no matter what their reasoning, I am as entrenched in my beliefs as they are. I will always move to safety voluntarily. One, because I trust authority, and two because if I am safe, I am available to provide support to the community.

I said yesterday, the best thing you can do is be prepared.

The second best thing you can do is know where you stand and why.

Once you’ve weighed the risks and consequences, you are solid in your decisions, your actions, you are less likely to change your mind, panic, and become part of the problem, not the solution.

Because whether we like it or not, we are all fighting the fire together. Some with funds, with space, with one less worry for a deputy knocking on doors. Some with hoses and hope that they will make a difference and be spared.

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What do you think?