Jenny's Journal
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2005-03-20 07:01:39 (UTC)

Firestorm '03

I've been offline because of the fires. It's actually come
within 3 miles of the house. The car is packed up, my car
is sitting in the driveway covered with ash (I'd cleaned it
the day before the fires). The air is full of ash, it's
terrible. The firestation ran out of masks to give to
people. I was surprised that there were still fire trucks
waiting at the firestation. I didn't want to drive around
from one pharmacy to another, from one store to another
(most are closed), looking for a mask. I'm home now, with
the doors and windows all closed. Mother and I went for a
small tour down Miramar road to kearny villa, then down 163
off kearny villa. We ended up at Pacific Beach but the air
quality was just as bad there so we came home. We took the
part of 52 that's still open and could still see some fires
burning from the road. I took some photos from the car of
the devistation, but I don't know how well they are going
to turn out having been taken from a moving car.

I couldn't just be thankful my house was spared, I had to
volunteer to help those who had been displaced. I handed
out drinks and food, directed new arrivals (the most
pitiful) to where to go for different services, everything
from insurance company tents, to the media, to a kids
entertainment center with stage, etc. There was a table for
just people who were either offering or looking for homes
they could share until the crisis is over, and the amount
of baby supplies donated was amazing.

It was surreal all day. People came en masse to donate
everything you could imagine, but mostly food. We had to
turn people away with food donations. They wanted us to go
easy on the masks, but in a crisis like this it is no time
to be cheap, so I was handing them out to everyone and
asking them if they had any infants because soft cloth
masks (fit kids better) were donated.

My friends homes came just to the edge of the fireline but
then their homes survived and some of my friends have had
homes on either side have burned sparing them. We went for
a small drive and were too speechless, too amazed to even
wrap our minds around the concept that as far as you can
see there is smoke, ash, smouldering fires still burning,
and a pitch black film over the ground.Your life takes on
entirely new priorities when something like this happens.
You just can't look at dry brush the same, it brings a
sense of dread. You think back on all of the times you've
seen people carelessly toss their lit cigarettes from their
car windows with the dry brush blowing in the wind roadside
just feet from where their cigarettes land and wonder if
they will stop doing that now that they see how much is
risked each time they do that.

As far as the military helping, that's a source of
contention with local authorities because of the Economy
Bill passed during the depression that will not allow us to
receive any military assistance until we have proven that
we have exhausted all local and mutual assistance resources
at our disposal.

It's just so exhausting. The smoke burns my eyes, makes my
lungs hurt and feel heavy, and leaves everyone filthy with
black soot.

Last night when I walked the dogs I realised just how much
we resembled the displaced. I was in my scrub pajama pants,
a tank top, and my sheepskin booties, looking like I was
yanked from bed with that tired, dragging look about me,
and the dogs had soot gray feet and bad haircuts, looking
like their hair had been slightly charred and cut badly in
a hurry. We were walking by the shelter because that is
where I always walk them. A pitiful, if not misleading,
sight. And we weren't displaced just haggard. At least now
we can bathe and join the land of the living (and wipe the
smoke from our lives).

I spent about an hour in the shower, washing and rewashing
myself, amazed at how much brown water was still running
off of me into the drain. You don't realise just how dirty
the smoke makes you until you see the difference in color
on your skin. It felt as though I was not only washing the
soot off, but washing the ordeal away... watching the
memory of it going down the drain. But of course, the
memory remains.

I am thinking that a special fund should be established
specifically for the needs of the firefighters who have
lost their homes defending other's homes. Christmas and so
forth.Last night before I fell exhausted into bed I printed
up a poster to put in the car window of a few firemen in
black and white with a hose putting out a fire with the
words San Diego Thanks You in the car window.The car is
unpacked, whew. I'm a star gazer, so last night when I ran
to the car to get something I looked up at the stars... to
my surprise (though I really shouldn't have been shocked
with the smoke all day) there were no stars. It felt like
an engulfing black void ready to swallow the earth up. You
just naturally expect the stars to be there, and when
they're not... it reinforces that everything is different

I had taken pictures of the fire as it came into the
neighborhood, the look on my mother's face as we fled town
in search of better air (unsuccessfully) with the
devistation visible through the car window beside her, the
smoke hiding the coastline when we got there, the evacuated
roads that ended into the smoke, and the neighborhood after
the fire. I had no idea how they would turn out. When I
went to pick them up yesterday and I saw that all but one
had turned out perfect I was thrilled, then I *really SAW*
the photos, the emotion in them, and it drained the life
right out of me from my head through my feet into the store
tile. My gut sank and I could've cried. I felt like that
the rest of the afternoon. I think it was a delayed
reaction to the whole emotion of the experience.

When I was picking up my Rx last night I was still looking
at them in my hands and some people saw them over my
shoulder and it drew their attention. Before I knew it
there was a small group of people with their hands over
their mouths looking at them, aghast and stunned.

The skies have cleared now, and life is beginning to return
to normal for those of us who have homes still standing,
and our families in tact. But for those who no longer have
homes, and whos families are missing loved ones, life will
always be defined as before the fire of 2003, and after the
fire. It has been raining off and on these past few days,
which only adds to the misery of the displaced. Ashes of
their homes turned to black mud, funerals held in the rain
echoing the tears of those left behind. But the rain washes
away the smoke, bringing the hope of new life springing
forth from the ashes.

When it is cold and wet and I reach for my cozy blankets I
think about those who are crying because they have
Salvation Army jackets on and are laying in military green
cots in noisy shelters on high school auditorium floors...
their holiday gifts gone, their children miserable.

I will never forget this, never. It will not cripple me
with emotion, but it will not leave me unaffected either.