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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

Saddleridge Fire

Is my house burning?

I’m trying to decide whether the universe is cruel or just humorous for this second post to also be about burning. What’s next? Is my third yak going to be about me spontaneously combusting?

 

October 12-13, I went through what should be (and maybe after I digest the full extent of it, will be) one of the more overwhelming events in my life. Southern California was devastated by a series of fires, specifically in San Fernando Valley where I live. Initially, I wasn’t concerned. Where I live, fires happen every year. In junior year, I went to school under a crimson sky as ash rained down. Aside from the air quality, it never affected my family. Why would this one be any different?

But this one was. I watched the Friday evening news to see that it was a small blaze in Sylmar, a community further east. I prayed for the community and expected the firefighters to put it out in due time. 30 minutes. 1 hour. 2 hours. It continued to grow with a wind speed of 65 mph and 10% humidity. It started to move west towards Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, the latter being the neighborhood where I live. Still, I was sure that we would be fine and only periodically checked.

My attention fled from the news when I received a text from my brother. It was a picture of the fire in the horizon through the rear windshield of our car. They evacuated “just to be safe”, taking only our dog and some savings with them. 15 minutes later, the mandatory evacuation call goes out to our neighborhood as the embers raced across the valley.

Twitter was a double-edged sword in this battle for information. There is no way I can describe the feeling of watching as all the landmarks back home go up in flames. I watched as the street where I first learned to drive was engulfed in scarlet, turning into a hellscape that should only belong in rpg video-games. I watched as the hiking trail I walk my dog on burned. I watched as houses two streets away from mine became ash. All I could do was watch and my powerlessness threatened to overwhelm me.

 

If you asked me two months ago how I would react as my house potentially burned down, I would have answered with dread, tears, and panic. I definitely wouldn’t have seen myself being able to function as a normal human. I’ve always thought of these things as my mode of operation— it’s how I reacted when tragedy struck me and/or my family.

But life went on. I received the news and I don’t know how to describe what I felt. I’m not sure if I was on autopilot or if this month suddenly taught me how to prevent pessimism from taking the wheel. I definitely didn’t try to ignore it. I checked the news periodically to see the state of the fire and checked in with my family when our time zones allowed for it. But, I didn’t obsess over it either. I went to sleep at a proper time, did my laundry, went to an (overpriced) IndieFest with the rest of the group, and attended a wedding with my ibu and ayah.

 

More importantly, I came to the realization that even if I was back home, I had absolutely no control. No avenue was open to me, but hope. So I continued to live, wait, and hope. I was lucky for two reasons. My family had evacuated safely and I only had to wait for 2 days to find out what happened. During Sunday night (in my time zone), on the way back from the wedding, I received the news that my house was safe from my entire family. Relief washed over me as I knew nobody was hurt and the house was safe.

I wrote this to remind you that we are far more resilient that we give ourselves credit for. We all know this, but every now and then, events like these serve to evoke this truth. There is so much tragedy in the world and events that are out of our external control. We can’t change what happens to us, but we can change how we react to it. I can’t stand cliches, but this one has endured for a reason.

 

I hate writing cheesy posts, but what better time to sell my values than after a 7600 acre fire?

엄마, 아빠, Luke, 사랑 해요.

 

Be strong and be resilient (and make sure to get house insurance if you live in a disaster-prone area).

 

Edit: When I last wrote this, it was October 13 and the current Kincade Fire wasn’t burning. I am thankfully safe, but many more communities are affected by the fire. If you feel moved and are able to donate to a relief fund, the Wildfire Relief Fund at https://www.calfund.org/wildfire-relief-fund/ supports recovery efforts in the aftermath of these disasters happening right now. Thank you 🙂