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On Wildifires and Evacuations II

The fact that timely, life and limb critical information is distributed primarily through Facebook is a kick in the teeth. A shot to the gut. A slap to the face. A stomp of the groin. Goddamn motherfucking Facebook. A user interface not so much designed by professionals as released upon an unwitting citizenry from a laboratory of deranged scientists...a horrible wounded slime-ridden thing lurching toward all of us in the wee hours of the morning.

That is to say that Facebook sucks. Trying to get actual authoritative information in a timely manner sucks even harder. Trying to find information more than a few hours old (archived information, natch) like sources of food or shelter or evacuation routes sucks the hardest. Yes, that information is eventually available on one of the multitude of local, state, county, tribal, and federal sites one needs to be paying attention to during disasters, but for some reason the info is always put on Facebook first - sometimes hours before actual websites are updated and emergency emails/texts are sent out.

Fuck Facebook.

Wednesday we woke up to a much less red-orange sky and power. Power! Check the fridge, nothing spoiled. Warm shower taken. Fire up the internets, start looking for updated info on the fires. One big fire now. Two thousand acres. Containment not possible. Evacuations zones being determined.

It's at this point that two things happened.

  1. The power went out again. Phone data was down to 3g or nothing at all. Uncivilized or intermittent. No reliable updates from the outside world possible.
  2. We decided we didn't want to be like those people in Dante's Peak, you know, the ones who were told there would be a town meeting in twelve hours to discuss what was going on with the exploding volcano and then when everyobdy met in the high school basketball court an earthquake hit and the volcano erupted. The people asking if they had to wait to leave. No, Susan, you don't have to wait. The volcano is going to erupt! Earthquakes are going to strike! Fire will rain from the sky and the ground will part beneath you! Get out the damned town! Don't wait twelve hours for a meeting on it! Leave! Grab stuff and go, baby! Don't let that door hit you on the way out! Be gone! Anyway, yeah, we didn't want to be those people.

Last we'd heard the fire was unstoppable and heading our way so we started packing the car as if we weren't going to be coming back. Kitty fixings (litter, food, meds, favorite toy) and human fixings (food, water, clothes, meds, paperwork - yes I was born, yes we were married, yes we are citizens, yes I have seven punches on this Burgerville card - a wedding pic, dad's harmonica, mother-in-law's ring). We were looking for places to bug out to based on air quality. The coast was all in the unhealthy range at the time so we wanted to find a way over the Coastal Mountain Range and into the Willamette (rhymes with damnit) Valley. The valley, unfortunately, was also on fire. The best air quality we found was near Portland - that's not a sentence one gets to type very often - it was at "moderate."

Evacuation zones showing evacuation levels had been established for a couple of hours. Level three was the north part of the city, Level 2 was a small bit in the middle of the city, and Level 1 was on the south side. We live on the south side. Throughout the morning levels 2 and 3 we're creeping further and further south. Since we didn't want to be extras in a cheesy 90s disaster flick, we planned to amscray within the hour.

It should be noted here that I say "city" but what we really are is a town of about 9,000 people - 30,000 during the big tourist months and 20,000 or so during the slow months. Interesting fact, our town has more hotels and vacation rental dwellings than any other city on the coast between San Francisco and Seattle.

Anyway, while looking for any last things to scrounge in the house before our evacuation, I happened to look out the window and see a Tripper across the street.

"Tripper" is a combination of the words "vacationer" and "tripping." Trippers are on a vacation (trip) and they be trippin'. Hard. Trippers are those vacationers who leave all good sense back home when they come to the coast. The ones who spend so much time staring at the beautiful Pacific Ocean while behind the wheel of a car that they drive into a tree. The ones who think burying a bonfire with sand is a good way to put it out (see number 9, beach bonfire). The ones who, in this specific instance, had come to the city, yesterday, while a forest fire blazed out of control not two miles away, filling the air with nigh unbreathable white smoke and gray ash.

The Tripper had been standing outside by the garbage cans for a little over half an hour watching an eternal line of cars go by with confusion in his eyes. I really didn't want to go outside. I really wanted to stay in and keep breathing properly. He looked so confused, though. He didn't seem to know what was going on. I really really didn't want to go outside.

I went outside and was about to wave hello when he said, "Is the garbage truck coming today?"

"Probably not," I replied looking around at the heavy smoke and swirling ash, wondering how he had been outside for over thirty minutes when I wanted to vomit after fifteen seconds. "There's been an order to evacuate parts of the city.

"I have a fishing charter booked for today," he said.

"The city," I repeated, "is evacuating."

"I want to go fishing."

"They're probably closed. Big fire heading our way from the north. You can't go north."

"What's going on with all these cars?"

"They are evacuating. They can't go north."

"Evacuating? Can I at least go down to the beach?" He asked, pointing north.

For the sake of my sanity and my lungs, I wanted out of this conversation. And fast. "I'm not trying to tell you what you can and can't do. There is an evacuation order for parts of the city. The fire is coming from the north. Fast. You can't go north." I said, pointing to the north.

"Are you evacuating?"

"Yes," I said, waving while turning around and heading back inside. "Good luck!"

I never saw what happened to the Tripper. Five minutes later when we joined the line of cars heading south, he was nowhere to be seen. Sometimes I think he wandered inside, grabbed his wife and stuff, and joined the evacuation. Other times I fear he walked back outside to wait for the garbage truck before heading down to the beach access to build a bonfire.