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On Wildifires and Evacuations V

There's a strange kind of zen limbo attained when you're stuck in a hotel room for days - monitoring numerous authoritative information sources to see if your house has burned down, to see if you might need to run for your life because of one of the other wildfires burning in your state, and to check if the air quality readings at any given moment are better or worse than those on, oh, let's say, Venus - all while watching reruns of Dirty Jobs and House Hunters on basic cable.

Thankfully, however, the Echo Mountain Complex Fire started coming under control due to lower winds, higher humidity, and the absurdly amazing efforts of wild land firefighters and other emergency personnel.

By Saturday we considered going back home (Level 3 evacuees couldn't go back home for nearly two more weeks, but Level 1 and 2 folk could go back whenever they wanted since they'd never had to leave at all) but were told by friends who hadn't left (and had already returned) that the power, gas, and internet was still intermittent. Since we weren't ready to give up the power'd and warm shower'd charms of our cozy little La Quinta cuarto for our ice cube-less, unheated domicile on the coast we thought we'd give it another night to see what a fresh morning brought.

The fresh morning came earlier than I'd originally planned. It turns out that besides bringing cleaner air than the valley (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups on the coast vs the valley's still Hazardous/Very Unhealthy levels), stable power/gas/internet, and a fairly under control fire, it brought a bunch of texts from everyone we knew telling us about these really nifty developments. After considerately thanking them for the information, I may have less-than-considerately sent them the following text, "Why are you all up so early? Natural disaster! Threat to life and limb! Threat to everything you own! The kind of potentially life altering emergency that might make you reevaluate every single life choice you've ever made! Take an extra hour or two of sleep on a Sunday, for goodness sake. I know....I know...your kids, right? That's what benadryl or a little nip of whiskey is for. Oh yeah....and good morning all. :)." At any rate, we were heading home.

The trip home was pretty bad - visibility in the valley was down to about 30 yards due to wildfire smoke which made driving on I-5 a bit of a challenge; there were many roads closed so we had to keep detouring around fires and emergency personnel; and our poor 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, which had so faithfully delivered us from the wildfire, didn't seem to have the same enthusiasm when heading back toward it. Turns out after we got home, the SHO decided to break in what will most likely be stupidly expensive and incomprehensible (at least to me) ways, probably because of all the smoke and ash, but darned if I know for sure. I anxiously await the final diagnosis and prognosis with clutched checkbook and credit cards as this is being typed.

Home. It was wonderful to see our home still standing, scorch-mark free, if perhaps a little stale on the air quality side of things (I hesitate to know what the AQI inside of our house was before we started airing it out). Little tip for you: when the air quality outside isn't the greatest but you want to air out your house, get a furnace filter with a MERV 13 rating, strap it to the back of a box fan, and let it blow, baby, blow.

Oddly enough, the driveways of the vacation rental houses around us were full. It turns out Trippers had started coming back to our little beach town on Saturday, even without power, gas, or internet (meaning no warm showers, cooked food, seeing at night, or Netflix) available. What was available when they returned? Air you could basically chew. There were almost no stores or restaurants open, and the ones that were open were helping with the relief efforts for the 293 displaced families from the area, but for some reason, come they did, hopefully with their own groceries, entertainment, and oxygen tanks.

Trippers, man. Trippers.

We started unpacking. My fellow flee'r of forest fires handed me something. I said, "Thanks." She handed me a second thing. I said, "Twice." She handed me a third thing. I said, "Thrice." She handed me a fourth thing. I said I didn't know how to say "Four" in a fancy way and would she please stop handing me things. Despite my incalcitrance, we eventually finished unpacking, cleaned the house, aired it out, and settled into our comfy furniture while Great White settled onto her comfy monkeys.

We were fortunate to come out of this with about an extra grand of expenses, the possible necessity of a new (to us) car, the occasional unexpected whiff of wildfire smoke, and a life returned to as normal as life gets during a 2020 pandemic election year. Far too many people, however, are going to have to deal with insurance folk while wondering how they're going to get and keep a roof over their head, how they're going to keep themselves and their family fed, and how their kids are going to be able to go to school either online or off.