For those of you who have been praying for our community during this really stretching time of fire and flood here in Santa Barbara, thank you. I have been up and down, sick and healthy, sad and joyful every day, almost every moment for weeks. It has been tiring. But it feels like it's finally time to share. Probably for my own healing more than anything else... So feel free to just move on.
It seems like an eternity since my son and I were at Saint Barbara's Monastery in Santa Paula on their feast day, December 4th. We passed the day singing, staying out of the wind, talking with new and old friends, and drove home so happy to have been there. Two hours after we left, the Thomas Fire broke out, starting only a stone's throw away from the monastery. Thankfully everyone there was able to evacuate quickly and move out of the fire's path.
Somehow, the monastery buildings didn't burn--though their land did, and many homes and businesses nearby were lost.
The fire moved across the foothills and we watched its progress, our family becoming more and more concerned as the fire spread into Santa Barbara County. The first day that our city was filled with ash I drove around with the windows down, not realizing the hazard. I got sick from inhaling the ash the next day. Many people left town, but we stayed. We drove out of town to purchase two large air filters to battle the smoke. For several days we didn't go outside. We listened to helicopters and airplanes making their water runs all day long. Fire engines were parked in all the hotel parking lots. I can't now remember how long it was that we stayed cooped up...
Right before Christmas the fire hit its zenith. It was a Saturday night. The wind was whipping the fire into a frenzy, and it felt like anything could have happened. Everyone's eyes were on the approaching orange glow, wondering how quickly it would make it into town. Our cars were packed, ready for evacuation. We knew where we would land if we had to leave. So many people offered us refuge.
But with over 8000 firefighters working on our behalf, they halted the fire as the weather began to shift. By morning we felt as though the threat was diminishing. And it did. They halted the fire right as it was exiting the Montecito hills, and entering Santa Barbara. They stopped it just a couple of miles from our home.
So. We celebrated Christmas! Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. We were so very thankful that we didn't have to leave, but equally saddened by all the devastation many of our neighbors had endured. So many were displaced and lost their homes. So many lives were disrupted. And we were all fatigued. I remember that there were a few days mixed into that crazy time when I just curled up in bed and listened to the news for hours on end. I had very little capacity for getting things done besides cleaning (which seems to be my default during a disaster), and though I had planned on doing a fair bit of book writing over the holidays, being creative simply wasn't possible in that time-of-tragedy brain of mine.
And then the rain came. They predicted flooding, and ordered some to evacuate and others to keep watch. We woke to the sound of torrential rain at 2am and sat there wondering about others, knowing our home would be safe. And the next morning we heard the news. Homes below the fire burn were washed away. People were stranded on roofs, and in trees, and swept away with the flow. The freeway was ten feet under, drenched in mud and debris. A baby was plucked, still alive from the mud. Boulders the size of houses had washed down the river beds, wiping out bridges. Battered cars were flung down the streets and landed at the water's edge. We were in shock.
They described streets in nearby Montecito as a war zone. Streets that we drove daily, places that we knew by heart...
So, here we are on the other side of disaster. Almost three weeks have passed since the rains. Twenty-one lives have been lost. Hundreds of homes are gone. The community has rallied, the freeway finally opened. Two people are still missing. It's been a lot.
I ask your good thoughts and prayers for our community. We hear new stories every day, of people who scrambled to their rooftops with their pets, who trudged through the mud to save a friend, who found a precious item washed up on the beach and located the owner.
At the start of this year, for whatever reason, I decided that my son and I would add disaster preparedness to our school work. Such an odd thing to "study." I don't know what prompted me... But school started and there were the hurricanes, and then more hurricanes, and we watched from afar and learned about emergency food storage. And then the fire in Santa Rosa happened, which we watched from a little closer, and we studied ways to shelter. And then disaster came close. And though we felt slightly "prepared" for the events that came our way, I'm still wondering what the underlying lesson is that I'm supposed to learn. I do know that my love for this community has deepened, and that I feel a desire to better know the people that I pass on the street, and I want to serve more than I ever have. When you're pushed to just think only about survival, things shift. And though I haven't yet unpacked all that has changed within me, I trust that it will be revealed over time.
That's the scoop! I pray that all of you are well, enjoying this beautiful new year, and I look forward to whatever this new normal will be for our community. Memory Eternal to those who are gone. Sorrow and strength for those who have to rebuild. And so much gratitude for all who kept more disaster from happening...
Published: January 27, 2018 | Filed under: Home