White Christmas

Thomas Fire

Week 3 of Thomas Fire

Exiting the car, I looked up at the orange-gray expanse overhead. Still more ‘ashfall’ drifted down from the skies, dusting the world around me. It resembled, in an eerie way, an East Coast winter, though I didn’t dare catch any of these ashflakes on my tongue.

“Come inside,” he pleaded, waiting for me to follow him.

Instead I walked towards the street, marveling in the uncharacteristically quiet, dead city. The sidewalks—usually teeming with tourists, couples, and joggers—were empty. The street sign hanging on the traffic light rocked to and fro as a gentle breeze blew.

“Come on!” he said, this time more firmly. “It’s not good to be breathing this in.”

I reluctantly turned away from the Armageddon that my city had turned into and slipped inside the brewery.

Ten Days Earlier, Day 1 of Thomas Fire

“Okay, let’s pack up,” my dad said, switching off the local news radio station, which had just issued a voluntary evacuation for the residents on my side of town.

As I fumbled around in my room throwing sweaters, shoes, a toothbrush and passport into a suitcase, it dawned on me that I had few valuables to stow away. Perhaps this was a good thing; less to mourn if everything did go up in smoke. It certainly put into perspective the age-old icebreaker question, “What three things would you rescue from your house in the event of a fire?”

I’d seen my mom drag out a storage box full of wedding photos and pictures of my sister and I when we were children. It was interesting how just one generation difference made packing these kinds of things a little easier for me. I could store all my photographic memories digitally on my laptop.

Though our insurance company would find little value in what I deemed priceless, I reopened my suitcase and placed in it two or three old of my old journals and a flannel shirt I had taken out of my grandpa’s bedroom a year ago, just days before he passed. I also slipped my mom’s mother’s old engagement ring on my left hand.

When I brought everything downstairs, I caught a glimpse of orange light peeking through the blinds of our living room window. I swung open the blinds and let the palette of yellow, orange and gray light flood into the room.

The light of a fire always looks alluring, until it comes closer. Until it comes for everything in its path, leaving behind piles of ash that had once been homes, furniture and memories.

Silent night. All is not calm. All is bright, I mused.

__________________

Week 2 of Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire 2

We’d been one of the luckier ones, or blessed, whatever you want to call it.

It was true. In a strange but fortunate twist of events, we’d ended up housing friends who’d fled their own apartment the same night we planned to but ultimately did not, evacuate.

But keeping ourselves quarantined quickly lost its novelty.

For the last six days, I’d become well-acquainted with the taste of the fire’s aftermath. Even with my mask, I was swallowing charcoal. More than once this week, I had been forced to turn my car around, not daring to chase the ashes on my way to work. Thomas had won.

____________________________

Week 3 of Thomas Fire

A light layer of white and grayish flakes coated the hood, roof and windows of the car when I returned from the brewery.

A once blue horizon had been replaced with layers of smoke clouds.

It was the 9th, or 10th day of Christmas but now we were counting down the days based on how many hours the fire had raged.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I noticed the outlines of tires in the “snow” we left behind.

Silently, I said to no one in particular:

Peace on earth.

 

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