Monday, April 9, 2012

Evacuated! What to take?

A brush fire became a forest fire.
Winds were picking up.
And, our house in the woods is next door to a fireworks manufacturing plant.
As the afternoon wore on, staff photographer Kevin Hoffman called me several times to describe the smoky fire he was witnessing in the area of French Creek State Park, which is near the house I share with my husband, daughter and dog Sydney.
The fire appeared to be spreading quickly, smoke filling the sky. As the winds were increasing, firefighting efforts were growing, but falling short of stopping the spread of the blaze.
Kevin said fire companies were responding from a four- or five-county radius, some from places he didn't even know.
I sent reporter Frank Otto out to the fire company staging areas, and I coordinated with online editor Eileen Faust posting video Kevin was sending from the scene.
I wasn't too concerned. The fire was on the south side of the ridge behind our house, and Kevin said it appeared to be blowing westerly, spreading in a line a quarter-mile or so behind us.
But then he called again -- a fire official told him they were moving units to our road in concerns that a wind shift could drive fire toward the fireworks plant where explosive combustibles are stored. "We're afraid of losing houses there; you might want to go check that out," he told Kevin.
While on the phone getting that dire message, reporter Evan Brandt got an email alert from Union Township: Mandatory evacuation ordered for all residents of four roads in proximity to International Fireworks.
The news reporter/editor in me just stopped: I was being evacuated.
I had to decide what to take and what to leave behind. I had to leave work and go home to get Sydney.
How long would we be out of our home? And, where would we go with a hyperactive dog?
Would we even have a home to return to?
As I drove home and pulled in my driveway, my neighbors were outdoors, asking each other and me similar questions:
Louise next door worried about how to get her cats in one car without them fighting.
Jill across the street was packing up boxes of belongings and loading them in the van.
The scene was eerily normal. There was no sight of flames, no smell of smoke.
Just a beautiful spring day in the woods, the wild dogwoods forcing open their blooms, birds at the feeder, purple blankets of violets amid the grass.
Four-wheelers with rangers and volunteer firemen were seen driving along to warn people of danger. But there were no loudspeakers, no sirens.
The only sound was the wind -- bending trees, swirling leaves -- and driving danger closer.
Inside our house, I looked around; I called my husband; I put a leash on the dog.
What to take? Clothes, personal items, shoes? How much would be enough? Pictures, keepsakes, family video? I couldn't begin to pack a lifetime into my car in the pressure of the afternoon.
Oddly, I looked around the home where we have lived for the 29 years of our marriage, where we have raised three children, two dogs and an assortment of fish, turtles and a hamster, and I had no idea what to take.
So if you can't take everything, take the place where everything is saved. I took the one place we share, pay, shop, store and play.
I just took the computer -- and of course, the dog. What else do we need?

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