About a month after the wildfires four years ago, I took home a bunch of my daughter’s friends. One kid lived in the area hit hardest by the swift-moving Cedar fire. It was nightime, and as I drove deeper into the development, I became disoriented. All of the landmarks were gone and the area was void of street or house lights to help guide me.
The teenager told me where to turn right, then left, then to go to the end of the road and turn left again. “It’s the house with all the Christmas lights,” he said, which was pretty obvious because not only was it the only house with colorful lights, it was the only house for blocks! Actually, there was one home next to it still standing, but the occupants had abandoned it. I could not imagine coming home each night to such creepy surroundings and felt so badly for this child and his family.
A lot of people are now coming home to the same situation in places like Fallbrook and Escondido and Poway and Rancho Bernardo. They’re sifting through rubble in Ramona and Rancho Santa Fe and searching for answers and drinkable water in all the back country communities. Neighbors are only too willing to help, be it providing temporary shelter or taking in pets until people get back on their feet. But the recovery will take months, if not years, and pre-existing fissures in relationships will either bond or burst open under the weight of debt and despair.
Children will remember the heroic efforts of those firefighters, police officers and military aviators; some will want to be like them and abandon dreams of being an astronaut or doctor or Hillary Duff. Professional athletes will visit them at schools and rec centers, as will politicians and big-name celebrities whose special appearances help raise money and renew hope. Blood banks won’t have to beg for awhile, and teachers will be remembered in parents’ prayers.
Community leaders will form picture drives, gathering duplicates of group photos to build new albums for those whose pictures perished in the fires. Relatives will ask if maybe it’s time to move to a safer state, but before too long everyone’s lives will again rotate within their own orbits. Victims and survivors will grapple with their own demons, drawn together anytime the skies look strange or someone asks, “Do you smell smoke?”