• Last modified 669 days ago (Oct. 14, 2020)



© Another Day in the Country

It was the middle of the night! They all were sleeping. Emergency sirens, and then a loudspeaker blared, “Evacuate! Evacuate immediately.”

Suddenly, everyone in the neighborhood was wide awake, scrambling for light switches and clothes.

“Not again,” my daughter, Jana, sighed in abject weariness, pulling on her clothes.

By this time, my kids were skilled at evacuation procedures because it had been less than a month since they’d had to leave their home for 10 days because of fires at the end of August.

They were prepared. Important documents were stashed in the trunk of the car. Laptops were grabbed. Overnight kits were refilled with a change of clothes.

Dagfinnr ran to his chickens with a trusty cat cage in hand. Peckerface, the tamest of the hens, was first. Another hen went willingly into the cage, and the rest would not cooperate.

“You’ll have to leave them for now,” his dad said. 

Within 10 minutes of the announcement they were backing out of their driveway and heading down the hill toward St. Helena.

“It was then that we saw what we were up against,” Jana said. “We could see fires burning on both sides of the road. I just had to let the house go! We were safe, and that was the most important thing.”

Jana’s workplace is next door to a major hotel in the area. They had stayed there last time they had to evacuate.

“We’re back,” she said with a wan smile as they leaned on the registration desk.

That was their first sleepless night, processing what they’d seen — fires burning on both sides as they made their way down the hill.

“As it turned out,” Jana reported to me the next day, “we probably could have taken a little more time — maybe actually gotten some extra clothes and the other four chickens,” she chuckled.

We all held our breath, trying to glean from the Internet the path of the fires that were burning in Northern California.

“It started right below Devil’s Elbow,” Jana said.

That set me back on my heels. Devil’s Elbow, as the crow flies, is a tight curve about a mile below our family home on Howell Mountain — way too close!

Here we are in rural Kansas, with our ears tuned toward California and our hearts reaching toward our loved ones. I envisioned our little house on the hill which we had dubbed “The Wickwam,” remembering every stage of its construction.

We had a contractor frame the house up and then we finished it, adding landscaping, sidewalks and decks whenever we could take on an extra job and had vacation time. Every inch of the place was hard bought. I imagined it gone.

The second night in the hotel was destined to be another sleepless night for my family.

A knock on the door was followed by, “We’re sorry but we have to evacuate the premises. All power has been shut off in St. Helena. There’s a new fire area threatening the town from the other side of the valley.”

A burning ember, shot up into the atmosphere, had been carried by the current across the valley floor.

Jana and her family gathered their belongings again, got back in their car and headed south to Napa.

“It was like driving through an inferno,” Jana said.

Now the little town of St. Helena had fires burning the hills on both sides of the Napa Valley.

The next town north, Calistoga, was evacuated the next day.

“That’s where the fire had begun three years ago that went rampaging across the hills to Santa Rosa,” I said to my sister. “What’s left to burn?”

Every day this past couple of weeks has seemed double in length as we waited for news from California. Jana tried to keep us in the loop but said it was hard even for them to find out exactly what was going on.

“The day after we got to Richard’s family in Napa,” Jana said, “an accidental alert went out to evacuate Napa but quickly was rescinded with apologies, after giving cardiac arrest to half the town.” 

“We hear they’ve been able to hold the line at White Cottage Rd.,” came the message on the answering machine.

White Cottage Rd. is our street! I know every curve on that street like the back of my hand. I envision the volunteer fire department holding on, doing their best.

Our beautiful mountain with its twisting roads, covered by a canopy of old oak trees, an idyllic setting, is no more; but this past weekend we finally got the call that The Wickwam still is standing. It will be awhile before my kids can go home. Utilities have to be restored to the area.

“Kansas is looking pretty peaceful, right now” I say on the phone. “I wish I could whisk you to Ramona, to spend another day in the country.”

Last modified Oct. 14, 2020