“In a Blue Funk” is part of the on-going series of the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read the earlier chapters in this series, click on the links below:
Prologue – Any Way the Wind Blows
Chapter One – The Valley That Time Forgot
Chapter Two – Eye of the Storm
Chapter Three – In the Blink of an Eye
Chapter Three.One – Too Far From Home (Tiffany’s story)
Chapter Four – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
It is now Friday morning, October 26th. Originally, I was scheduled to host a Halloween party for my girlfriends the next day, Saturday (October 27th), which was now obviously cancelled. Through emails and phone calls, several of them offer to help us search through the rubble at our destroyed home, once authorities allow us back on the property. So, tentative plans were made based on the accessibility date.
Also, our sister-in-law, Lisa, called to offer a guest room in their home as our residence for as long as needed. They were “pet friendly” having two cats and two dogs of their own. Plus, the guest room has a bathroom nearby and they are both located on the lower floor of their house, making it ideal for Charlie, who is handicapped and cannot traverse stairs. In addition, they live in our town, so this moves us closer to our now destroyed home, curtailing future 60 mile round trips back and forth to the hotel.
Coco was still extremely stressed and while the prescribed Valium increased his appetite, which in turn made him drink, we were still very worried about his continuing caterwauling. He still goes everywhere with us, so he’d become a better traveler. Thinking a stable environment might lessen Coco’s stress plus looking forward to some sort of normalcy, we accept their generous offer and made plans to move into their home the next day.
My parents, sister and niece have now all been allowed to move back to their neighborhood. They were displaced for a total of five days, staying with friends in a coastal community. They suffered smoke damage and begin the task of airing-out, washing linens and clothes, and giving their homes thorough cleanings. Charlie and I head over to my sister’s neighborhood and pick up my car, abandoned in the early morning hours on Monday, October 22nd. My car is intact and nothing has been stolen from it, so we are very relieved. I had packed my car with art work – some purchased during our marriage and some created by my father. We are ecstatic to have these lovely pieces and look forward to incorporating them in our new life and a new home.
My aunt and cousins have care packages of clothes on the way, so my family is reaching out and trying to help in any way that they can. They all want to do more, of course, and feel so helpless. I’m sure there were many, many people all over California feeling the same way…victims, with family and friends who want to help but feel helpless to do so because they are either too far away, too old to help like some of my relatives, or lack the financial resources to help. I know we are going to be fine. We have each other and Coco plus we have family and many friends who have reached out to us, offering emotional support, clothing, shelter and physical labor.
We go to a pet supply store in our town and load up on “comfort” things for Coco. We buy him his favorite snacks, new toys, a soothing mat with catnip and a “kitty kradle” hoping to relieve his continuing anxiety. We also go to a local major national retail store and order Charlie underwear and socks through their catalog department; they’ll arrive in two days.
Later, we get word that we can go back to our property after 6:00 p.m. tonight. We are anxious and agitated about what we will see and how we will feel, but have a strong need to go home.
We arrive at the road block near our home just before 6:00 p.m. The road is now open, so we drive towards our property with great feelings of trepidation. Coco senses our mood and expresses his own apprehension with caterwauling and other strange vocalizations.
Our valley, in the mists of the time of day known as “the gloaming”, has an eerie stillness – no traffic on our highway, no birds twittering and no animal sounds – at all. Even the air is still, a surprise given the on-going fires burning in other areas of our county and the 60 to 100 mph wind gusts that have hammered Southern California for days.
Several days prior, Charlie’s brother emailed us pictures of our destroyed house, so we knew what to expect. But, as we drive down our long driveway onto our property, we are still surprised by the overwhelming devastation of our home, our land and the dry river-bottom that runs at the backside of our property. Our home is a shell – a two-story chimney rising out of the ash like an odd monument in an ancient valley. Other brick and adobe walls stand like sentinels to rooms that are no more. Twisted metal window frames lie in endless heaps of debris. Blackened trees are everywhere, dotting the horizon like Tim Burton scarecrows. Some trees appear to have exploded, their trunks blasted out, their remaining branches fanned out on the ground in blackened heaps. Many still standing trees are deeply scarred with extensive burns on their trunks, their life half burned out of them and the other half teetering on survival.
Stepping out of the car, we immediately notice the putrid smell of burned chemicals. Yellow barricade ribbon, like that found at a crime scene, surrounds a broken wine barrel wooden planter, the Bougainvillea inside strangely alive and blooming cherry red flowers. There is a pile of various metal cans next to what used to be our front door, spray painted with a big green X. This pile of cans represents potential toxic chemicals and fumes, comprised of various substances such as paint cans, spray paint cans, cleaning products, etc., that have been found and identified by some government organization. They were burned beyond recognition and we realize that people have already been sifting through our rubble in an attempt to make our site safer for others. We later learn that someone will come and remove these cans from our property within the next few days. Also, our local gas & electric company has visited our site, turning off our power and cutting dangerous power lines.
The frames of our recliners in the living room
Blue ceramic pots on the patio, contents burned to a crisp
Remains of the kitchen
Frame of metal kitchen table and chairs
Dad’s concrete sculpture on our patio that disintegrates when I touch it
Upstairs bathroom tile wall
Downstairs bathroom shower
Refrigerator and freezer
Smoke still emanates from the remains of our house. I realize that I can’t traipse through the rubble in my tennis shoes with smoldering embers underfoot. I will have to purchase boots without rubber soles it I want to dig through the wreckage. Charlie is handicapped (he had polio when he was two-years-old and now suffers from post-polio syndrome); at this point in our lives he is using a cane, full time. Because of his lack of stability on his feet, it is a “given” that he will not be walking through the rubble of our home. We make plans to stop at the mall on our way home to our hotel, and find me safe, sturdy work boots.
I’m anxious to document everything and start snapping pictures with my camera. I loved to garden and had hundreds of plants, the majority in pots because of continued gopher problems. Hundreds of potted plants are burned to a crisp and those in plastic pots are melted in a heap. Ceramic pots on our back patio, in various shades of aqua, turquoise and royal blue are still standing, but their contents are either completely gone or blackened, charcoal sticks standing in stark relief against the relatively unscathed pots.
One of my father’s outdoor sculptures, a nude, headless torso made from concrete, crumbles in a pile when I touch it. There are twisted metal carcasses everywhere – garden tools, hand tools and farming implements missing their wooden handles, decorative metal plant stands and hanging baskets, the structural remains of metal furniture, gutters, window frames, hundreds of nails, screws, washers, bolts, etc. from storage boxes that are now gone. Broken tiles from bathrooms, shattered pottery and porcelain from cabinets and hutches that no longer exist, our upstairs bathtub resting on its side with debris all around it and all over it, laundry room appliances barely recognizable in their burned-out, twisted shells – all scattered in dense piles of debris and ash where rooms once stood.
Curiously, one of our outdoor canvas umbrellas survived and was lying on the ground in the patio area next to the blackened shell of our outdoor concrete fountain. Also, a wooden bird house given to me by my mother and hanging in a tree was unscathed although the tree was partially scorched. These two seemingly arbitrary “saves” puzzle me. Can fire be so random?
Taken in the early evening twilight of fall, these first pictures are dark and eerie. Sunset approaches and the grayness of the smoke-filled sky spans the horizon and glows a soft shade of pink. As night consumes us, we leave – there is no more light in the valley and nothing more we can see or do.
Boots in hand (successful mall detour completed), I send an email to a girlfriend and tell her that we have been allowed on-site. I tell her we are going back tomorrow and she asks to help. She wants to round up other girlfriends and have a “rubble party” instead of the previously-scheduled-now-cancelled Halloween party. I say sure; we would appreciate the help. We agree to meet at the site after 1:00 p.m. the next day. Charlie and I have dinner somewhere and head back to our hotel.
When we arrive back at our hotel, this time we leave the car packed with all non-essential items. As I explained in earlier blog posts, we packed and unpacked our car every time we left the hotel or came back to the hotel because I was afraid of losing what was left of our belongings. Since tomorrow is moving day, I decide to take a chance. We are taking one moment at a time and one step at a time.
The series continues tomorrow with Chapter Six – “Back to Square One.”
Until Next Time,