It’s surreal when you find out you’ve lost your house, your home. Yes, it’s stuff – some is replaceable, some is not. Memories were made there, those we can take with us. Everything else is left behind. It’s a painful and heartbreaking loss.
When you first find out that your house is gone – you think back to what you wish you grabbed. But you have to remember that you only had so much time to evacuate. When you’re evacuating, you’re not in your right frame of mind – you’re only thinking of what you need – which is what you should be thinking. Evacuating is a life/death situation, not a “let’s think about everything I want to take on my vacation sort of thing.”
Whatever you do, don’t play the, “I should have grabbed…” game. You grabbed what you felt was necessary. Period. You did the best you could under your present circumstances. If you didn’t go back to your house to grab this, that, or whatever – don’t beat yourself up; you stayed out of the danger zone. (During the Bear Fire of 2017, I would have gone back for my cat if I could have, but there were road blocks.)
The most important thing to remember is that you did the best you could. You saved yourself. A life is worth way more than any amount of stuff – replaceable, or not. Don’t believe me? What if you had gone back for those photos you forgot? And then your house or someone else’s house or the road caught on fire, and you couldn’t get out? Those photos are not worth your life! Nothing is worth your life! NOTHING!
Your house is gone. You scream, you cry. Your heart is shattered. How am I going to pick up the pieces? How am I going to survive this? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do? Oh my God. OH MY GOD! Your head is in your hands, you’re crying again. People tell you they’re sorry. They say hang in there, they offer encouragement – your house is gone! GONE! You’re crying and screaming again, wondering what you could have done differently. You may scream at God, asking Him, “Why?” “Why me?”
I know it seems like you’re not going to get through this, but you will. You are going to get through this. Repeat after me: “I’m going to get through this.” Now, breathe. Take a long deep breath in and hold it for 3 seconds and exhale. Repeat if needed. Scream if needed. Cry if needed. Pray if needed. You will get through this.
This is the grieving process. It’s going to take awhile to go through this. You’re going to be very tired. You haven’t slept. Your eyes are red and puffy. You’re exhausted, but you cannot sleep. You keep having flashbacks, nightmares. This is normal.
Share your thoughts, your pain, your heart, your loss. Write it down. Post pictures. Some people may criticize you and tell you that you shouldn’t live in the past, or you cannot rewrite history. They don’t know that you are doing this to grieve. Ignore them. Do whatever you have to do to get by.
When the fires are contained, and the word is given – then you can go back and sift through the ashes that was once your home. You need to wear the correct mask though and because of this pandemic, those are harder to find. You also need to wear gloves. Why, you ask? Because whatever was in your house and in the surrounding area are those ashes. It’s not just from trees. It’s chemicals, plastics, hazardous materials that you don’t want to come into contact with. If you wouldn’t touch Drano or battery acid with your bare hands, then don’t touch these ashes. (This is the mistake I made.)
You will prevail. I have confidence in you. We are survivors.
It is very expensive to rebuild your life after a fire – please don’t make the mistake I made. Plan wisely. Make sure you have enough funds to cover everything, not just rent. Make an expense plan BEFORE you start buying.
CHECKLIST FOR HOUSE
KITCHEN & DINING AREA
- Plates, bowls, and silverware
- Pots and pans
- Spoons, wooden; spatulas, knife block & knifes, cutting board, tongs, etc.
- Pot holders, towels, dish soap, sponges, etc.
- Spices, coffee/tea, etc.
- Microwave, rice cooker, blender, etc.
- Paper towels, napkins
- Dining table and chairs
- Tablecloth, placemats
- Sheets, blankets
- Pillow, pillowcase
- Night table +- lamp
- +- drawers
- Clothes – all 4 seasons
- Shoes – closed toe, sandals
- Underwear, bras
- Shower curtain
- Towels, bath and hand
- Soap, shampoo, conditioner
- Toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash
- First aid kit
- +- Sanitary napkins, tampons
- Broom and dustpan
- Mop and bucket
- Cleaning supplies
- Garbage bags
Start adding what you need. It may help you get your mind off of losing your house. You need to contact your insurance company as well. (Sadly, I was living in a non-compliant house and didn’t have insurance.)
It’s been almost three years since the Bear Fire of 2017 destroyed my house. I still find myself wishing I had three photo albums that I didn’t grab. I wish I was able to find my cat, Felipe. I wish I was able to rebuild a life elsewhere. Instead, I’m homeless. I didn’t plan very well when it came to the limited funds that I had. I wish my house never burned down. I wish these CZU August Lightning Complex fires never happened because not only are they destroying people’s homes, terrifying other people, but they’re conjuring up bad memories.
I still remember my evacuation as if it happened yesterday. I even remember what I was wearing. I had less than 30 minutes to escape with the clothes on my back and the sandals on my feet as I got the rest of my pets, but not Felipe. I miss him so much.
My heart aches for each and every one of you. Every time I read that one of you have lost your homes, I cry. I remember. I pray.
Everyone’s story is different. Share your’s. Don’t let anyone tell you not to. And remember – breathe.