Y2K Lessons Learned In A Small Town Evacuation -- Part 2 Of 3

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Y2K Lessons Learned In A Small Town Evacuation -- Part 2 Of 3 offered by Diane J. Squire ) October, 1998 sacredspaces@yahoo.com

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... Back to my fire evacuation story. One of the several magical times of my life.

As the morning dawned, half the town gone, the smell of smoke was still prevalent, but less. Phones still worked. Power was on. The local emergency radio station said it looked like containment would happen later that day. We could breathe, if not deeply, at least in grateful gulps. I phoned friends and family to update them. Decided not to unpack the half-packed car just yet, but stop by a friends place to check on her (her husband caught was off the hill). We chatted and sipped tea. We talked about our fears, laughed and cried. We marveled at a psychics prediction. Just two weeks earlier a psychic she had met unexpectedly told her Theres going to be a fire but it will be all right. I see a ring of angels all around, in a circle, holding hands. At the time, she thought he was out there. Now she planned to relisten to his audio tape.

I must mention, the view from her living room is panoramic and spectacular. I was gazing outside. While watching the sun-dappled mountainside, I was thinking about how glad I was to live in a small mountain community, even if it was hard to support oneself in uncertain times. As I watched, in the space of what seemed like one minute, the sun was completely blocked. In dis-belief I said I think something just happened. We ran onto her deck. Absolutely covering the sky to the west was an enormous mushroom-like cloud.

We hyper-ventilated, then raced to turn on the radio. The signal was dead. My good friend hadnt even showered that morning and I suggested she do so -- really fast -- then get dressed and Id try to find out what was happening. I phoned the Forest Service. Busy signal. Just about the time I was ready to race back to my cabin, throw the cat in the car, and drive to the U. S. Forest Service offices, the radio came back on. Mandatory evacuation was now ordered for all of Idyllwild. The fire had jumped the lines. Oh brother! More hyper-ventilating.

My friend said Go. Im fine. Well rendezvous at our friends house ten miles away in G. Valley. They had earlier invited several of us to come anytime. Are you sure? I asked. Yes. Go get your cat. Ill grab my rabbits and the pictures. Hugs. I raced out of there.

It took me about an hour to get the rest of the car loaded ... portable radio glued to my side. I kicked myself for not being more prepared. Neighbors outside were yelling, Does anyone need help? Everyone okay? See ya. It felt like time had speeded up and slowed down all at once. I ran around the cabin, throwing things on the ground, trying to find my treasures. Take this, leave that behind. Thank god I had left the car half packed! Every square inch in my car, my only mobile home, was stuffed. Things I loved were sitting inside the cabin. No room. I asked the Divine, God and the angels to to watch over my safe haven and I was outta there.

For a small town where rush-hour consists of five minutes worth of traffic, the line-up of cars to get out of town was staggering. Only one road was open, and one of the firestorm fronts was just one hill away from cutting off the only escape route. No one pushed. No one shoved. People politely allowed others to join the line and we inched our way out of town. Some people had horses, without trailers. They were walking them down the mountain. I said a blessing for them as we, caterpillar-like, inched our way out of our tiny town. A beloved mountain haven that so many other people, from across the Western United States, had rallied around, to try and save.

The helicopters with their lake-water filled buckets were still buzzing and furiously dropping loads, the fire-retardant bombers were releasing and the spotter planes were circling our ariel exodus. Fire engines, lights flashing, sirens screaming, were racing up the hill as the rest of the town was inching down. It looked like a war zone. To my inexperienced mind, it sounded like one. Even then, some friends elected to stay. With small children. Why? Because a single panicked neighbor refused to leave her two packed cars and her three huge dogs behind. They decided ... Well stay. She can sleep at our place and if the worst comes, well dump our stuff in the street and drag her out in our car . They became the on-site information resource, and you better believe they were motived to keep minute-to-minute tabs on the situation!

Twenty men, women and children with forty-one animals converged on our friends house, ten miles away from the war zone. Cars were everywhere. Peoples dogs were leaping and playing with one another, cats meowing in their kitty carriers, birds squaking in their cages. We even numbered a couple ferrets and, of course, the rabbits in our midst. One couple had left in their RV. The rest of us pitched tents or staked out our sacred space up on various couches. Our host and hostess, with foresight, had stocked up on supplies and filled the refrigerators (most people hadnt thought to bring food), purchased a couple guest tents, and even a guest trampoline!! (There were lots of jokes about that one). We were all safe ... at last. Then we waited -- two nights, two days more.

That time was one of the most special times of my life. People you just saw occasionally at a party, at church or at the cafe latte shop became family. We talked, laughed, cried together. People shared their talents -- several of us got great manicures -- artists sketched, musicians gave concerts, the cooks in the crowd overwhelmed us. Wed sit in smaller groups, moving and shifting around, chatting. Often someone would ask Any news? A certain ever-changing group would watch the television, surfing the channels for any kind of mention about the fires. We were pretty stunned that neither the Los Angeles nor San Diego stations were covering the big event in our lives. When they did, it was to play up the horror, the firestorms, in a two minute sketch. Finally some of us elected to watch I Love Lucy reruns. A couple film makers in the crowd decided to document the gathering on video tape. Several times wed all gather in the living room to watch the the latest film efforts and laugh at ourselves.

The phone would ring a lot at our little command central. Wed gather around the recipient ... News? One ladys husband was a volunteer mountain rescue worker who could come back and forth across the lines. He would visit and phone in periodic updates. We learned from the calls that so-and-so had gone to family in L.A., another to friends in Palm Springs. You name it and people scattered there. We really pitied the ones who couldnt campout with friends and had elected go to the evacuation locations -- a high school gym, among others. We speculated about how awful it might be and were incredibly grateful. (Later, when other townspeople shared their stories of a horrible fire evacuation experience, we knew wed made the right choice). I think they had assumed they had nowhere else to go. I highly doubt if anyone in that safe valley would have turned the scared and weary travellers away. (Everyone knew that but for the grace of God, their neighbors and circumstances, it could be them needing shelter).

Just to up the tension and gratitude ante, we learned some arsonist had set a brush fire, one mountain over, behind our safe valley haven. There was that underlying sense of Will we have to leave here too? Dont quote me on this, but as I recall, I think the firefighters were dealing with seven close and remote area blazes in about a fifty mile range at the same time. Thank god they were!! Did we feel nervous, uncertain, sad, angry, happy? You bet. We all had an extended emotional range. We just didnt aim our volatile emotions at one another. We shared instead.

Meals were a wonderful gathering time. The chefs and food prep crews would whip up the most amazing impromptu gourmet dishes with the available supplies. Those who couldnt fit in the kitchen sat nearby discussing, a myriad of topics. The phone would ring. Instant alertness ... News? We did a lot of laughing. Occasionally someone would break down and cry. People rushed to to comfort and would join the crying jag. Chuckles afterwards.

A fair portion of the town had bedded down with open-hearted friends in that special valley. There was some travelling back and forth. Visitors would drop in and update us on who was camping at their fire party. Others from our immediate fire family left to join relatives. New people arrived. Everyone was made welcome. After all, we were in this together.

Timeout here.

I cant stress that enough. Because we shared a crisis together, we KNEW we were not alone. We were sitting in the midst of total uncertainty, laced with a sense of controlled chaos, not knowing if wed have to pack up and move again. We had to each, individually, face our worst Fears. Fears of not having a home to return to, of not being able to survive, of not having enough money, of having to accept an unplanned and radical change in our lives.

Our minds would ratchet out on incredible what if scenarios. What do I/we do if my/our house is burned? What do I/we do if my/our job just went up in flames? Where do I/we go? How will I/we live?? Our groups shared conclusions? Just take it one-day-at-a-time, pray, meditate and sit in the present moment. Thats all we really had control over. It was all up to a far greater power. A power counting on us to do our part. To remain calm. To help each other through our dark times.

We each found incredible strength in that bonding with one another. Yes, we recognized a higher power, God, The Divine, The Creator, Great Spirit. Depending upon our religious or spiritual beliefs, we prayed, meditated, did ceremonial rain dances, called upon the supportive elements of earth, wind, fire and water, focused all our thoughts on rain -- real fast -- hugged trees and talked with the nature spirits. What someone thought or believed, or what color their skin was, wasnt even considered an issue. We just did what we all had to do, in our own way, and accepted that everyone else was doing their thing. We KNEW others from our town, were adding their part too, wherever they had scattered to. We were most definitely all focused on the same positive outcome ... returning to a home still standing, a town still alive and welcoming.

Thankfully, we did still have phones, electricity, water and flushing toilets.

But do you know, if that unimportant stuff had been missing, I KNOW we still would have had a great and loving time. If the food supplies had run low, some of those chefs would have made a great pine-needle stew. Others would had gathered food for the clan. No one had a gun. We didnt need it. We had each other.

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The story continues in ... Y2K Lessons Learned In A Small Town Evacuation -- Part 3 Of 3 offered by Diane J. Squire ) October, 1998 sacredspaces@yahoo.com ...

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-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), October 31, 1998


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Y2K Lessons Learned In A Small Town Evacuation -- Parts 1 & 2 (See also Part 1 Posted 1998-10-28)


How do you plan for and where do you obtain key information on critical events in your areas? A -- If the power is on. B -- If the power is not on.

What are the legalities of being forced out of your home by authorities during a crisis. Where would you go to find out.

What volunteer and rescue organizations, hospitals, etc. in your area, are available to assist. How do they communicate, during a crisis. A -- If the power is on. B -- If the power is not on.

What can you do to prepare to be rapidly mobile because theres NO CHOICE but to leave. A -- By car or other transportation if roadways are operational. B -- On foot or mountain bicycle If departure arteries are hopelessly clogged.

What things can you do, to also be responsible for your neighbors during an emergency?

In the event of a major crisis, and your have to leave, what is really important to YOU? What cant you live without? What would you regret leaving behind?

Have you prepared a mobile disaster plan? What is essential to have organized (in one location) to be ready to move -- fast -- if necessary? Where can you go? Try to devise several different If this happened ... I/we do this ... scenarios for your area. Pay attention to your escape routes.

What are critical supplies that you MUST have with you for minimal survival?

What are your contingency plans if you leave in your car/truck/RV, but due to unforeseen circumstances, you MUST continue on foot. What do you carry, and how do you carry it. What do you go? Do you have maps to help guide you? Road maps. Hiking trail maps. What do you go? Pre-planning now, makes for smoother transitions in a disaster.

Who around your immediate area would make a good support group team? Might be worthwhile to meet now and plan a group response to different scenarios. Are your choices dependant upon whether you have power and phone, or not?

Do you have several options for gathering locations? Is your group agreed on what they are?

Are your key personal belongings organized or scattered? It takes more time to sort through stuff if you arent prepared to move fast. What can you do to better organize? Where do you put it. What lists should you create?

Has your community developed disaster preparedness plans? Do most the citizens know what there are?

What are your alternate plans if all your escape routes are cut off?

Once you arrive at your destination? What do you do? How do you keep everyone occupied? What are your back-up plans if you have to move again? Do your other relatives and friends in other locations know what those back-ups to the back-up plans are?

What are your pet contingencies? How do you feed them? How do you transport them?

Suppose there are no other options but to be camping. What is essential survival gear?

How do you plan meals, etc.? What mobile food supplies do you have on hand? What about the key element of WATER? What do you do when nature calls? How do you avoid creating places where germs can fester? What are your mobile medical options? How do you get a good nights sleep? What about preparing for weather changes? A -- If the power is on. B -- If the power is not on.

Do you consider portable games or musical instruments as essential during the waiting times? What would be light and portable examples of those?

Do you know of a central location (or several) that will post messages for friends and family to let them know where you are in case none of your back-up plans worked? A -- If the power or phones are on. B -- If the power or phones are not on.

What can you to do in advance to make the evacuation experience as positive as possible?

How do you handle peoples excitable emotions?

What IS Important to you? To your family? To your friends? To newcomers to your group?

What will you do if you can never return home. Where will you go?

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), October 31, 1998.

Contingency plans for post-y2k fire fighting is a good idea. See http://www.senate.gov/~y2k/statements/100298dodd.html for why you may not assume the availability of public emergency response systems. And it is a waste of precious water, so your neighborhood/community needs a plan for avoiding and containing any possible fire (whether intentional or accidental). This includes chopping down dead trees and maintaining a controlled perimeter. Minimizing the risk is the most important measure but also necessary is a plan of action, including a fire brigade. Evacuation would be the last resort.

Post-y2k communities need good communication, both within the group and between groups. If the infrastructure crumbles and the population fragments into local autonomous cells, each community can set up their own system to manage their domain. Be creative...design your own departments of justice, defense, agriculture, commerce, energy, education, arts, and spirituality. Let the federal government keep themselves busy dealing with foreigners and other countries.

Crisis does bring people together. This is the hidden benefit of y2k.

-- Jon (jonmiles@pacbell.net), October 31, 1998.

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