Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fire Storm


Twelve days ago a firestorm changed my life and that of everyone else in my small community of Glide, Oregon. Since that terrible day I've struggled to understand the gnawing sorrow inside me. I'm beginning to understand some of it and hope that writing this post will help me and possibly others who are struggling with some of the same questions.

September 8th a fire called the Archie Fire stormed across thirty miles of the Umpqua Forest and in less than 12 hours it exploded on the ridge above my  house. It is burning still.

My family and I got out before it burst over the ridge.

With a few of our most precious belongings and our travel trailer, kids and grandkids, dogs and cats we trekked down our hill and then hunkered down in a small town nearby where we waited for word. 

At around 10:00 PM the call we feared rang through on my husband's phone. Our home and all the homes on top of our hill were burning.

That night we went to bed but didn't sleep. We prayed for a miracle.

The following day our youngest daughter and a friend had to know what had happened and they dared make the trip back up the road. Fires were still burning. Smoke was thick. And fallen, charred trees blocked the road. With the help of experience and a chain saw they kept going. 

Sarah called from our property. "Mom. The house is still standing!"

How could it be? People saw the fire charge over the ridge and explode on the top of our hill.

We rejoiced, but any joy we felt was tempered by the news of many others who had lost their homes. Sorrow burrowed into our hearts.

Such devastation. So much loss.

Two days later Greg and I made our way home to see what had happened. Fires still smoldered, open flames sought fuel, smoke was choking and firemen defended our homes. When we turned onto our driveway we immediately saw our home standing in a fog of smoke. Everything around it had burned. How had it survived?

Our woodshed, with a winter's supply of firewood, was gone along with our tractor, a riding lawn mower, Greg's motorcycle, and a variety of other farm tools stored there. Strangely, a lawn chair stood only feet away, untouched. Fires are weird. We had cardboard boxes still on our porch from our recent move. There was soot and ash and burned leaves inside of them, and yet they had not burned.

We lost several outbuildings, including my chicken house. My sweet hens perished. A garden shop and another shop that contained a long list of tools and other items that we had accumulated over the years were now a pile of smoldering rubble.

They seem trivial in light of what our neighbors lost. We still have our home. I grieve their losses, but I am also sorrowing ours. It doesn't seem right, but my feelings are my feelings. I can't change that. I am trying to understand it.   

Greg and I built the chicken house together. We had fun doing it even though we squabbled a bit. Lonnie, a good friend who passed away a few years ago, made a shingle to hang. It said, Gregland's Best. Every time we looked at that sign we thought of him.

A wood shed doesn't seem like much, but many memories abound there. It's silly, but I used to love to chop and stack wood. And when we prepared for winter, we did it together as a family. Some sawed wood, others chopped and stacked. In recent years my job has been more about supplying hot coffee or cocoa to the workers. Precious days still. 

And there was our jeep. It was just a thing, but we shared good times together in that jeep. It was beloved by our family and there was some vying over who might inherit it one day. But it's gone now.

Also gone are the young fruit trees we loved and the blueberry plants and grapes we put in just this year. Not important, really, but we loved planting them and watching them grow.

My husband spent decades accumulating tools of every kind. There wasn't much he didn't know how to do and all those chores required a tool. He had something for everything and most of the tools had a story to tell. When we went through the rubble, trying to remember what each building had contained, he couldn't disguise the loss he felt.


We didn't lose our house. It is still standing there in the meadow. We are SO grateful and at the same time we can't help but feel we don't deserve it. There are so many mixed feelings floating around. We tell ourselves there is no reason to feel guilt, but feelings are sometimes hard to control. At present count at least 109 homes were lost. That is 109 families who are suffering a loss we can't fully comprehend. We grieve for them. And it doesn't seem right, but God is sovereign. I don't have to have an answer as to why my home still stands. But I will do my best to honor God's mercy toward me and my family.

I've puzzled over why this grief is SO powerful. I've known this kind of thing can happen, but I didn't expect that I'd feel it so intensely. After all, it's just "stuff" right?

When my husband and I walked to the back of our property and then drove up to the end of the road, the devastation was shocking, incalculable. The forest is decimated. Huge towering trees stand blackened. Many are dead. More will die. Some of the trees are burned from the inside and many have roots that are still burning. Acre after acre, mile after mile the forest looks dead. My mind tells me it will come back, but my heart sees the death of my wilderness home. And I think that this is the key to the depth of sorrow I feel. This place, not the wood and mortar structure standing on my property, but the forest, has been my home for more than forty years. The beauty and wildlife have nourished my soul all these years. 

The logical part of me knows the forests will return. I wait in anticipation to see the first new green sprouts that emerge in the blackened forest floor. I will take photos and I will share them with you. In the meantime I marvel at the miracle that so many homes did survive and that flowers still bloom around my house, and some of the neighbors chickens are clucking, and the wild mama turkey and her nearly grown chick still visit. And I will never forget the joy I felt when I discovered the three little goats from next door had survived and found their way to my scarred garden.

The people of Glide will never be the same. We have survived. We have a long, painful path to walk, but we are loved by God and we are pulling together, as we always do, and we will be better and stronger than we were.

The first day Greg and I went to the house we saw something on our way back down the road that stirred my heart. Many months before someone built a bench, a place to rest and take in the beauty of the forest. When we came around a corner and saw it there amidst swirling smoke I was awestruck. Fire above and fire below destroyed the forest, but the bench remained. I like to think it is there, enjoying the beauty of the forest it once knew and imagining the woodland that will return one day.

Grace and peace to you from God,