Sara Alexander is one of the many for whom the reality of wildfire is no longer someone else’s problem.
I live at the edges of the fires, and they have been getting closer every year. In 2015 they were just on the evening news. Two years later ashes from the Tubbs Fire covered my deck. I developed a nervous attachment to my cell phone, and packed a “go kit." I began other new habits: N95 masks, anxious calls to neighbors, the adrenalin rush of Nixle alerts. Heart sickness when I met people who had lost their homes. And, eventually, disaster tourism. I developed an appreciation of wind, of first responders and a walk in fresh air.
But this is the first year that a friend’s house burned down. Brian is a gifted carpenter, an artist in old wood and vintage hardware. Totally by chance I went to his yard sale on a Sunday, on Highway 12 between Los Alamos and Pythian roads. I fell in love with a beautiful hutch transformed from an old cabinet, pebbled grey tin and window glass turned lavender with age. I arranged for delivery on Tuesday. It was hot, and the sky was smoky, and when a helicopter flew by with a bucket of water we both admitted to wildfire PTSD.
The first Nixle alert came at 10 p.m. I checked the address. Brian’s neighborhood. By 1:30, he texted back that he had just driven out, past neighbors houses burning on both sides. In a few days he confirmed that his house, his workshop and my cabinet were gone.
I found myself walking around the house thinking, “I’d be glad if this thing burned up, and that thing, too." Those thoughts scared me. I don’t want my house to burn down. I cut down every overhanging tree. I create "defensible space." I don’t ever want my house to burn. But I found myself filling box after box with unwanted things: blankets, books, gifts, clothes, shoes. And when the smoke subsided and Goodwill opened its donation door, I joined a crowd of like-minded people.