Friday, September 10, 2021

The Fire Evacuation Adventure - August 2021


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Fun at the Air T&D


It was Tuesday morning, August 17th. We walked outside and glanced to the southeast. It was 7:30 am. The view was staggering, terrifying. The massive boiling smoke column towered above our house and erased the rising sun. But the Caldor Fire was far away, it was well south of Grizzly Flats burning the Middle Fork of the Consumes River canyon. It did not make any sense, but that column was real and mesmerizing. It was so alive.


"Should we go on our walk?" the Lady asked.

"Yeah," I answered, "but we're going to keep an eye on that. The fire's a good distance from us but that column is huge. Do you have your phone?"

"Yes," the Lady answered.


We had forgotten our local schools had opened the day before and a portion of our walk takes us along the road to the middle school. Vehicles streamed toward school in the renewed daily migration. The Lady knows many of the teachers and the principal is a friend. And everyone knows us, that couple that walks every morning holding hands.


The teachers slowed as they passed us, pointed with fear at the towering column of smoke, and put their hands together in prayer. Buses full of students flowed by along with cars and trucks of the parents who must drop off their children themselves. We continued our walk and arrived home at the usual time, 8:15. The Lady left immediately for a grocery run to Safeway, we'd been away for six nights. The phone rang a few minutes later. It was our little buddy, Barking Spider - retired from a career with the Forest Service that included a career fighting forest fires.

"Have you seen the column?" he yelled.

"Yup," I answered. "It has to be eating up terrain to be that big."

"You bet your ass. That fire is booking. We're getting our stuff together and leaving as soon as the call comes!"

"Us too," I assured him. This was a scenario we had often discussed. Be ready and go. The automated call from the County Sheriff came a few minutes later - an evacuation warning. The Lady drove in a few minutes later. Her cell phone had also received the alert - as did all our email accounts.


"We are leaving as soon as we get what we need to take in both vehicles." The Lady nodded in agreement. I held her close and looked into her eyes. "Let's both take a deep breath. No panicked hurry. Let's divide the tasks and get the work done. We will stay calm. We have time."


Our main concern that we've talked about is the two lane county road that is our evacuation route out to highway 50. We have only a bit over a half mile to the freeway, but everyone one else fleeing is on the same road. We wanted to be at the head of the pack. A nightmare of ours is an evacuation without any warning in the middle of the night with the whole community running with flames right behind them on this narrow corridor.


The road was already stop and go as we wanted to make our left turn off our road. People were surprisingly polite and calm. A fellow in a loaded pickup stopped and waved both of us in to join the line. We could only imagine trying to keep calm order up at the middle school and get children safely to their parents and the school and teachers and staff evacuated to then get to their homes to gather things.


We drove west, downhill on highway 50. After we drove through Placerville with its three signal lights on highway 50, the evacuation flow funneling down from the higher country became so clogged the signals were turned off and no cross traffic was allowed.


The evacuation warning was upgraded to an order as we left our home.


Cathy, Trailer Woman, so kindly offered to share her new home in El Dorado Hills with us. We stayed with Cathy for five nights prior to our second evacuation. Thank you Cathy for your care and kindness.


Why did we evacuate from Cathy's home? It had to do with the "needs of the knees" - the Lady's second total knee replacement surgery scheduled for Friday August 27th. No matter what happened with the fire and our home, we made the firm decision the Lady would go ahead with the surgery. Along with the fire worry was the real possibility the surgery could be canceled due to the surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations among the unvaccinated. The hospitals were filling up and resources moved over to treat the growing Covid-19 ill. And, prior to surgery the Lady had to pass a Covid test on Tuesday.

Trailer Woman raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She left Friday morning for the weekly activity training. After the class she drove to the north bay area for the weekend to stay and help her daughter with a project. Cathy called us as she drove home Sunday early evening with bad news. She had just received a group notice that someone at the puppy class on Friday had tested positive for Covid. We could not risk a chance of exposure with the Lady's upcoming surgery. We evacuated.


Our friends The Teds - Ted and Donna - welcomed us with open arms into their new home in Roseville, California. We were feeling more and more like refugees but so much luckier than all the evacuees staying in shelters or camped in parking lots the news stations paraded across the TV screens.


I'll back up a step here with a dose of reality. I don't know what we were thinking when we left our house except we thought it would be short term. The fire would tear through and level our community as it had destroyed the town of Grizzly Flats, our home would be the latest poster child on wildfires, it would be over, we'd pick up the pieces and get on with life. We were ready for that. We did not expect three weeks of lingering uncertainty. We watched as the fire, our home, our wonderful backyard became the latest spectator sport on national news to entertain the masses.


The Teds saved the day.


Give Ted somebody to cook for and Ted is happy. Our first dinner was chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese cooked sous vide and finished off by searing in a pan. I kid you not.










Both of the Teds were raised in the Napa Valley.






As Ted cooked and I watched, Donna and Julie talked in the backyard. One of Donna's favorite things to check on the Web is Rangers Pointing at Things. The Lady joined in with the fun.






The Teds made sure our vehicles were safe. Our little Bobcat was tucked away behind The Teds' Tiger.





They insisted on moving their truck aside so Julie's Subaru could go in the garage.






With the good eats, great company, and very comfortable accommodations we got to joking about what was the name of the resort we had landed in. I offered up the obvious - Club Teds. Several heads shook back and forth. Another possibly that was quickly set aside was The Resort at Roseville. Ted's suggestion was the winner - Air T&D.


But we had to earn our keep and it also helped to keep our minds from being obsessed with fire news. Ted had projects we could help with. The first was building a new drawer after the original fiberboard drawer came apart.  Ted had some plywood available and a new drawer was quickly put together. Please forgive the wood screws used to clamp the rabbit joints together. We did not have any long clamps.






That completed project earned us some of Donna's famous Minestrone soup. We both loved the hint of spinach.






One day Julie and I needed to gather up supplies for Julie's post op and rehab needs - items left behind at home during the evacuation - we also picked up parts for an auxiliary propane line for the Teds' fire pit, BBQ, and such.









We had one major project we really wanted to complete. The Tiger came with a platform for behind the truck seats. Ted wanted it modified with drawers added and hatches to access the space underneath. Ted had already build two drawers. We went to work.






This was also the day Ted learned the value of having and using an engineer's square. This was fun. We added a center partition to mount the drawer slides.






And yes, they were mounted square to the top. We needed filler pieces for beyond the drawer spaces.






The drawer slides and drawers were mounted and then we tested the fit and functionality.






Ted lined all the drawers as they are designed to hold a tripod and spotting scope.









It came time to design and install the hatches. We had a good laugh about how much fun it was going to be to get all the sawdust off the black cloth.









A square turned out to be handy here too.









We took the finished project out to the truck. We invited the girls to come take a look and also strongly hinted we were in need of several "Attaboys!"









Not only did we get "Attaboys," we got hugs too. Ted celebrated the completion of this project with a Pliny's.






This project took several days as it is time for another dose of reality. Ted is undergoing chemo treatment for cancer. He is handling it very well but it has side effects and eats at his stamina. It was a joy for us to help Ted (and Donna) get these projects done so they can get out and camp as often as possible.


The time for Julie's knee surgery came - she passed the Covid-19 test - on Friday August 27th. I dropped her off early in the morning and awaited the phone call saying she was out of recovery and upstairs in her hospital room for one night. She did well. The surgeon stopped in her room Saturday morning prior to discharge. The Lady thanked him for his good work.

"You did a great job on the right knee," she said, "And I know you did the same great job on the left knee now. Thank you! If I had three legs I'd want you to do the surgery on the third knee."



I got her home to the Air T&D and the Lady went right to work on rehab.









I owe a big thank you to Ted & Donna for helping keep a close eye on Julie post op. She is fast and you don't want her to get out of sight.


Another dose of reality is due. The fire was foremost on our minds. On the day the Caldor Fire entered the Lake Tahoe Basin, the billowing smoke plume was visible from the Teds home, 75 air miles away from the fire.






McClellan Airfield is to the southwest of the Teds' home. McClellan is a major fire retardant base. The retardant tankers flew over repeatedly on their return from making drops on the fire.












One day Ted asked, "How about roasted vegetables and grilled game hens for dinner tonight?" Air T&D is a five star place. If we were more adept at this social media stuff, we'd be posting glorious reviews on Yap, or whatever that thing is.


















It was cool enough to eat outside in the backyard this evening. We, of course, helped with setting the table and such. The Lady picked up her half of a game hen and dug in like a wolf on a carcass.

"Is it okay that she eats with her fingers?" I politely asked.

"Of course!" both The Teds answered. They are so kind.


We had one large outdoor project yet to tackle. The Teds wanted to replace the end of the fence along the side of their home with a gate. We had purchased some pressure treated lumber for the gate frame.






Almost done.






We did finish off the gate. I just didn't get that "finished project" photo. Sorry.


The call came late in the afternoon on Friday, September 3rd that the evacuation order was downgraded to a warning and those who choose to, could return to their homes. It was the 19th day of our evacuation. Julie and I were putting together the dinner for this evening - two grilled whole chickens, stuffing baked in the oven, and salad. We'd stay and enjoy our friend's company and hospitality one more night. We called it a celebratory dinner and it was.


The Teds accompanied us up to our place Saturday morning. I drove the truck and camper. Ted drove Julie up (knee surgery) in her Subaru. Donna followed up in their truck. Home was not too bad except all our ripening peaches were ruined by the smoke. The Teds helped clean up - lots of sweeping outside, emptying the refrigerator, and vacuuming and wiping things down inside. We were back home.




A huge thank you first to Cathy, Trailer Woman for her wonderful hospitality and for being thoughtful enough to give us the clear warning of the possible Covid-19 exposure. Cathy is a delight to share time with. And, a huge thank you to Ted & Donna for their kind help and sharing their home with us. If you've got to be evacuated from your home during a wildfire, you might as well have fun. We sure did with our stay at the Air T&D.