Friday, April 22, 2011


Last weekend the family and I were in Dallas visiting friends and family. We celebrated my aunt's 60th birthday and our friend Miles' 1st birthday. We also got to see my Dad's new house in the country. It was an event packed 4 days and by Sunday morning we were all ready to come home and relax.

We got back to Austin around 4p and hit some really bad traffic once we got in to Oak Hill a couple of miles before our house. We sat and sat and sat as police cars zoomed past us. I figured there was an accident up ahead. Then we got closer to the "Y" and saw all of the smoke. It looked like a bad fire but we didn't think much of it. We also notice the helicopters. Lots of them.

We turned on to the residential street that leads into our neighborhood and there was a police car blocking the road that we turn on to get to our house. At this point I'm trying not to jump to conclusions. We go the long way to our house and when we get to the point to turn on to our street there's another police car blocking the road. I got out of the car and ask the police if we can go through to our house. A very angry police officer yells at me that there is a fire that I can not go to my house, I can not get my cats, and to get out of the road because I'm blocking traffic.

We pull the car to the side of the road on Scenic Brook and I start talking to others who are waiting to see whats going on. A few people told me that the fire was on streets that are all north of our house. I figure we're ok. However at this point there are Air Force planes dropping red powder from the sky.

Skip decides that he's going to sneak up the creek that runs parallel to the road just south of our house and see if he can get the cats out before the fire moves south.

The girls are restless sitting in the car so we go out to talk to people and say hi to all their pets. It was nice to talk with so many neighbors that I hadn't meet before, but talking with them I find out that the fire isn't where we thought it was. It had started in the large greenbelt that's about 200 ft south of our house. The entire greenbelt was on fire and it was moving north.

At this point I am mentally freaking out because Skip is going directly into the fire. I look at my phone to see if he's called and I see that I have 5 new messages. One was from our friend and neighbor who lives 2 houses down saying that she's been putting out fires on her lawn for an hour before she had to leave. The next was from my neighbor up the cul-de-sac saying that she was putting out fires in OUR lawn and that the police made them leave and she left our water hose on. Another couple of messages are from friends checking to make sure I've evacuated the house and that we're safe. These calls were from 3 or 4 hours ago. At this point I'm pretty convinced that our house is gone.

I call Skip and it rings and rings and rings and goes to voicemail. I try again in 10 mins. Same thing. Now I'm thinking that Skip isn't coming back. I'm trying not to freak out as Zoe keeps asking me over and over why we can't go home.

Over an hour goes by of me and the girls watching the helicopters drop water, and airplanes dropping fire retardant, and talking with neighbors before Skip comes walking back. He said that it got too hot and he could feel ash on his face so he turned back. Holy shit!!! As an interesting side note, he wasn't the only one to get the idea of walking down the creek. He made some "creek buddies" while on his walk and one of them gave us a ride to our car later that night.

Waiting and more waiting. And the girls are going nuts. We keep hearing reports that the fire is 80% contained, 90% contained, 95% contained, but they weren't letting us through to our house.

Finally at around 8p they let us walk through the police barricade (they didn't want cars driving over the water hoses). Skip went ahead to go check on the cats and the house. At this point the girls had have it. They were in the car all day, waiting for hours in the street, and hadn't eaten dinner. Paige was at the end of her rope and was refusing to walk on the side of the street (firetrucks and emergency vehicles are still zooming around). I don't even know how long it took to walk that quarter mile. While we were walking Skip called to tell us that our house was still standing and that the cats were alright.

When we got to the house there were 4 or 5 firetrucks parked directly in front of our house, and many of the firefighters were resting on our stone wall. As we walk up they ask if this is our house. They tell me that we were seconds from losing it. Our next door neighbor's wood pile caught fire, which is about 6 inches from our fence. They said that they barely put it out in time. Then said neighbor walks by and says that he put out a fire in our trash can that's right up next to the house.

When we walk inside the house is full of smoke and the power is out. It's hard to see. Zoe starts freaking out. It takes us a couple of minutes to catch Sophie and put her in the carrier, and while Skip and I are busy with that Paige keeps letting Miro out of her carrier. Somehow we make it out of the house and that's when I notice out neighbors house across the driveway is completely gone. You can see in one side and out the other. We were talking with her while we were waiting. She was the only person who said what everyone else was thinking, "I hope my house is still there."

We were told that the fire wasn't 100% contained and that no one was allowed to stay over night, not that we would have with all that smoke and no power. Our good friend hooked us up with a place to stay that night.

The next day we come to check on the house. It looks just fine. The only problem is the smell is something awful. We had the inside tested for ash and luckily they didn't find any. They told us to run the A/C continually and change the air filters out every day until the smell is gone.

The firefighters knocked down part of the fence to get into the backyard. It was surprisingly easy to fix. Only one of the boards broke.

There are some burnt spots on our lawn next to the driveway, by our trashcans up by the house, and in our front garden bed by the main street. All of the branches of the oak tree that extend into our neighbors backyard were burnt. Other than that you can't tell that there was a massive fire here less than a week ago.

I found out that our neighbor up the cul-du-sac, the one who put out fires on my lawn, and who has a 2 year old and a 3 month old, completely lost their house. Nothing left except for the stone wall in the front of the house and part of the metal roof.

The firefighters did an amazing job. All of the houses could have been lost instead of just 21.

Our camera broke right before Paige's birthday at the beginning of the month. Can you believe it? Of all the times to not have a camera!

I'm still processing all of this. I've spent most of my emotional energy helping the girls work through this that I'm just not starting to sit with the feelings for myself.

Our house is in the middle of the damage. It went around us. It feels really strange to be getting back to normal when there are so many neighbors who don't have a house anymore.

Zoe was hit the hardest. She is terrified that the fire is going to come back. It doesn't help that every time we walk outside it smells like we're walking into a giant fireplace or that 6 days later there are still helicopters circling above the house. But the worst reminder is the house across the driveway that's just sitting there crumbling. The woman who lived there doesn't have homeowners insurance. There's no telling how long it's going to be before that house is torn down and it might not be rebuilt.

Skip was laid off at the end of March and when that happened I decided that my new personal motto was going to be "Appreciate all that I have". Well, this fire really reinforced that. I have so much. It's inspired me to purge through all the crap in the house to get down to things that are really important.

This post seems unfinished, but that's all I've got right now.

Monday, April 11, 2011