The Sand Fire ravaged my local community of Santa Clarita, CA over the past several days, and it continues to burn. The good news is that the firefighters are gaining on the fire and beating it down as I write. It has burned 55 square miles and due to incredible drought conditions, it has behaved unlike most fires. One firefighter said, “when we thought it would zig, it would zag.”
What it was like during the Sand Fire
Experiencing a fire of this magnitude is like living through my own personal disaster movie. I challenge Hollywood to create more stunning visuals of an event like this. I’m not sure they could conjure something as terrifying. It was like living in Mordor for a time. I won’t be hanging out with any hobbits anytime soon, that’s for sure. You can have your dang ring.
In fact, on Sunday evening, a camera crew was shooting stock footage in the street in front of my house to be sold to the movie studios in the future. Reporters, photographers and documentarians were out there capturing footage to tell the story.
See this time-lapse video by Mo Sabawi from his back yard in Canyon Country, CA. I also live in Canyon Country. I live much closer to the fire zone than from where Mo was shooting.
Clearly, the experience has been incredibly stressful.
I’ve had such mixed emotions related to this fire. Sadness at the loss of life and property. Pride and awe for the firefighters and first responders who have done the most amazing job in fighting this fire. Admiration and respect for how our community has come together to help each other out — even strangers. Fear when the flames got too close for comfort. Anguish to learn some friends are now homeless. Disappointment and anger to hear about looters and opportunists. Love for my husband when I saw how thoughtfully well-prepared he was with getting us ready to evacuate. Fresh worries each time a new evacuation order came in. Gratefulness (and its ugly step-sister, guilt) that our home has been spared.
But one of the most overwhelming feelings of all was pride. The firefighters have been nothing less than magnificent. While I wish it wasn’t necessary to have done so, watching them at their finest was incredible. Aerial attacks like the one shared on Firemen’s Facebook page showed their enormous ability. That jet is flying only a few hundred feet from the rooftops nestled along a mountain ridge. Their skill is incredible!
Our community came together in ways I have not experienced since 9/11. It did not matter who you are, who you plan to vote for, what your race or background is, your socio-economic status, or any other thing that might have caused discord or division among groups of people. If you needed help, someone was there to lend a hand.
Generosity overwhelmed us. We had multiple offers of shelter from friends farther abreast of the fire. Offers of shelter for our dogs came in as well. Many people checked in on us each day, several times a day, from near and far. Help was offered from all over. Prayers and positive thoughts were sent up across the world for my family and the others in my community. The Red Cross shelters, fire stations and sheriff’s stations and camps were overloaded with donated supplies to ease the comfort of the firefighters, first responders and evacuees to the point where physical donations had to be turned away.
We live in an equestrian community with lots of ranches. Naturally, not only did we need to evacuate a lot of people, but there was also a need to move a lot of horses, live stock, animal rescues, and even exotic animals living on preserves. It seemed like anyone with a trailer and a truck was moving horse-flesh. There are news images of people riding horses out of a burning canyon that look like something out of the Walking Dead. If you knew how to ride a horse or drive a trailer, you may have been out there moving horses and other animals to safety.
Social media played a big role in building this sense of community. While it was chaotic, everyone wanted to help. Twitter and Facebook were filled with people coordinating relief efforts. Whether it was someone coordinating donations for those who have lost their homes, transport for evacuated animals, private citizens with tanker trucks who could go where their truck could help refill an engine, or simply keeping the community up to date in real-time, it was all happening via social media. There were so many google forms for donations that I have no doubt that the people in need are receiving what they need and much more.
See this video on Facebook by Sandy Pinzon. Our community relied upon updates from members of the community to keep us informed in real-time. The fire department’s resources were overwhelmed and rightfully directing their efforts on the fire. This video was shot about a mile from my home. The residents of Sand Canyon were evacuating during this video on Saturday. This video captures how the fire overwhelms the senses – sight, smell, sound, and touch and taste from the ash and soot in the air.
On Facebook, groups have formed to start rebuilding. While the fire still burns in some areas, there are quite a few homes that were destroyed. It’s time to look toward re-populating the area, cleaning it up, and making it livable again. Volunteers are already starting to plan for assisting people with damaged or destroyed homes. I’m starting to receive invitations to benefits for the victims as well as for the fire stations.
Rising from the ashes
While the fire destroyed so much, it restored my faith in humanity. There is so much nastiness out there, particularly surrounding our election cycle. To see a group of people who might have been at each other’s throats over politics last week reaching toward each other filled with compassion this week gives me great hope for our future. We can do this. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we can rebuild to be something better than we were yesterday.
Thank you to the talented photographers featured in this article. Sandra Harley, Mo Sabawi and Sandy Pinzon. Photos without a specific credit were taken by myself.