Picture of a pilot dosing the fire! Courtesy of KQED News: https://ww2.kqed.org/…/fast-moving-fire-threatens-homes-in…/
“Are you listening to the news?!” My mom texted me at 1:19 pm. No I wasn’t, I was getting gas and running errands on a normal Tuesday afternoon. Clicking on her news link, I stared at my phone in horror as I read the SF Gate tagline, “Grass fire in Oakland hills threatened homes, prompted evacuations”. I scanned the article quickly, my body going numb. A 4-alarm wildfire was moving quickly in the Oakland hills, based in the rock quarry, a 5-10 minute drive away from our home. Already, dozens of families had been forced to evacuate. I looked out of my car’s windshield as thick, gray plumes of smoke billowed from the hillside in front of me. My first thought was Bennett, our large, lovable sheltie is at home! The fire department was already shutting down the on-ramps to multiple exits within a 4 mile radius of Keller, the exit I was supposed to take. I decided to take a windy, back road home in hopes that it wouldn’t be shut down yet. All I could think on my race home was, “I really hope I can make it to Bennett!” My phone was blowing up with texts from my family and neighbors about the situation (a huge thank you to all of you who checked on me!), how we could get home, if our houses were ok, and what I should pack up in case we had to evacuate.
As I drove up the large hill, I saw many spectators photographing the gray smoke and multiple air tankers and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant on the massive wildfire. Fortunately, I got home without any delay. Bennett ran over happily with his toy like normal, his tail wagging, “welcome home!” I ran over to give him a fierce hug. We hustled outside as the low-lying aircrafts noisily chopped overhead, speeding with their buckets of water and flame retardant to dose the fire. It sounded like a war-zone with the different crafts flying overhead every few minutes.
I scrambled around the house gathering items that my family had asked me to collect. Bennett, important documents, a CPU, external hard drives, my passport, laptop, cell phone… a few other essentials, and that was it. I listened to the news in the background to monitor if I had to evacuate or not. I expected it to take much longer to gather my important belongings, being that I am a very sentimental person. But to my surprise, I realized that besides my loved ones, there are few items that I need in life. Most things I could buy if I needed them, as most items don’t necessarily have intrinsic meaning in and of themselves. It was the wonderful experience or memory that had imbued these items with meaning. Perhaps because I had backpacked with everything I needed on my back for 18 months I had internalized these memories and experiences rather than require external objects to remind me of those cherished moments. We live in a consumeristic society: you NEED this _____ (insert iPad, car, necklace, dress, shoe, etc.) to be happy, satisfied or complete. But if we really stop to think about it, there are few things in life that are actually essential. For me, my family (including Bennett) and friends are the most important aspect of my life. As for material things, I’m pretty set with my phone, laptop, passport and wallet. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I have always thought of myself as un-materialistic, but it was gratifying to realize that when put to the test in this scary fire-drill moment, my theoretical values lined up with my ideal ones. At the end of the day, all we take are our memories anyways.
Fortunately, around 4:30 pm, this fire is now 60% contained and is not actively progressing thanks to the roughly 300 first responders, 80 firefighters and 60 police officers from across the Bay who have worked tirelessly since the fire started around noon! So far, this fire burned about 22 acres, forced 100 residents to evacuate, and threatened 30 homes, but thankfully no one was reported as hurt. The evacuation lifted a few hours ago so I hope all the families and residents who had to evacuate are safe and back home now. We’ll be on the lookout the next few days as the high temperatures remain, but wow, what a real reminder of the important things in life! No matter where in the world you are, thank YOU for being the wonderful you that you are. The world would not be the same without you!
UPDATE: As of Wednesday morning, the fire is controlled and has not damaged any homes! But we’re still on high alert with the red flag warning signaling high fire danger. Please stay safe everyone!