In my series of articles on what it is like to flee the approaching Wind Complex fire, I hope I am able to convey the difficulty in decision making. There is the initial fear, then disbelief, followed by a sense of security that some things remain the same.

After Kmart

I begin to worry. The sun dips into the west and there is a chill in the air. Another discussion is held. We can stay, go to a shelter where we cannot be with the dogs, or go to the son's house, where he is in a mandatory evacuation zone, and we can keep an eye on things because his house is on a hill that overlooks our homes.

There are reports of looting in our area but also good news. The big planes are in flight, ready to bring the Lobo Fire to its knees.

We pile in cars and head downhill. Pleasant Valley Road is blocked to traffic, but all five cars manage to slip through the barricades. The giant red menace is now a gray and black cloud, and the wind blows back the fire, keeping it at bay. Flames peek through the smoke.

We cross the dam. Two CHP cars block the entrance. I look across the water. Smoke rises. Cal Fire helicopters dump water on spot fires while behind the spot fires, the main fire rages. We continue on. Another barricade is up but we pass it and turn into my son's small community.

We stagger the cars in the driveway, thinking of a fast evacuation.

The kids are hungry as are the dogs. Brett, my niece's husband, sneaks back out and up the hill to Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is a half hour up and back but he does it anyway. Now there are CHP at Pleasant Valley Road. They try to turn him around, but he says he has family in Wildwood Ridge. They let him in, but we know there will be no going out again unless we are planning to leave permanently.

Fires surround us. The wind complex fire is comprised of the McCourtney Fire, which is up the hill, to the bottom is the Loma Rica Fire and ours, the Lobo Fire. In addition to these is the Cascade Fire to the left of us and the LaPorte Fire to the north. Two offers come in with places to stay, but no one wants 13 people and 7 dogs, one of which is not socialized.

All the motels and hotels in a 50 mile radius are full. My daughter-in-law sleeps in her car. We shelter in place and take turns going outside and evaluating the situation. We discuss driving routes to the valley and use our cars to recharge our cell phones so we can figure out where to go should the worst happen. We pray a lot and when we are done we pray some more.

Night falls and cars sporting light bars patrol the area. I don't know if they are looters or security. The kids are bedded down together while I fall into a fitful sleep in a chair, staring out a window. Eventually, I crawl into bed. I can no longer see flames and the red menace has dwindled into an ember glow.

By morning things are significantly better.

My son and daughter-in-law have a gas stove that works as does their hot water heater. Of course we find this out by accident. Even the gas fireplace works so we have heat, hot food and water. I play Connect Four and a few rounds of Rummy with the gkids, but truthfully, I am exhausted.

Going home

Later in the day, my husband and I set out to ascertain the situation. Smoke is thick but there are no visible flames. My rapid heart eases into a softer beat. The barricade to our son's house is gone as is the one at the end of Pleasant Valley Drive. The 76 station has power and by the time we get back the kids have power.

Several hours later, the mandatory evacuation lifts and we are free to go home.

A line of cars stretches up and down our little road, full of people demanding to enter their homes. While we are still under an advisory evacuation, things are calm. We go home to a house that smells of fire and there are ashes on the window sill. It will take awhile to get out the stench, but it is far better to think of cleaning than it is for rebuilding.

Some thoughts

I packed a suitcase full of shoes and socks. I did not take any underwear but I took 3 pairs of pajamas. My computer was missing and I was sure the looters had taken it. My computer wasn't stolen. It was in the car. I have no memory of taking it.

When you are told to get out now, you grab what you can, but I can promise you, you will not have the presence of mind to make the right decisions.

If anyone had ever asked me if I would ever advise my kids and grandchildren to go back into a mandatory evacuation zone, I would have laughed. Yet, when you have nowhere to go, you go back to the familiar.

In my closet, I now have a packed suitcase with everything we need. I can grab it and head out the door. We had our metal file with our important papers, we'd just never considered clothing and toiletries as essential. Everything else is inconsequential. Yes, there are pictures and old furniture you think of, but the most important things are the people you love.