Fire and an Armageddon-black sky
The remains of the author’s sister’s house in California.

Fire and an Armageddon-black sky

What would it be like to grab your essentials and keepsakes under these circumstances?

BRATTLEBORO — It started late that night hearing about the fires in California. I put some more logs in the fireplace at our home in Vermont and I sat there in shock, staring at the flames, thinking of my sister and her husband out in Malibu.

Fire. I imagined the worse for the animals.

My sister texted me to say that she and her husband were at Zuma Beach near their home. She said she was busy helping, walking a horse. I had a strong memory of reading National Velvet, where the horses panicked during a barn fire. I can't remember the details, but I do remember the horror of trapped horses.

The sky turned Armageddon black over the beach, my sister told me, and a voice came on the loudspeakers telling all the residents that they had to evacuate the area immediately.

Then it was gridlock on the Pacific Coast Highway for my sister and her husband and thousands of others fleeing their homes and trying to save their lives.

During Tropical Storm Irene, we had a taste of a climate catastrophe. But what would it be like, I wondered, to grab your essentials and keepsakes under these circumstances? What would I do? What would I want to save?

No text messages for hours. I tried to sleep.

Outside our hand-built home in Vermont, the wind was howling, rain slapped the bedroom windows, and I dreamt about how my sisters and I played “Little Women” and inhabited a world of make believe.

* * *

In the morning, I saw a photo from the Los Angeles Times of a lone owl on Zuma Beach. The owl looked stunned, as if she were silently uttering, “Donald Trump, you have no business tweeting that forest mismanagement is to blame for the California wildfires.”

How dare this president - a president who won't go out in bad weather for fear of messing up his comb-over, a president who denies that climate change is real - not fly immediately to California to pledge Federal support?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the effects of global warming will increase in the western United States. Glen MacDonald, a geography professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who also had to evacuate from his home in southern California, said Trump's tweet was a “statement made with insensitivity and ignorance.”

* * *

I sent encouraging text messages to my sister. By then, she and her husband were heading north to stay with their daughter in Sacramento, near another fire in Paradise.

I thought I was always the strong sister, the one who patched things up, but I had no strength. I headed out for my morning walk with my dog, up and over Miller Road, passing my neighbor coming back from an early morning hunt, holding a shotgun.

We greeted each other, and I didn't tell him about the fires.

I walked a bit farther, and the tears came, the feeling of mourning the loss of a home, like a loved one.

I watched the sky brighten and got another text: Their home was a total loss, but they were safe.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates