Friday, October 14, 2005

Florida in Flames

The theme was "Flames" the time was June of 2005. It was inevitable that living here in Florida I'd have written this story at that time. We were in the grip of horribly dry weather and were having horrific wild fires. At one point an entire COUNTY was evacuated (Flagler). This was just based on impressions and my imagination, not really on anything I read or heard about to the best of my recollection.

    The smoke was thicker than ever. I was packing what I could because Mike said we'd probably have to get out soon. How could we leave this place? We'd lived all our married lives here. Mike had built most of the house with his own hands. We'd raised two wonderful daughters here.

    The news was terrifying to watch. Massive evacuations covered the whole area from Titusville all the way up here into Flagler County and extending inland to Orlando even. Florida was literally in flames and nobody seemed capable of doing much about it. There was even talk of postponing the July 4th race in Daytona.

    As I tried to decide what to pack I looked out, there was Mike sweaty and covered in ash. The streams from the hoses he and our neighbors were wielding looked pitifully insignificant.

    Later, I heard Mike arguing and saw a fire truck and a sheriff's car. Mike shrugged his shoulders and headed up to the house and my heart just fell, this must be it, we had to leave. I could even see flames now, it was depressing and terrifying all at once. His look of dejection said it all, and we wordlessly put what I'd packed into the car. Mike didn't even look. While I could take some of what mattered most to me, the pictures and some papers, Mike was being forced to leave behind something he'd worked for and taken pride in, for oh so many years. Who knew, if it would be here when we got back.

    I felt so sorry for Mike, yet it was him trying to cheer me up. That got harder as we drove through areas where everything was a charred wasteland. House after house burned to the ground. As bad as it was, we saw, every now and then, a small oasis of green in all the black where the fire had spared a copse of trees and at times even a house or group of houses.

    For two days we were stuck in a motel, able only to watch the horror unfold on television. There were constant scenes of houses going up in flames when all the valiant efforts of the firefighters proved unequal to Mother Nature's fury.

    In the end, the whole of Flagler County was evacuated, we learned. I had trouble grasping that, a whole county in danger and ordered from our homes. Smoke and fire and destruction everywhere you looked it seemed, it was almost too much to grasp.

    Everyday we tried to go back and every day we were turned back. Finally on the third day, we were allowed in once we proved we lived there. Looters, it seemed, were a concern. How sick! Who would further victimize someone who had been through this?

    The trip back was like a trip into Hell. At the least Hell could be no worse. Everywhere was gray ash, the bare trunks of trees, the stumps of palmettos, all fire blackened. Smoke rose from the ground wherever you looked. Everything seemed to have a damp smoky smell to it.

    Still, giving us hope, now and again we saw a house intact, miraculously saved by the hard work of the firefighters. We even saw one whole neighborhood untouched. Maybe just maybe, I allowed myself to think, it was still there. The look on Mike's face was grim. I didn't know what to say so I said nothing, just sharing this awesome scene of destruction with him.

    Nearing home, we saw a house or two standing undamaged. One curve to go, what would we see of our home once we turned that corner?

    I couldn't look. Silly maybe, but I closed my eyes. I heard Mike's intake of breath and then heard him curse quietly. He stopped and I opened my eyes to see the whole street gone. Every single house had been reduced to smoking ruins.  I swallowed a sob and took his hand. He just looked at me with a lost look on his face.

    All I could do was remind him that we had started this house together when we had nothing more than we have right now. If we did it once, we can do it again. He looked so hurt and at that moment so old, like this had drained him, as I imagine it did.

    We walked around and looked at what was left. From time to time a neighbor would drift over and we'd exchange a quick hug and some quiet words. Mostly, it was a time to reflect on what we'd lost and to realize that at least we still had each other and the ability to rebuild what we lost.

    By the time it started to get dark, Mike had that look in his eye that I've come to recognize when he had a project to work on so I knew he'd be ok. I started to get depressed now. Where do we go? Where would we live until we could rebuild? I realized that in one sense of the word, I was now homeless. I began to cry and Mike held me until the worst was over then loaded me back in the car and we drove off but soon to be back to start on our new

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