So, I am a long time climate researcher and disaster preparedness advocate who survived the massive and record breaking California "Camp Fire" in Paradise, Magalia and Concow here in the West Sierra Foothills. I have more to say now, after this long and wearing experience, than I ever have before. These posts will be long.
After a major disaster, things will not be as most prepper's imagine. I'm a lifelong prepper, so I realize this now.
The first surprising notes lists something like this:
* Internet cafe's will be up and temporary cell towers will follow the contracted workers around who will be cleaning up the mess... as long as they are in town that is.
* Most survivors will NOT revert to 15th Century technology and live without electricity and modern invention.
* People who were not victims of the disaster will come from miles around to line up at the donations centers. Returning frequently,they will take more goods than they can possibly use . . . and sell them.
* Taco Trucks will be the new industry in your area. It might be wise to invest in one now. And for the doomsdayers, this even applies to a global near extinction event as well, it seems there are hundreds of these, privately owned, ready to up and head out to disaster areas. It's a business kind of "on the side" of Carnivals and County Fairs.
* There are no doctors, dentists or health care. These people had the finances to relocate and immediately set up their practices again somewhere new. They collected their insurance money, sent goodbye e-mails to their patients, extended their patients' prescriptions for an extra two months and were gone.
Five months after the devastating "Camp Fire" leveled the entire town of Paradise California, population 27,000 plus outlying areas, I now live in my 3 room office that survived the fire, remodeled into an apartment. I lost my home. I lost my storage unit. I lost my job. My car was damaged in the fire. I got a puny $500 trade in value for a Voltswagon New Beetle Convertable of which the canvas top had burn holes that leaked water to a half inch on the floor for week. My friends and family lost everything and moved away.
I survived well compared to 90% of my town and remain in Paradise. Those five months reeled us all into sorrow, frustration, neglect, abandon, struggle, sickness and injury and continual daily hardship, no matter WHERE you were sheltered.
I was finally allowed to return to my property a week before Christmas but I waited until after the Holiday with my children to return. Life is different now. It is like changing the TV program to a different channel, you are still here, but in a completely different life and a completely different place.
The fire was on November 8th and 27,000 to 30,000 people were all evacuated at once. I evacuated at 8:30 A.M., leaving an unmade bed, work clothes from the night before laying on the end table and my work shoes in the middle of the bedroom floor. A simple scene from any Americans average life. Seven weeks later I pulled back into a nearly flattened, blackened ash town. Unrecognizable. I drove around the dead town twice a week looking for remaining residents out and about or surviving businesses that would reopen. I talked to people when I could find any to talk to.
My surviving office had to be scrubbed from top to bottom to pass inspection for the insurance company and government officials. They came in and took pictures of the sound structure cleaned of any potentially toxic ash after I was finished. They took pictures of baskets that held underwear I had unpacked in the store room and other items that they did not need to photograph. I complained. The government photographer laughed and said no one would ever see it unless they had a reason to. A chill went up my spine. Wasn't that the exact statement quoted to the press by the NSA when they were busted for spying on everyday Americans?
Two days before New Years I settled into a dark town, no street lights or any lights at all at night. There were no midnight gunshots, no bells and whistles, no hooting and hollaring at midnight on New Years Eve. Just dark and cold silence.
There was no "common" movement of life. There were no insects. Every day that it did not rain I looked for any sign of life. No birds, no animals and no insects for weeks.
There were noises in the night.
I went out and drove the towns' streets when I could. Nothing. Now and then a half burned structure jutting up out of the orange rust colored twisted metal and black and grey toxic ash piles would loom in the wreckage. Rarely a full standing house. Street after street after street, all the same. It rained.
The reports of the ruinage that looked as if a bomb had went off, or a nuclear lazer attack, a high tech leveling of a town in hours to silt and rust, were all true. It was other worldly. "Eerie" was the continual resounding word among survivors. "Creepy" I might add. A deep sense of mortality crept under my skin and an heavy gloom that was unavoidable as I drove by the blackened burnt cars left all along the sides of the roads, the glass and aluminum melted into hardened dirty puddles beneath each one. Hollywood could not have crafted this endless scene. Above all was the uncanny silence. Life wiped away to silence. No dogs, no cars, no cats, no sprinklers, no squirrels, no deer, no lizards, no spiders nothing but black wreckage.
At 4:00PM every day a steady stream of trucks from all over the country, all hired by FEMA poured out of the town past my office down the mountains toward Chico and Paradise went silent and dark again. My cell signal weakened when they left, taking their portable cell towers with them. I could make no outgoing calls, only text. One day the trucks did not come. They never returned in large number again . . . I was confused, the work had hardly begun. But more on that later.
I had scant communications from the beginning and still do five months later, a radio, a cell that could text only. I rarely saw a Police vehicle anywhere. There were noises in the night.
It rained. It rained and it rained and it rained. There were two full flood watches and one flood warning that blared over my cell phone in January and February. I had text contact with a sister for hours just to make sure someone knew where I was if anything happened. Who would come to help me? I could not call 911. Nobody even knew I was there.
Most roads still had power lines down, stringing wires and broken burnt poles along the sides of the roads. Hundreds of leaning blackened trees dripped in the steady rainfall. I feared driving under them when I had to go out. Canyon roads flooded more than once throughout the hollow empty winter and rescues were by boat in some cases. Winter rain and snow continued to beat against the windows but I was relieved that very little winds came. It is the winds that do the most damage.
After a couple weeks the Post Office opened and you could wait in line for your mail, there was no delivery. It was so cold in the lines that I wore hobo gloves to keep my fingers warm. There was no heat and the building was running off partial power of some sort. People talked very little in the lines and the mood was bleak. Once in awhile someone would recognize someone else and they embraced and cried.
After a couple more weeks a Dollar General Store opened and I could get candles. The power was off and on during the winter storms. One donation center was opened in Old Magalia at a church, it had water, toilet paper, diapers, clothing and some food. Unusual things happened at this donation center, but more on that later. This center served mostly Magalia of which was nearly half burned. There was nothing in Paradise for anyone there. It stayed this way for weeks on. The one gas station was eventually robbed.
The largest church with convention rooms and a huge parking lot offered nothing to the survivors still in Paradise. FEMA and workers hired by FEMA would park there and use the lot from time to time. The Water Department had cases of bottled water three days a week available that you could drive over to their office and pick them up, if you could lift them out of your car and heave them into your home. I was injured in the evacuation. Or re-injured an old injury I should say, two lower lumbar compressed discs in my back. To lift and carry the cases of water was the worst of the hardships for me.
On second thought, it was cleaning the refrigerator that had sat without power for six weeks, that was, in true fact, the biggest hardship for me. I had just been shopping prior to the fire. It was disgusting. I washed it repeatedly with vinegar to kill the smell and it lingered for weeks in the office. It was a new smaller size refrigerator I used when I stayed overnight at the office working. I now know, that if I ever again evacuate my home, I will throw everything out of the freezer and fridge into a garbage bag and take it with me, regardless of what I do with it from there! I had to wear a mask, gloves and goggles to clean it and I gagged the whole time, so write this one down.
Twenty five years ago there was little proof available to the public of any such "earth changes" occurring and the most I could rely on was roughly put into dooms-dayers magazines excerpted from true scientific papers and sparse bits from Universities and fleeting warnings from scientists. The first of these came out rather quietly even though the scientists themselves were shouting. I noticed this tentative panic. I took the warning seriously.
It was in the year 1992. Warnings from a collection of scientists speaking at the World Summit meeting had announced that the planet was facing severe consequences from greenhouse gasses and climate and geological reactions were expected that would be a danger to humanity.
The announcement was dire and I was young but took it straight to heart immediately. I began my own research into the validity of their statements the very next day. I was living in Oregon at the time. I had no internet, no cell phone, it was 1995. I went to the library. I read anything I could find on the history of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc. I bought books. I bought cassettes. I bought maps and graphs and I hand charted those histories with dates and times on my own. I bought books from mail book clubs and anything else I could get my hands on and I could see an escalation of natural geological events. It wasn't drastic, but it was there.
I never stopped. Every year there was something more being published, another bizarre weather anomaly in some remote country. I continued to dig for hidden science papers, media hushed speeches and followed up on shunned environmental professors. Eventually I noticed an undeniable increase of escalation in the events the scientists had spoken of. It was true.
What was the most perplexing was the notion that the media was not fully backing the data and qualified reports. Later it became alarming to me that people were deliberately being ridiculed in public for speaking about the climate threats looming ahead. I think THAT is when I really got scared.
After the Y2K scare in the year 2000 was over, the rumblings of these scientific warnings began to get louder. I paid attention. I quietly aligned to the "Don't be scared, be prepared" movement and had emergency preparations always in order. It was costly and time consuming and I had to hide that too.
Then the open arguments came as this topic began to nag at mainstream media. We all know about those arguments. Remember? Unending and monotonous denials. Then in 2005 TIME magazine released an issue with Polar Bears on melting ice bergs on the cover and it said "Be Worried, be very worried", "Global Warming is Real". I was elated! And quite confused at how I could be so happy over something so dire and frightening. I even felt guilty, confused.
I thought about that day several times since the Paradise Fire. I still think about it.
In my passionate and younger days I had taken quite a load of guff and much painful shunning for my research and interests in the controversial climate threats that eventually were arguments among all families, friends and countries. It was handled and haggled like a politic and not an environmental problem. I continued to watch as the two merged into a messy and bitter clumsy marriage. I was elated because now my loved ones and neighbors would prepare! We would all be on the same page and stronger for it. Nope . . . That never happened.
All the while the escalation of larger and larger climate and weather events continued. Finally the world accepted the obvious and climate change awareness was a common household concern. I watched weekly and kept notes. I watched people very carefully and quietly too. Most were still aggressively in denial. So my life continued in this way for many years. Now and then a fire threat would creep up or down the mountain but never came into town.
Paradise has always expected a bad fire event. Not because of climate change but because of the limited ways to get out of the forested foothill town should their be an evacuation and because there had been regular small fires in the past. In the last ten years, even the Paradise Fire Chief made it clear that it was no longer a matter of "if" but a matter of "when" and the town worked on evacuation plans for several years before that fateful day came.
Then whallah! The feared climate bomb explodes in my town, my life, my street, my house, my family, my job, my neighbors, my friends . . . I live thru a huge natural climate disaster that destroys my entire town. What did I know? Was I prepared? What did I learn?
I am personally very proud of how this small town handled that excruciating day. Only three main roads out and 27,000 people made it in about 15 hours with everything in sight on fire around them everywhere they turned. We lost only 83 people, two of which were my personal friends. We should have lost hundreds.
I am still amazed at the people of Paradise and their local emergency teams. Some will say it was strange luck, it doesn't matter. Everyone in Paradise California was on the constant lookout for fires in 2019. And winds.
It was another long, hot dry summer and no rain had touched ground by November, when the late autumn winds would come. The ferocity and speed of these winds had changed over the years and I charted all of that in my journals as usual. The winds came earlier, before there was a lot of precipitation to wet the forests. They were stronger every year. We lost several people in Paradise due to tree falls onto their homes or cars during unusually high wind events in the last five years. I wrote it all down.
I was in several of those wind events, having one Pine Beetle infested tree fall onto my parents empty mobile home on a rental property of theirs, cutting the mobile home in half like a piece of toast and smashing the roof on their motor-home that was parked on the other side of the mobile. A wind event . . . Another fell killing several people in town two years later, trees were down all over town. A wind event . . . Another fell a year later in front of my parents house where I was staying the night seemingly safer from the howling winds than in my own mobile and the tip top of that tree fell on my car! A wind event . . .
After the record breaking Paradise Fire that staggered the world over in the news, Starbucks was one of the first businesses to be up and running again in a town that had few survivors and a mere tiny handful of businesses left.
Amazing . . . . starbucks is standing and up and running with wifi, all their own, no one else in town has wifi still. There was no horse plow waiting to plant the food in spring . . . there was Starbucks.
So, what is going to happen during this ramp up of climate change at ground zero? At your house?
What I learned atop of what I already knew is amazing to me. What the preppers can't teach you when they have not yet seen a disaster is a book in itself. So, I will try to share these small important details as I have come to learn them. Disaster preparedness is more than preparing ahead of time, it is also and just as importantly about enduring it as it occurs and regrouping from it afterwards. It is going to be more than planting those stored seeds. For thousands to millions of people, it already is.
As prepared as I was, I was overwhelmed to tears at times during the post-fire weeks by things that were out of my control. I managed to rope it back into my control after I saw what was happening which took about four weeks and then another four weeks to get it back into my control. I was certainly taken by surprise by many facets of a disaster and how it is managed and how it is NOT managed . . . and how you roll in it all.
Half of what I owned survived. I got half of the worth of what I lost by my insurance agency. It is considered that I survived well . . . one of the few who did. I returned to ground zero and began to record and watch everything that happened in the destroyed town. I watched and took keen note of everything that happened to my friends, my neighbors and myself. And I am still watching.
I lost two good friends in the fire. Out of approximately 30,000 people who evacuated in 12 hours, 84 died.
So we open a new book on Climate Change and Natural Disasters that addresses not preparations, but engagement and endurance of these disasters. A training on immersment. Not an "overview". A inch by inch and hour by hour testament. The afterthoughts are an entire chapter. I was surprised by what thoughts bubbled up in my mind at different times.
Was I prepared? Yes! I survived ok. I was also luckier than most. That helps. The aftermath, however, is something few preppers have fully realized and exposed to others until now.
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