The burned ruins of our house | Provided photo
This is one of a series of first-person accounts of how COVID-19, shelter-in-place orders, wildfires and other only-in-2020 phenomena around Monterey Bay are affecting us all. If you would like to share your thoughts about living under the sheltering sky, send your essay to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashlie Sadri McGurrin
Yesterday was easily the worst day of my life, and it wasn’t because my house burned down.
Yesterday my husband Feron, a neighbor, friend Pete and in-laws left to try and help save our homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains after a call that there were spot fires everywhere. They had devised a plan to create a fire hose with a gas-generated pump, which would be placed in the creek and would provide much-needed water to the area. I was nervous to let them go, but understood their need to help. They promised they’d come back in one piece and wouldn’t do anything that would put them in danger.
I believed them. However when natural disaster strikes, information travels at a different pace. Without cell service, we rely on word of mouth, and by the time it gets to the person it was intended for the information has already changed. We were told that our home was still standing at the time they were set to arrive there. We could not verify, but we trusted the sources, and for a moment there was a sigh of relief.
Hours passed, and I was getting worried. Then, someone called us to inform us that they had heard eight homes in our neighborhood had burned down. My mind went straight to the fact that my home had been standing upon their arrival to eight homes now being engulfed in flames. In times like these, your brain goes to the darkest place, and I envisioned my husband and loved ones trapped, or worse … dead.
I started hyperventilating and vomiting while my incredible support system of friends comforted me, wrapped me in love and reassured me. Anna and I sat on the bathroom floor embracing, and crying for our husbands.
Another hour passed, and my phone lit up with the word “hubby” calling and I was so relieved that when he heavily sighed and told me that our home was gone, I yelled, “I don’t give a f*** about the house!”
Of course I give a f*** about the house, but at that moment I thought that I had lost my husband and family and nothing else mattered. I don’t wish that feeling on anyone, and would really appreciate if it never happened again.
When our heroes came back home, they told us that our home was already gone by the time they arrived. It had burned down sometime in the early morning. Feron saw his home turned to a pile of ashes, and jumped right in to try and save our neighbor’s home. They ran 900 feet of heavy hose down to the creek, cleared brush and prepared the area as much as possible. They visited our neighbors’ homes in the community so they could relay information, so that they could reassure those who had been awake for 72 hours worried whether their homes were currently safe, and gently tell those whose homes didn’t make it.
In 2017, we purchased our dream home from our amazing family friends Sean and Cecilia Kelly. They turned what was once a sad story into a magical wonderland, and I will never forget Sean telling me that he loved to change the energy of a sad home by pouring love into it. I will never forget when I called Cecilia to tell her we were interested in buying their home, and how she pulled over in her car and cried and said if we wanted that house that they would do anything in their power to get us into it, and how they’d want nothing more than for our babies to grow up in the home Sean built.
I don’t miss the material things that I lost. I miss the sound of my kids playing outside, giggling as they catch lizards.
I don’t know if you know about mountain communities, but I was raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains and there’s just no other place like it. You see, to mountain folk their homes are much more than just a place they rest their heads at night. Their homes are their refuge, their small pieces of paradise. They often cultivate their land and live off of it. More times than not, their homes are passed down from generation to generation, and they become their identity, an extension of themselves.
People in the mountains don’t buy their home for the best resale, or to flip and sell; they buy their homes to devote themselves to the land and, in turn, their land gives back to them for years and years. If you live in a mountain town, you know what it’s like when holidays roll around. You can guarantee that the community will turn it into a wonderland for the children to enjoy. You can guarantee that if you get stuck on the side of the road, dozens of locals will pull up beside you and ask if there’s anything they can do to help. You can guarantee that when a storm hits and power lines are downed, there will be dozens of locals who show up to direct traffic, and ensure that the less fortunate have a dry place to stay. You can guarantee that when a beloved pet goes missing, the community will rally behind you and find them. You can guarantee that when tragedy strikes, the community WILL rebuild.
These are hearty, salt-of-the-earth people. These are hard-working, beautiful souls who genuinely care about one another. There’s not a doubt in my mind that we will have our community back as fast as humanly possible, because I KNOW we won’t accept anything less.
I don’t miss the material things that I lost. I miss the sound of my kids playing outside, giggling as they catch lizards. I miss dancing in my kitchen with my best friends. I miss hosting holiday parties and being the gathering place for our loved ones. I miss cooking Persian food in my beautiful kitchen, and watching the blue jay who would always visit our garden. I miss my routine, and organization. I miss meditating in the tiki room, and the gratitude I felt being there every single day.
I’m sure as the days go on, my emotions will fluctuate between sadness, anger and gratitude. This is testing the control freak in me, and this year has tested every fiber in my being. But I know we will be OK. We always are.
We have the most amazing group of friends and family who have brought food over and sat with us every single day as we process this huge loss. I have the most incredible in-laws who have opened up their home to us and allowed a safe place to grieve. We don’t know what we did to deserve such support, but we are so incredibly thankful.
Accepting help isn’t something I’ve always been great at, but I’m working on that.
Tiki house, we loved you so hard. We say goodbye for now, but we WILL rebuild you.
Love to all, and especially those who’ve lost their homes or are waiting anxiously for any news at all. We are in this together.
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