The second fire


Lenita Marie Johnson, Staff Writer

As the Tubbs fire neared my home, I had a close encounter with another episode with fire.

When the wildfires broke out, I noticed more and more stories in the headlines, television and radio news reports. As they increased, a feeling of paralysis began to set in.

My apartment complex issued an initial advisory evacuation. As a native New Englander, I started receiving phone calls from friends and family, especially those on the East Coast, family in Chicago and my friends from Boston University. It started to feel as if I was in an episode of the “Twilight Zone” or the “Outer Limits”—all too surreal for words.

When I was two years old I lived in Massachusetts, the first born to my parents. I got out of bed one night in the middle of winter to go to the bathroom. On my way back I stopped at our pot belly stove to get warm. The next thing I remember was looking over and seeing my dad in his pajamas staring at me. He saw me standing there, my nightgown ablaze. He quickly grabbed a blanket off the sofa, wrapped me in it and ran me to the hospital, clear across town.

I spent the next year in Shriners Children’s Hospital bed, staring out the window in my room. Most of the time I saw kids playing. I went from the bed, to wheelchair, to crutches and finally learned how to walk again.

Fast forward to present.

What I remember about the news reports of the wildfires was a familiar feeling of fear—rooted in childhood—as I stared out my window, knowing the fire was approaching my home. I live a stone’s throw from Howarth Park and Spring Lake, close to the blazing inferno. One of my best friends—who is like an older sister—called and asked what I was going to do. I had no idea.

The next thing I know, she showed up at my place, and told me to pack a bag. We drove off to her place near Guerneville where I spent the next three days.

The first night I slept through the whole night. I didn’t watch any TV coverage of the fires.

I began to feel my blood pressure return to normal, although I did worry whether or not my apartment was still intact.

When Mina Jean, my friend, asked if I was ready to go home, I was hesitant to say yes. But I knew it was time.

What I didn’t know was the devastation I was about to witness.

From wineries to homes and businesses, places I once visited had burned to the ground. Nothing left but ashes and smoke.

When we arrived at my home, things felt almost as normal as when we had left.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I unlocked my door. Everything looked the same.

Clothes, books and magazines thrown about, with a few dishes in the sink.

Ah, home sweet home.