Looking down on Southern California from the safety of the sky, I could see nothing but an orange and brown wall of smoke. Moments earlier strangers were helping us through security as I simultaneously tried to give my asthmatic son his inhaler and take off both my kids' shoes. Everyone was talking about the fires. The people in line, the ticket counter agent, even the woman who rang up my hastily bought crayons and plane toys. The same toys the kids were occupied with on take off while I sobbed in relief.
I hadn't realized the stress and fear until we were away from danger. Maybe "danger" isn't the right word. Our home was never in "danger" of burning down unless you count the first day of embers catching roofs two miles away. Sure we were surrounded within blocks by fires, but we never landed in an official evacuation zone. Our "danger" was a coughing son and rapidly deteriorating air quality.
News came as we boarded our plane that a child my son's age in our town was in a coma from an asthma attack. As my 4-year old hacked and wheezed, I was feeling more and more justified in my decision to leave the state.
We could have driven north to friends for a few nights, but would have still returned to ash and soot in the air. We could have gotten a hotel, but they were at capacity just about everywhere and the cost of the room plus eating out would have equaled the last minute plane tickets.
I didn't pack properly for the trip. Dirty clothes, winter clothes, long sleeves for Florida weather. Toys missing, socks missing. None of it mattered as we threw stuff in a suitcase to stay at hotel near the airport. We were afraid if we didn't leave then, we might not get out on roads that could close at any moment the next morning. Plus the coughing. My son's cough just getting worse and worse and worse. The news said the ER was overfilled-keep the kids and seniors inside. What if he had an attack and we couldn't get help?
All these factors had us packing. Our neighbors were staying put, but we were packing. I was torn on whether we were doing the right thing. Were we overreacting? Were we underreacting?
Then we landed in Orlando and my son's cough disappeared entirely.
We're staying 10 days and hoping that's enough time for the air to clear. We'll trick-or-treat in warm weather and fresh air. We'll let Nana and Gramps spoil the kiddos while I try and figure out what to wear out of the 5 pairs of pants and 2 sweaters I brought.
The men stayed back to work and keep an eye on things. My husband has a suitcase in his car in case he can't return home one night or gets stuck on the freeway. My brother is monitoring his girlfriend who is trapped in San Diego.
We're making plans to clean vents and change filters. To help friends still wondering if their homes are standing. To aid families who's children are hospitalized with breathing troubles. To color pictures for the firefighters. To cry together.
You can help my neighbors, my friends, and my community by donating to the Santa Clarita Valley Disaster Coalition.