By Beverly Caruso
Special to ASSIST News Service
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- Some disasters give no warning. But many times there are clues and awkward moments—or even days—or months, before disaster comes. What should one do—prepare for the worst, or just trust God? How we respond can certainly affect our relationships.
Fires in the Southern California mountains
My 85-year-old mother, nearly deaf, and legally blind with macular degeneration, lived in her mobile home 300 steps from our door. Debbie and Dean’s house sat between us.
Most of the time I enjoyed the fresh air during my every-couple-of-hours-check on Mom. I said hello to our chickens and called out a greeting to the flock of ducks who keep the weeds cleared in our small orchard. On this early May afternoon I scanned the sky, looking for the source of the smell of smoke.
A plume was rising directly to the north, heading slightly east. I sighed a relief when I realized it was miles away. We spent a vigilant afternoon and evening watching the sky and listening to the local news. Then with darkness there was a glow beyond the second ridge away. But the glow continued to move toward the east.
Debbie was out of town, so Dean secured their family pictures and important papers. Pete reluctantly put our irreplaceables in the car trunk “I don’t think this is necessary,” Pete said. “There are angels here to protect us.”
Still, Pete made sure the garden hoses were attached and ready. We agreed that I would get Mom in the car and leave if the fire came closer. Pete and Dean would stay to fight the fire; and if necessary go to the lower field where the animals have eaten away everything flammable.
Courageous pilots fight the fire
At dusk we watched some our closest neighbors evacuate. After Mom went to bed I sneaked in and got her "life and death" medications and my back up computer CDs.
No sense in her fretting, I rationalized. She can't see the smoke so I won't let her know there's a problem unless or until it really becomes a problem.
After watching the 11 o'clock news, we went to sleep. We learned the next morning that Dean had stayed up till 3:00 monitoring things. Now he headed off to work.
By early Tuesday afternoon eight police cars were stationed at the entrance to our canyon’s dirt road awaiting orders to begin evacuations.
Throughout the day I saw fire engines and support vehicles pass by on the main road below us. There were three plumes of fresh smoke just over the second ridge farther to the east. I found the roar of scooper airplanes and helicopters carrying water from the nearby lake to be a comfort.
We got phone calls all day from friends watching from their more distant places around our desert lake community. Some offered to bring trucks and help us pack and get out. They all said they'd be on standby—and be praying. Our nearby town was named in news reports, so emails arrived from distant family and friends to assure us they too were praying.
By evening we calculated the fire to be perhaps two miles away. Pete seemed to be amused by my concern, “God will not let anything bad happen to us.” I wasn't scared, nor alarmed, but very alert. But I longed for Pete’s level of faith. Yet we were prepared. Important documents, photos, and computer backup files were in the car trunk. And hoses were ready for use.
I maintained that doing nothing to prepare would be presuming upon God. “Bad things do happen to Christians,” I reminded Pete. “I know that God knows whether to let it come this way.
Anyway, we don't always know in advance what God's strategy is in every situation. What if He doesn't come through for us like we want or you expect?” I asked. What if the wind picks up—or shifts and the houses are destroyed?
I wondered. “Is it a lack of faith to ask the ‘what if’ questions? Especially when there is a potential life-threatening situation at hand? When does ‘acting in faith’ -- or not acting as the case may be -- become presumption?”
Pete was listening and perhaps rather reluctantly had done his share of the preparation work, but I knew that he was convinced that God was going to protect us. I had a feeling Pete was accommodating me, but I chose not to dwell on it.
As I prepared dinner on Tuesday evening I watched flames come over the ridge about two miles away. The fire had now burned about 80 degrees around us. By the time we ate, the flames were in a line part way down that mountain. I remember thinking, It's really quite a pretty sight if one doesn't think of the destruction it can cause. But what if the wind suddenly turns and we never even eat this dinner?
Shortly after dusk Dr. Dan and Mary, a couple from our church, arrived. A former forest ranger in this area, Dan knows the hills and back roads here well. By using a topographical map he’d brought along, he helped us evaluate the mountain ridges and locate fingers of the fire and smoke we were seeing. One burning ridge was only one mile away, perhaps even less. Flames and smoke were visible for about 150 degrees around us. But all was yet outside our canyon.
How shall I break the news to Mom? I wondered as Mary and I sat in the dark with Mom on her porch. I could see fires in two directions. Then Mom casually said, "I didn't know there are houses on that hill beyond Debbie's house.”
There was no keeping the facts from her any longer. “Those aren’t house lights, Mom. That’s a fire.”
Just as if on cue, Dr. Dan walked over to the porch and pointed another direction to a closer row of flames “Watch that bright red dot. That’s a firefighter. He’s going to start a new little fire. It’s called a backfire and will keep the main fire from reaching the houses on the road below.”
As Dan and Mary drove away a while later, Mom said, “How good of God to send Dr. Dan just in time to tell us what we’re seeing.” We watched in wonder as the firefighters worked their way across the hill. With no breeze, the smoke rose straight into the sky. She was fascinated.
All seemed well—until after midnight.
I’d been asleep, but awakened at 12:30. Upon opening my eyes the mountain a mile away was all aglow. I slipped outside and was watching it with Dean when Pete came out. Mom had phoned in tears. The fire had rekindled the memories of her house fire in 1978 in which she lost many things that were precious to her. I had Pete come with me and we prayed with her for God to give her peace. After cups of hot chocolate together, she soon settled down and went to sleep as I slept nearby.
As I returned from Mom’s the next morning, I breathed deeply the clean, cool air and looked around. No fires. No smoke. The fire had burned over 16,000 acres, wrapping at various times around 180 degrees of our canyon. “Ah! Thanks Lord, for the firemen and the others who worked so hard to protect us. And thanks, Lord, for keeping the wind down.”
I anticipated the backfires leaving things looking black and dismal all around us. But there was little evidence of change to the hills surrounding our canyon. Only upon a closer look could one tell there had been fires on the hills. Not all the brush was burned, so there was even some green foliage evident.
Pete teased me again that evening about the boxes in the car’s trunk. Now they needed to be carried back into their places on the storeroom shelves. I had long before made labels for them in big bold letters: EVACUATE.
“I told you the angels would protect us,” Pete chided.
Then I read to him the verse in Proverbs from the New Living Translation: “A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences,” Proverbs 27:12.
“I know, Honey,” he said with a twinkle. “I took the steps of action in order to bring peace to my wife. And you took every precautionary step because of the way God made you.”
I’m thankful Pete and I had learned to appreciate our differences and let them work for us, rather than allowing arguments, anger, or frustration with one another to add to what was already a stressful few days.
Now our nation -- even the entire world -- is living in danger. Let’s work to be patient with one another as we are obedient to God’s promptings and take whatever precautions we see necessary to be prudent.