Smokey skies, being grateful

18 August 2021 Published in Haas Style Blog

Well, I am sitting in a hotel lobby, sipping a tall mug of hotel coffee, with my laptop on a breakfast table, while those around me gobble up slippery eggs and wilted toast, preparing for the day.  My neighborhood is on mandatory evacuation for the wildfire that is burning scary close to our homes.  How quickly things can change.

Saturday afternoon I was playing a round of golf at Buffalo Hills in Montana, with my wife and her family.  Both of our phones starting blowing up….”do you see that plume of smoke…” “Is there a wildfire?”  “Where is it?”  and so on.

Then the official notice from the Sheriff’s office messaging system.  “Recommended evacuation from your neighborhood to avoid fire risk...bla bla bla”

We thought to ourselves, we are good, the whole family is with us, and they are probably being overly cautious.  Sure, we have a cat (Vida Sparkles) at home, who is happy, healthy, has food and water, and is none the wiser to the evacuation request.  

A couple of bad drives, a lousy chip, and a three putt later, we get another notification from the Sheriff’s office….this one a bit more serious.  “Mandatory evacuation, firefighters will be knocking on doors, and making sure people leave, marking driveways when houses are clear.”

Well shit.  The group text with neighborhood friends starts heating up, my game of golf does not.  Most of the neighbors on this thread were actually already out of town, but one neighbor pronounces “we are throwing our shit in our car and getting out of here, this fire is moving fast and we gotta go!”  

As our round of golf wrapped up and the Celebration of Life for my wife's uncle proceeded, we huddled in the clubhouse as a family to try to unpack what was going on, and what to do about our house, our belongings, and most importantly Vida Sparkles.  We scraped through the tweets, texts, Insta photos, and facebook drama, to learn that this was a pretty serious deal.  The fire was out of control, this fire dubbed Parleys Canyon Fire, was started from a vehicle with a catalytic converter that was in poor condition and was throwing hot shards of metal off into the dry grass.

This hot metal set the hillside on fire for a mile or so, just 2 miles below our neighborhood.  Strong winds, thick brush, and thirsty trees allowed this fire to push up the hill and directly towards the west side of our little neighborhood.

Melissa, my wife, put it out on the social wires “help, our neighborhood is being evacuated and we need someone to help us rescue our beloved cat Vida”  Many offers later, our friend Jane came to the rescue.  She was already travelling from Park City down to her home in the valley, and loves cats.  Perfect combo. 

Jane was such an absolute savior, she was allowed to get into the neighborhood - after explaining the situation to the officers who were barricading the entrance.  The power had been cut earlier in the day, as a preventative measure, I believe.  But just as Jane was allowed into our neighborhood the power was restored and she was able to use our garage as an entry point.  This was preferred over breaking a window and climbing through the busted glass.

We remained huddled as a family, my daughter Paige in tears over her poor cat Vida, and the rest of us on an emotional high, not knowing what to expect in the coming hours or days.

She quickly found Vida huddled in the basement bedroom, under the bed, and had climbed her way up into the box springs.  Simple retrieval?  Nope.  What kind of cat is going to wander out after fire fighters pound on the doors and windows, and then some crazy cat lady comes down to snatch her up.  Jane lost some blood, but won the battle, and under the plumes of black smoke, Jane rushed out of the house with Vida in arms, and took her to safety.  

We all sighed a short sigh of relief, and I was able to choke down another beer from the clubhouse selection of domestics and Hazy IPAs exclusively.  Sheesh.  We all still wondered how quickly this fire would spread, and if it would engulf our neighborhood and home.  

Our kids were concerned about their toys, bikes, skis, and all things material.  Melissa and I were worried about bigger things like, displacement from our home, and rebuilding if necessary in the current construction climate.  And how quickly things can change from happy, healthy, happy, healthy, to sheer gratitude for each other, and safety from an ominous fire.

That is a hard lesson to teach.  We all live our best lives, sure we have our own internal battles, and personal hurdles to overcome, but we are all living a life that is pretty damn amazing. The powerful part is, in just minutes, all that can be taken away, and if you are as lucky as I am, you get to realize that all the things that matter are sitting at a 1980’s style four-top in a Montana golf course clubhouse sipping a locally crafted Hazy IPA (except the cat and the dog of course).  Boom.

I know this is an odd beer blog, and a long read at this point.  But let me challenge you to find that piece of your life where you are grateful but have not expressed it lately.  Realize how quickly all the things that you know as “normal” could be taken away or altered.

So we returned from Montana, not to our home, but to a hotel.  And here I sit, writing this blog, feeling grateful for the lousy coffee, the barking dogs above us, and having our family safe from the threat of fire.  The evacuation was extended past the 48 hour mark, and we extended our stay in our hotel.  Then Tuesday evening a strong storm blew through, could be good or could be really bad.  

As it turned out, enough water was dropped, supporting the firefighters hard work, that the evacuation was lifted, and we were able to pack up and return home late that night.  Though my kids will miss the convenience of the swimming pool and microwavable pancakes, we were so happy to return home to our beds (and a little more space).

As I reflect on the gratitude that we shared with each other as we took inventory of what was really, really, irreplaceable, and important, it made me realize how short that list really is.  

Thank you to the quick fearless response from our local and regional fire fighters, and wildlands firefighters, the airplane and helicopter pilots that backed them up and put in strong firelines keeping people safe.  Maybe I will drink one more Maltese Cross Red Ale than normal, as give thanks to those hard working men and women on the fireline.

From the lobby, cheers.