Although the general direction of the Dixie Fire is north, the billowing smoke clouds spread to cover the sky just north of Quincy at 6 p.m. July 19. Photo by Mari Erin Roth

Mandatory evacuation notice: leave now – my experience with the Dixie Fire

Mari Erin Roth
Staff Writer
This is not my first evacuation, but it was the quickest. I received a text message alert at about 3:15 p.m. July 18 on my phone; then I received a recorded phone message 30 seconds later: There is a mandatory evacuation for your area. Leave immediately. If you do not leave, emergency personnel may not be able to assist you.
Then I heard the sound that I have feared, the Meadow Valley Fire Station siren. I had never heard it before and the message was clear. I was on the move: Dog, dog food, water … GO!
I was shaking but felt good that I was willing to follow directions from those that in some cases risk their lives to keep me, my dog, and my community, safe. Then I couldn’t find the car keys. I had them just a moment before. Is that how it’s going to end? Me all ready, but crisped because I couldn’t keep track of my keys? Okay, found them.
Pulling out of the driveway, I looked toward the neighbor’s place. Should I check to be sure they received the alert? I left the truck running and ran to their door. They said they hadn’t heard, but that they weren’t going to leave. I let them know it was presented as mandatory. They said okay. I hugged them and left.
As I neared Snake Lake I realized I had gotten out, so that’s good, but I had not grabbed some things that would make living in the “rough” much easier like my toothbrush, and underwear. So I went back, secure in the knowledge that I knew how to leave right away. I flipped a u-turn and headed back. I did just grab the few items I had returned to get. I saw other things, but opted to just do as I planned and get out quick. As I drove out for the second time, I saw that my neighbors were loading up their vehicle, good. I drove away; Say goodbye.
A whole slew of cars and trailers and animal transports were heading toward Meadow Valley as I traveled east. I got all the way to Quincy Airport, then looked at the growing plume of smoke behind Spanish Peak as the hot wind blew hard into my squinting eyes. I sensed permanence. I thought of all the cars heading west that I had passed. I imagined a few things I could grab. I didn’t second-guess; I quickly turned around for the third time and headed back home. The stream of cars coming out was far greater now than those going in. I grabbed those items, got back in the truck and off we went once again. As Snake Lake appeared over the ridge, Sheriff Deputies and Highway Patrol were stopping people heading west. There would be no more return trips today. What I had, I had. What I left, I may never see again. C’est fini.
There is such a calm that fire has pushed upon me over the years. It’s so final, or at least it surely can be. And it’s real. Fire is very real. I was comparing thoughts about money, or what people think, to the results of fire. Those other things are “imagined” trouble. Those ideas, based in fact or not, are only a hiccup if I let them be. But fire is substantial. Fire is real. I can’t change fire. Knowing fire can take away life, knowing it may burn up everything a person owns, everything that may have taken a lifetime to accumulate, these thoughts bring on a changed view of what is personally important. What actually can be taken away? Not memories, not kindness, not compassion. So for me, what was important before the threat of fire differs greatly from what now seems significant. I think the fear has made me a better person, or perhaps just a more realistic person.
So, this more realistic person stayed in the loft at friend’s home. We had a lovely salad with candied pecans, and fresh locally grown items I picked up at the farm stand: dill, basil, stir fry greens, white peppers, zucchini, and kale with added strawberries, blueberries and balsamic over some crunchy iceberg lettuce. It was fabulous. We also had basically the same collection minus the fruit warmed in her air fryer with a touch of avocado oil and lemon, and dried herbs. It was super fantastic and the evening was the most enjoyable I could remember. The wind down was much more difficult. I was tired and hot but couldn’t sleep for hours. But I was alive, well fed, with my dog, and at a friends.
The next morning I was up around 5:30 a.m. I took the dog outside early. I did a quick look-see of the items in my vehicle. Without coffee, I drove the dog to the airport for a walk. I unpacked the truck thoroughly to inventory what may be the remainders of my worldly possessions. Had I chosen well? I folded, sorted, and organized the collection of my most “essential” items. There is a real homeless vibe that comes along with this kind of activity for me. A resourcefulness gene kicks in. A positive can-do attitude infiltrates my thoughts.
This is my fourth scary evacuation in three years because in 2020 it happened twice. I notice that my definition of “essential” has radically changed in this time period. I was pleased with my 2021 selection. Not too much of anything, nothing quickly recognized as “missed.”
I went to the gym to get in the pool really early because later it would be too hot for the dog to stay in the car. I jumped in. I never do that. I always get in very slowly. I swam. I got out and took a shower, washed my hair, and put on clean clothes. I brushed my teeth with my electric toothbrush that had held the charge and used my favorite mouthwash. I was very happy about these choices. I put face cream on my face, with sunscreen. I went to my friend’s and started a load of laundry (that’s where all the “good” underwear hid). While they washed themselves, I gave my dog a bath in a kiddy pool outside. The water was cold, the sun was hot, and the shade was perfect. My friend let me take the leftover air fry veggies for breakfast. All was right with the world. Good food would support a positive attitude through these trying and uncertain times. Maybe if my needs are met, I can help others.
I went to work, it’s air-conditioned, and the boss is really great during fire season (piles of gratitude here). I did some work, gathered some fire information, started to write this piece … and the power went out. There is something similar to horror-show tension that crops up for me when a big scary fire is blowing out of control in unknown directions, and then suddenly, the power goes out! It’s major scary. Fortunately pen and paper work fine without power and there was still daylight. A customer came into the paper and said something like, “Hey, you gotta see these clouds. Someone should take a picture for the paper. There is a lot going on up there.”
So, without any particular direction and lost in my fire delirium, I opted to drive to Greenville and take pictures along the way for the paper. The sky darkened the further north the road took me. There were so many meteorological events taking place in the sky at the same time. Angry smoky puffs covered the sun by the time Greenville was in sight. The clouds loomed close. The loud crack of thunder was a shock and the whole world looked like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. The scene changed rapidly from one surreal setting to the next.
But one thing was consistent, every time a fire truck, crew or engine passed by, my eyes watered up. I always wave, not knowing how to convey hugs and extreme appreciation while traveling 55 mph in the opposite direction. Sometimes I geek out with some made up sort of sign language that I hope they will understand as I whiz by. No words can convey the gratitude for the actual people who work to keep us safe. No matter the politics, no matter whether the fires could have been prevented, no matter if it was someone’s fault how they started, no matter any debate, the men and women that go out there individually or as a team are complete heroes. They are trying to help those of us in dire straights. They are doing something only a few select brave and skilled individuals can do. And surely I speak for everyone when I say, we are eternally grateful for the efforts. Please, please stay safe, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Heading north from Quincy to Greenville at 3:30 p.m., clouds from the Dixie Fire July 19 bloom into columns taller than the 30,000-foot giants created the day before. Photo by Mari Erin Roth
Fire storm clouds from the Dixie Fire completely darken the sky July 19 in Greenville at 4 p.m. Thunderclaps echoed from these dark clouds moments later releasing lightening strikes around Canyon Dam. Photo by Mari Erin Roth