Firestorm, 1991

When I was sixteen my father and I nearly died in a wildfire.

When I was four, he bought twenty-seven acres outside of town. At night, in a field among the forests, it felt like space could devour you. Very few lights dotted the landscape back then. Now when I go back there are so many lights I can hardly see the stars.

We started in a used single wide trailer. Two years later the concrete was poured and the first timbers went up. My dad worked long hours at a meat packing plant with a 45-mintue commute. I lived in the city with my mom during the week. On the weekends, I was a wild child out at my dad’s house. He bartered and traded for goods and services to get the house built. Family and friends came out to help with whatever skills they could bring to the effort. It created a festive atmosphere having so many people around. My grandpa, my great grandpa, my grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, some family friends and occasionally my childhood friend and her parents too. I loved growing up “under construction.” When the scaffolding went up three stories high, I turned into a monkey. When my grandma would give me food I would stuff it in my pockets or have a sandwich hanging out of my mouth as I scurried up to the highest scaffolding board to eat. I also liked throwing carrot chunks at my older brother, because he was too afraid to climb so high.

One of my favorite family friends was a survivor of Auschwitz. He lost his whole family including a wife. He remarried a fellow survivor after they were freed. That’s all I know of his story. He was a kind, soft-spoken man, and an excellent master bricklayer, just like my great grandfather. Every time I see the bricks in “soldier pattern” (standing vertical) over the main doorway, I think of him. The rest of the house was built of wood.

The house grew and now it’s very large. You might consider it a mansion, one that took nearly forty years to build. Wildfires have come and gone over the years, but they never come close enough for us to really worry, until 1991. What would become locally known as, “Firestorm 1991.” It’s a lot like what the Bootleg fire in Oregon appears to be becoming now, multiple fires driven by high winds.

We got blocked on three sides, one of them curving like a half moon that eventually cutoff our escape route. My Stepmom, Stepsister, and Stepbrother got out in time. My stepsiblings were just little kids at the time. My stepsister cried, begging us to come too. I wanted to go, but I wouldn’t without my dad. I thought if I stayed with him, he would see reason. I thought I could get him to go, for me. By the time I felt I had convinced him it; it was too late to leave. The firefighters had come. They told us to evacuate. They themselves were pulling out and right after they left trees fell as if closing a door behind them.

I filled the bathtub with water, so I felt like I had a choice between burning or drowning. I was angry and sad that we hadn’t left with the rest of the family, but I understood too. I knew how much the house means to my dad. How much it means to me. Many beloved hands shaped the walls, drove the nails, and mudded the cracks in the sheetrock. When I visit, I run my hands along the walls. Hierth, you can never go home.

The night was long. The glow of the fire was so bright when you closed your eyes, you still saw the fire through your eyelids. There was nowhere to hide. We paced around like angry cats. We patrolled the windows as they started turning black with soot. The hose and buckets positioned by the doors. Our water was drawn by a well and the closest fire was nearly upon the pump house. Then the fire turned and battled the other for fuel. They consumed each other before us. There was not enough tinder between the both of them and they burned each other out. I would have cried if I’d had enough moisture left for tears. I thought I might cry table salt instead; my eyes were so crusty.

We survived. The house still stands today. The wood exterior has been covered with stone. The roof has been replaced with tiles. I still can’t help but think of it as a giant brick oven though. I can’t live out there no more. Every year I worry about my dad. Every year I track the fires. I live roughly five hours away, but if I move like a low flying aircraft and I don’t stop to pee, I can make it in three.

I don’t just follow “our fires,” I track everyone’s fires. My own version of Nihilism perhaps, but I also think Fire Science is interesting. Sometimes, I cry tears for others I couldn’t cry for myself. I know their pain. Most recently it was for the people of Lytton, BC.

The problem isn’t just one thing, it’s a multitude of things. Yes, it’s more people moving out to rural areas. Yes, it’s years of suppressing natural fires. It’s over regulated in some ways and under regulated in other ways. It’s bad planning. It’s greed. It’s global warming.

We could be more strategic in how we manage fires and how we plan our communities. The Camp Fire in California in 2018 showed just how dangerous one of our most popular housing development layouts can be. It’s typically a selling feature to live on a dead end street, until you can’t escape in an emergency due to you and your neighbors trying to flee at once creating a chokehold. We have to rebalance and recalibrate, the natural environment with the built environment. We can save ourselves, save the trees, and animal lives with lower intensity fires. Fire isn’t always bad. Regenerative fires help create lower intensity fires and healthier forests and fields for future generations.

Additional Links:

Firestorm 1991 – Aug. 21, 2015 | The Spokesman-Review

‘Most homes’ in Lytton, B.C., destroyed by catastrophic fire, minister says | CBC News (This link includes a video of a guy who describes just how hard it is to make the decision whether to leave or stay during a wildfire. This fire occurred earlier this month at the beginning of July 2021.)

Have you ever been affected by wildfire?

Intuition Tells You Where You Need to Be

This is not the official post of the week, but a tangent, because I have to tell you about my day! As I had mentioned in a previous post, my friend and co-pilot on this blog, Patricia Lezama, recently moved out of state, but today we got to see each other! At first, I was determined to rush through my chores. Then I felt determined to make a necklace for her. Yes, silly I know! I haven’t made anyone a necklace in two decades!?!?! Now I must suddenly do one now? Okay.

I delayed our meetup and made what I came to consider the “fire necklace.” One of my bead batches wasn’t very good. I had to hunt for good beads. This took me twice as long to make the necklace.

Fire Necklace By Melanie Reynolds

Finally meet up and had lunch! It was at least two hours later than I had originally planned. As we finished, I witnessed an older woman fall and roll. I said, “We need to go help this lady.” So we walked over and the lady couldn’t get up. A man stopped and got out of his car. We agreed that he should call an ambulance. The lady was very brave, despite being in pain. It quickly became clear that she had broken her hip. She did her best to be calm and cheerful for her granddaughter, who was about 10 or 11 years old.

The granddaughter also did a great job remaining calm and giving information when her grandmother couldn’t. The ambulance arrived quickly because the Fire department was only a few blocks away. We assisted the paramedics to get the lady on the stretcher.

As there was nothing left for us to do, it was time to leave, but I was happy. I felt like I was where I was meant to be. I almost always listen to my intuition, no matter how silly it sounds sometimes. Every single time I do, fate puts me where I’m needed most. I have advanced first aid training and right before the pandemic I received my certification to “Train the Trainers” (Program Coordinator) for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT is a group of volunteers from the community that learn what to do during wide scale emergencies like Earthquakes and other natural disasters. We come from different ethnic, religious, economic, political backgrounds, ages, skills and abilities in the service of community. We’re the active helpers. Our diversity makes us stronger! Together we can speak many languages and respect the traditions of those who have strict religious or cultural beliefs.

I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a control freak. I train and train and train so that I can make myself useful in almost any situation. I like to think of it as a way to leverage anxiety. When I know what to do and how to do it there’s no room for anxiety. We strangers came together in that moment. We created an atmosphere of calm support. It was not a situation anyone wanted to be in, but we made the best of it.

I know the pandemic is not over. It’s really the last thing any disaster preparedness geek wants to deal with. In my career I’ve written several Health & Safety, Disaster Preparedness, & Policy & Procedures manuals for large institutions. I can tell you that the section on “Pandemics” has been at best maybe two paragraphs, a page or two if you fill in with extra words. What was I supposed to write? “In the middle of a pandemic please avoid people like the plague?” It’s hard for people like me to see a need and have to step aside.

So, while I feel terrible that the lady’s outing with her granddaughter didn’t turn out the way they had hoped, I’m grateful I was there. I’m grateful that it was something familiar and that I could help. I’ve often felt useless since the start of the pandemic. Like a racehorse waiting for the gate to open. I won’t let the experience of it go to waste though. Next time I write or revise a disaster preparedness manual I’ll have a lot more to say on pandemics!

I would like to encourage everyone reading this to get basic first aid training. If not through a local program, then watch some YouTube videos, search term, “Basic First Aid.” When you know what to do it feels a lot less scary.

Finally, If you do find yourself in a situation where someone needs emergency aid and you don’t have any training, it’s okay. Empathy and support can go a long way.  Ask them, “How can I help?” They can usually tell you, sometimes they can’t, that’s okay too. Keeping them conscious, talking and calm is a great way to help.

Stay safe friends!


The information below is directly from the FEMA website: Community Emergency Response Team | Ready.gov:

CERT History

The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs.

CERT became a national program in 1993. There are now CERT programs in all 50 states, including many tribal nations and U.S. territories. Each is unique to its community and all are essential to building a Culture of Preparedness in the United States. There are over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide and more than 600,000 people have trained since CERT became a national program.



I imagine there must be programs like this in other countries. Like the “White Hats” in Syria.

Does your country have a program like this? If so, What is it called?

Disaster Preparedness: Supply Lines

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

On May 7, 2021 a U.S. fuel pipeline operated by Colonial Pipeline was shut down due to a ransomware attack. The attack resulted in the shutdown of the computer system operating the pipeline and temporarily created fuel shortages across parts of the Southern United States. As a result, several people took the opportunity to be complete idiots in an attempt to hoard gasoline in unsafe containers from their local gas stations. To my knowledge no one was killed as a direct result of their actions, but at least one woman was severely injured when she crashed with her gas “loot” while trying to evade police for failing to stop due to a traffic infraction.

A year before this event we had the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic. When it originally hit the U.S. for some reason people decided they needed to hoard toilet paper. In my own community, browsing through local Facebook pages was rather surreal. On one page a woman shared a picture of her daughter’s 4ft high castle made out of toilet paper rolls. Just below it, an eight-month pregnant woman was begging for someone to spare her a roll or two. She couldn’t find any anywhere after going to five stores. The juxtaposition of the two posts were frustrating, annoying, and unnecessary.

Today, June 1st,2021, I have just finished my weekly grocery shopping and just sat down for lunch when I saw another ransomware attack has occurred. This time the target was the world’s largest meat processor working in the US and Australia, JBS Corp. I’m not surprised. If you’re surprised, then please pay attention. Things are going to get worse. The more these attacks are successful the more they’ll keep trying. For me, disaster preparedness starts with recognizing my place within the grander scale of concurrent spheres of impact. Sometimes I’m the drop. Sometimes I’m the fifth ripple.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Focus on what’s within your control, not what’s out of your control.

I can’t control when a ransomware attack will occur, when the next pandemic will occur or when the next earthquake will strike, but I can mitigate my family’s risk with a few simple steps.

  • Plan for reoccurring events. We have a few good wind and snow events every winter and yet people panic at the first mention of possible snow. They stress, they get grumpy and then they go stand in long lines at the grocery stores to get whatever it is they think is “essential.” I on the other hand pull out my battery-powered lanterns. I track the storm and plan according; brew coffee and put into thermoses, make dinner early or change to a shelf-stable dinner option from things already in the pantry. If you have to go through something every year, take the extra time to plan for it before it becomes eminent and save yourself the stress! It’s a snowstorm not the end of the world.
  • Stock up when select items are on sale. In my region, the Northwestern United States, canned food usually goes on sale in September. I can get cans of beans 10 for $10 and soups at nearly half off. I often make chili and cornbread before a storm since most of our storms tend to come at night. While hot chili is preferred, I don’t mind eating cold chili for lunch the next day if the power is out. Our power outages average about 2-3 days. For longer power outage we cook on the pellet grill. Before we had the grill, we used a small camp stove. If you have the outdoor space, a fire pit is good too. If you live in an apartment, save some cash to take a ride to a restaurant in an area of town with power or stay with a friend or family member for a night or two if you can.
  • Support locally grown foods. Supporting local growers helps provide jobs in your community and shortens the supply chain between you and your foods. Look for Farmer’s Markets in your area and give them a try. Also look for local co-op stores that support locally sourced products. Investing locally helps you and your neighbors. Pay attention to when things are in-season. They are fresher and offered at a better price. Freeze, pickle, or ferment what you can save for later. It will be interesting to see how vertical farms affect the future of growing produce. I would like to see the innovation of vertical farming (a type of aquaponics) come into urban areas and reduce the effect of “food deserts” found in poor, urban neighborhoods where fresh food is scarce and access to alcohol and processed food are high.
  • Make friends with all different kinds of people. As I get to know more and more people in my community, I pay attention to what their skills and abilities are. There’s nothing wrong with making friends with someone just because they’re nice and you like being around them, but it’s also nice to make a mental inventory of who’s good at what. It’s a game I like to play in my head.  It the event of a real apocalypse, who would I want to track down to be part of my survival team? Humans are a group-oriented species. If you learn nothing else from disaster movies, it should be that the lone wolf rarely survives. I know a guy with a welding shop and another with a carpentry shop, some nurses, some women who sew better than me, the local co-op, a couple of local farmers and a dairy over yonder. I also know a ton of Real Estate Agents, I’m sure I could find a way to put them to good use! If nothing else they’re well-connected to people and properties that could be leveraged as assets. I really need to find someone who knows the hot air balloon guys. In case a post-apocalypse aerial scouting mission is needed, of course! So even if you’re a declared introvert like me, get to know people around you. If you need to come together as a community, it’s good to know where to start. If you think you have no useful skills, there’s no time like the present to learn some!
  • Make it fun, make it informed. Play the game, “What would I do if….?” Walk through scenarios in your head about what you would do in certain situations. Do this with your family and friends. People who are skilled at making quick decision and saving lives didn’t get that way by luck. It comes down to training. As you walk through scenarios think of things that would help make it easier. Having a first aid kit in the car. Having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (or you can smother a fire with flour or corn starch if you have enough on hand.) What if there was an extended gas shortage and you had to get to work? Could you walk? Bike? Call someone to share a ride with and offer to bake cookies in exchange or something?

Final Thoughts:

I really feel we need to focus on making ourselves adaptable and resilient at the individual level and scale it up to the community and society level. My biggest concern is that we won’t adapt fast enough to climate change while politicians bicker and corporations drag their heels on innovative climate initiatives. I have no control over what the politicians and multinational corporations do, but I do have agency over myself. I can choose not panic buy or stress over every snowstorm. I can make myself strong and support members of my community when they need me most. You need a roll toilet paper, darling? I got one for you. I planned for this.

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Penny for your thoughts?