Friday, October 13, 2017

The Smell of Smoke (part 1)

The smell of smoke was in the air. Strong, like sitting around a campfire, but the smoke haze in the air had no obvious source. I thought back to the plume of smoke we’d seen from the highway on the way home from the south Bay earlier in the day. Not that we’d agreed that it was smoke, but I’d thought it was smoke.

Still, as far as I could tell, there was nothing to see. I went to the backyard to take down the windchimes. The wind was picking up and, on a windy night, they would make too much noise – noise that was otherwise considered music or, at least, pleasant – for my wife to be able to sleep. I went back around to the front of the house for one last look around then went inside.

The wind that night was horrendous, what they all Diablo winds. Hurricane strength. That’s not an exaggeration. Just strong enough to be a category one, but they’re called hurricanes for a reason. The wind blew in the sounds of sirens. All night. Sirens and what sounded like explosions. They sounded like explosions because they were.

Something woke me up around 2:00 am; I didn’t know what. Maybe it was the sirens or maybe it was something nearer at hand; either way, it’s when I became aware of the sirens. The smell of smoke inside the house was as strong as it had been outside earlier. I laid in the bed for a moment, my wife asleep beside me, becoming aware of the distant sirens and the muffled popping of propane tank explosions. I got up and wandered worriedly through the house, finding nothing to warrant my concerns. Besides, despite the smell of smoke, the smoke detector was silent.

I didn’t really go back to sleep after that. The wind and the sirens kept me awake. Still, I jerked to alertness when the smoke detector went off. Just a single beep, followed a moment later by one more single beep. The smell of smoke was, if anything, stronger, so I didn’t understand why it would just beep the twice.

So I got up and checked through the house again, also checking out the windows as well as I could. Still nothing. Then I realized that the detector had gone off because the power had gone out. It’s hardwired into the house, and it beeps anytime the power goes off or comes back on. It was only for a moment, but it was long enough to de-set the stove clock: 3:17 was flashing.

Sleep still didn’t come, but it was too early to get up. I laid in the bed thinking about it, but I was tired, and I wanted to sleep, a desire that was at odds with the continued wind and sirens. My brain wondered exactly what was going on.

Eventually, the alarm went off and I rolled out of bed somewhat disgruntled about the lack of sleep I’d had. Not that that is necessarily any different from how I feel any given morning. I stumbled out to my computer and turned it on, hoping to find something out while I worked on setting up for breakfast.

Facebook is never the first thing I open on my computer. Never. Or even the second. But, for whatever reason, Monday morning, October 9, it was. The first thing I saw I was a post: “My city is on fire.” What the fuck! That’s my city!

Before I had a chance to do anything else, my phone and my wife’s phone both started ringing. The only time that happens is when it’s an important message from my daughter’s school, so I answered it. School had been cancelled for the day… because of the fires.

Fires. With an “s.”

Which explained the sirens.

I went and woke up my wife.


  1. I hope that you escape unscathed. I've been watching the destruction on the news here in Utah. So sad. My thoughts are with you.

  2. That must have been terrifying. I wouldn't have been able to fall back asleep either. I really hope that you and your family and everyone else out there is all right.

  3. Eeek. Please don't tell me you're caught in that inferno.

    When I smelled smoke, the first thing I did was to question where the fire was. And then find out. Because it's October in California. (We've only had Canyon Fire 2. You guys up north are really getting pounded.)

    Stay safe.

    1. Liz: It depends on what you mean by "caught in," I suppose.

  4. Be safe.

    I didn't realize you were in Santa Rosa. I have actually been there, sung there on a college choir tour. Such a beautiful part of the world.

  5. Since Andrew hasn't posted to confirm yet, yes, we are fine at our household. We know many people who lost their homes, and there are many treasured places here which are irrevocably changed by the fire. It's hard, and it's a real trauma to the entire North Bay region. Worst wildfire damage-wise in California history.

  6. Oh my goodness, I am so far removed from the situation that I didn't realise this was a current true story until I got to the comments section!

    Hoping that the fires settle down soon, that type of destruction is so devastating. Stay safe! :(