This far after the fire and the panic and the evacuation and the eventual return to home, life has returned to a certain normality for those of us who had homes to return to. The definition of normal has been redefined for Bastrop, however. Now normal involves watching the skies on windy days, turning in your neighbors who decide to ignore the burn ban, learning to avert your eyes from the burned timber when you have to drive east, and clearing brush and dry pine needles out of your yard in an effort to reduce future fire hazard.
Just as you think you've made some progress in regaining control of your nervous system, you get word of yet another friend or acquaintance who lost everything and has decided to rebuild or decided to relocate and your stomach drops all over again. You think you are coping fairly well when one morning you step out the front door and your heart jumps to your throat before you realize that you are facing fog and not smoke. You tell yourself that everything is okay and to settle down and then you jump to attention when you hear a siren out on the highway or a helicopter passing overhead. We citizens of Bastrop have a long road of recovery to travel.
I was asked by a close friend to take some time and make two lists: one of the things I did right when I got the evacuation order and one of the things I forgot. I am glad that I had pondered the possibility as soon as we moved out to the forest because I had already worked out the order of what I would rescue and I had made sure that I had enough pet carriers on hand and ready in the garage.
What I Did Right:
1. I isolated the cats immediately before they knew anything was going on and put them in the utility room or bathroom so they couldn't hide.
2. I grabbed my stash of reusable grocery bags and headed for the trunk where I keep a lot of the smaller family heirlooms that are not on display. I filled three bags with as much as I could of the contents of that trunk.
3. I filled another grocery bag with enough dog and cat food to last several days.
4. I threw - literally threw - clothes into a suitcase and made sure I included jeans, t-shirts, underwear and tennis shoes. Before I zipped the suitcase, I grabbed some breakable family treasures out of the china cabinet and tucked them down into the clothes to protect them.
5. I filled my briefcase with laptop, phone accessories, address book and the book I was reading. I keep my backup hard drive in my brief case, along with my work essentials, so I knew I would be able to function so long as I had an Internet connection.
6. I loaded cats in carriers, dogs in carriers and got them loaded into the car, then started loading the grocery bags full of family treasures. I loaded the briefcase and the suitcase.
7. My last trip into the house was to take down the ancestor portraits hanging in the stairwell and wedge them in and around the pet carriers in the back seat. I locked doors, turned off lights and took one last look around, trying to decide if there was anything else I could fit into the car, which at this point was packed fairly tight. It was time to leave.
What I Did Wrong:
1. I forgot all about picking up the folder I had prepared of important papers - like my home insurance policy. Thankfully some of the more important things had recently been moved to a safe deposit box.
2. I forgot all about the camera bag. I had been working on an inventory of all my antiques and collectibles. I had the list of possessions in a document on my backup drive, but all the photos I had taken to support the inventory were still on the card in the camera left behind.
3. I remembered the portraits hanging in the stairwell, but forgot to swing back through the study and pick up two other very important family portraits and I totally forgot about my mother's oil paintings.
4. I forgot all of my jewelry.
5. I forgot to shut off the air-conditioner or computer and the refrigerator/freezers never entered my mind.
In my defense on the last one, I had no idea when I left that it would be 6 days before I returned to my house or that the electricity would be off all that time. I was lucky that I got back to my house in time to empty the refrigerators and freezers before any of the food spoiled badly enough to render them unusable. A lot of folks had to endure almost another full week before they were allowed to return to their homes and a lot of appliances had to be discarded.
In the aftermath, I am maintaining a packed suitcase of essentials and my briefcase gets repacked every night before I go to bed. I moved a lot of small valuables (my parents wedding rings, for example) to my safe deposit box. On the first trip back to the house, we picked up my jewelry, my Grandmother Hodge's quilts, my father's sermons, my mother's oil paintings and assorted other family heirlooms and relocated them temporarily to a climate controlled storage unit. I am in the process of searching for a handier unit where I can store these kinds of things more or less permanently during periods of high fire danger.
I made an assessment of what I would have lost in the matter of my genealogy records and realized that I had fallen behind in keeping things filed and in getting new material digitized. I have embarked on a scanning project to get that situation corrected and I'm also working my way through the notebooks to get all extraneous notes transferred to my computerized files. It's going to take awhile to get caught up, but I'm making good, steady progress. I have also gotten serious about purging all unnecessary papers out of my genealogy and my personal files. So far I've taken 4 shopping bags full of paper to the shredding bins at the office and I'm gaining some storage space as a result. I'm back to work on the household inventory.
My evacuation plans have been modified to include emptying the ice bucket into the sink and turning off the ice maker (all the ice melted and ran out into the kitchen floor) and to keep the contents of the refrigerators and freezers down to what I will use in the near future. I am keeping a thermal bag handy to carry out any frozen meat.
I am keeping a pet emergency bag packed and ready to go, with a supply of food, bowls, and leashes.
I was very fortunate that I had a mental checklist in place before hand and was able to leap into action even as my mind was trying to blur into panic. I was caught somewhat unprepared in the matter of having my family records completely backed up, but I had about 75% of the data computerized and about 90% of the photographs scanned and triple backed up (one copy in the safe deposit box), so I would not have been completely wiped out of 40 years of work had things gone differently. I am working hard on getting the gaps closed.
I was very fortunate and I'm learning from my mistakes. Everything could be gone in the wink of an eye. Make sure you are as prepared as you can be so that when someone knocks on your door and says you have 20 minutes or less to get out, you know what to do.