Her place was the last stop in our fire "tour." When we arrived at her place, we were greeted by the resident small herd of goats. They came ambling out, all full of curiosity.
We gathered in the shade of a large tree, and sat down to hear Kristen's story. She lives near Ramona, CA, with her husband, who is completely an invalid, having been rendered wheel-chair bound by severe arthritis.
She began to recount the events of a year ago--the fires struck their place on a Sunday. Her husband had wanted to go to church, but Kristen was uneasy, so they stayed home. As the fires pressed closer to their place--surrounding them in a ring of fire--she first got her husband into the van, along with their dogs and cats. Once she had driven him to safety, she returned to their place. She let the goats out, and they scattered. Then she released a pot-belly pig they had. She returned to her house, trying to get two remaining cats out.
She saw the wind driven embers fall on a wooden deck on the back of the house. Frantically, she tried to beat the flames back with a shovel.
All the while she recounted her story, she was somewhat matter of fact. But when Kristen got to part of the story about beating back the flames, her voice caught. She stood there for a moment, and then apologized.
She continued--she went down to the main road, close by, to try to hail some passing motorist to help her. A van came by with county prisoners who had shovels to help beat out the small fires flaring up. She persuaded the county official with them to let them come help her. As they pulled into her driveway, her house went up in flames.
Too late, the county official said. There's nothing we can do.
After hearing this heart-rending story, we sat quiet--what is there to say.
Once the fires had burned out, the goats returned. One of them had severe burns on her face and ears, but they all survived. Now, a year later, the goats continue their main task--eating the brush around Kristen's place.
Kristen and her husband have had a new house built--this time they were able to have it constructed to be handicapped accessible. Amazingly, Kristen said--that's a blessing.
As with Tom and Diane, Kristen also said--I just didn't think the fires would get us. Their place had been cleared of brush--thanks to the goats. But once the Santa Ana winds begin to blow, pieces of burning ember are picked up and can strike with great ferocity, even impaling glass windows. A house built with non-combustible materials can still burn once a burning ember comes flying through a window.
Her story told, Kristen went to her house and got her husband, bringing him down to see us--driving him in the van. We lingered a bit in this lovely spot--eating our box lunches. We even had brought several box lunches along for Kristen and her husband. The goats offered to help us with our lunches!
At each of the places we went to, we brought a small gift for the people who told us their stories. We had a silk scarf for each family--the scarves were made by survivors of the December 2004 tsunami. There is something wonderfully symbolic about these silk scarves--they embody the possibility of recovery. Life does go on, people who survive such great tragedy can regain their lives. It takes time--but with the help of work done by PDA (and many other fine organizations) the recovery will happen.