Thoughts of a home on fire
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog historically hasn’t run personal essays, but in this case–S. Alex Kudroff’s reflection on the wildfires in California–we decided to take a break from snark and make an exception.
My town is burning.
Santa Clarita, California, home of Disney Channel stars, SUVs, three Wal-marts, and me, is currently also playing host raging wildfires. Meanwhile, I am 3,000 miles away.
When I made the decision to come to Columbia, friends and family questioned my choice–UC schools are cheaper, have nicer weather, are closer to home, and are overall more familiar. Familiarity for Santa Clarita residents is very important–for 12 years, I went to school with the same kids, many of which ended up at the UC schools I could have gone to. When everyone comes home from college, the same people spend time at the same local coffee shops and hold the same retail jobs that they held during previous summers.
But here I am, New York City, surrounded by millions of unfamiliar people and places. Of course I was attracted to the idea of the unfamiliar things I would encounter going to school so far away from home, and every time I discover new and exciting things in the city, I value my ability to go to school in such a vibrant place. But now that I am here, and nature has decided to take over my hometown, I have no choice but to worry without having any concept of what’s actually happening to my home.
The welcoming committee for my sophomore year of high school consisted of multiple wildfires throughout the city. I could see the fires from a hill near my house only about a thousand feet from houses in my community. Friends from school were evacuated from their homes. People were living in my high school gym. The sky practically rained ash for days.
Now, nature has returned to lash Santa Clarita once again, as well as other Southern California cities, like Malibu and San Diego.
I first found out about the fires from my mom, who called me from a nearby beach to tell me that the winds were so bad, the 25 foot tall tree in our backyard fell into the neighbors’ yard behind us. She had to leave the beach to go clean up the tree and make sure my dogs were alright. The winds were so strong, she said, the fires were spreading fast.
Over the summer, I worked at the Gibbon Conservation Center, which is about 5 miles north of the main part of my town in a more rural area. All of the major roads around the Gibbon Center had been closed off and homes evacuated. The GCC is home to 31 apes, several live-in volunteers, and the director of the center. With no idea of the fires’ actual locations, I worried that my primate friends would be in danger. While the people could easily evacuate, the center could usually only tranquilize a few gibbons in a day, since they are such active animals. I couldn’t even conceive of a possible way that they could be transported away from the center. After the director of the center didn’t respond to my email within 10 minutes, I called to make sure everything was OK. Apparently, the fires had gotten within 1,000 feet of the GCC, and two homes burnt down within 2,000 feet. The pumpkin patch and farm not too far away, where my family went every year to buy pumpkins and look at scarecrows, is completely gone.
Even more homes have been evacuated, and all of the friends I have spoken with from home have told me about their parents’ plans for evacuation. My mom even packed a bag.
Although Columbia is a nice little bubble of escape from our past lives, when things happen that are completely out of our control near our homes, it’s pretty fucking scary. I’m still glad I chose Columbia instead of a UC school, because I like new experiences and encountering the unfamiliar. But when all that you once thought was familiar to you is up in flames and could potentially be destroyed, and you sit in your dorm room studying for midterms and only looking at pictures of the smoke, you can’t help but feel disconnected from a place that was once (and in a way, still is) your home.