Thoughts of a home on fire

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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.

sdfsMy 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. 



  1. Hope

    Hope your parents kept up with their homeowner's insurance... but didn't Santa Clarita get scorched in 91, 96 and 2003 as well? Surely you must be used to this by now

  2. Anonymous  

    Were there personal essays for Katrina? I think not. The Bwog has a well-known West Coast Hollywood bias.

    p.s. Sorry about your family and your home. My freshman year two hurricanes hit my house in Florida and I couldn't talk to my parents for the first two weeks of school. Scary stuff, but at least neither of us lived in New Orleans.

    • hrm  

      Was the Bwog even around during Katrina? That was my first semester at Columbia (fall of 05), and I seem to remember that Bwog launched after I was already here and settled, I want to say in the spring of 06. I'm not saying Bwog couldn't have done a personal essay retrospective, but nothing like this, where the tragedy is still raging. Also, Bwog tended more towards frivolity at first, I feel like the more serious tone is still emerging.

      So I guess my point is, stop looking for something to bitch about. Clearly, there are more important things going on in this world to worry about - see also, this post.

      And to the author, and all other California-bred CU students/faculty/employees, my thoughts go out to you and your families.

  3. 0.o  

    Kudroff, are you having one of those lost-in-the-city moments?

  4. keep in mind  

    that the concept of home is not just spatial, but also temporal. no matter what happens, the home you left will be vastly different when (and if) you decide to return there someday. while it may seem like it is under the threat of destruction, keep in mind that fires or no, it will never exist again as it was when you left. the important things will persist, albeit in changed form, regardless of whether a fire wrecks the landscape.

    • Salex  

      Are you in Pemberton's Intro to Social and Cultural Theory? 'Cause this is straight from like, Day 4 or 5 or something.

      I mean the philosophical stuff is cool and all. When it comes down to it, a home is composed of just stuff, and the people and other living things are more important than the houses. But homes are still homes, and homes burning down are ash. So you have to keep that in mind that while homes can change, they can also disappear.

  5. funny  

    Does this remind anyone of the NYTimes blog Homefires?

  6. random evil guy  

    Burn baby burn!!

  7. snarky Mcfuckwad  

    I'm sure this is really sad and all, and I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for primate tragedy - but you write like a 14 year old. Stop it.

  8. bwog disgusts me  

    wow you commenters could not be bigger dicks. her house might burn down and you're calling her a whiner and criticizing her writing? why don't you write an essay about your house catching fire...

    oh, you probably can't. because it's never happened.

  9. how about  

    a thoughts of home on burma?

  10. jerz  

    its a pretty crazy fire, my little brother just started at UCSD and had to fly home yesterday cause they evacuated the school. Say what you will about Jersey, but at least its not flammable.

  11. refreshing  

    I think it's refreshing to see something personal on BWOG and unfair to expect the same erudite writing style used in its usual quips. My sympathies are with anyone who has ever felt lost when when they're far away from a threatened home.

  12. I miss SCV  

    Alex, I loved this. I feel the exact same way, and I am missing home a lot right now. Ironically, before the fires started I had been talking to my mom about going to Lomardy Ranch when I go home for election day weekend just for tradition's/nostalgia's sake, but I guess that's not happening now.... Anyway, this was a beautiful essay, thank you for writing it.

  13. kudos  

    Kudos Alex, I admire you very much for posting about something so intimate on Bwog. It was a brave thing to do and I bet none of these cowardly and petty commenters would ever be able to post something about a personal hardship like this. I am really embarrassed that so many people in this community can be so insensitive and unsupportive. I hope that everything works out okay.

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