On Thursday, June 28, 2012, at 4:24 pm, our house died in the Charlotte/Mink Creek Wildfire outside of Pocatello, Idaho. In total, 66 homes burned in just a few hours.
Yesterday more than 2,000 people arrived to help clean up from the Charlotte/Mink Creek fire.
The paper reported that 57 of the 66 burned out families had signed up to be assigned volunteers. We were not one of those families. We had been working on our home site for days and our contractor who has become an important part of our healing had encouraged us to take the weekend off. I thought that the activity was going to be elsewhere. About 10 am, he texted me with photos of the line of traffic to the dump, it was 3/4 of a mile long. He also sent me photos of people working at our house under his supervision. It was such a surprise!
We threw on “sifting” clothes (ones to sift through the ashes) and went out immediately. What an amazing experience. What a gift. The volunteers almost all wore yellow vests. They were arrayed against the blackened hills among the charred ghost trees. It was like someone had spread Christmas ornaments on our trees.
Together, the 2000 people spread out across the 1040 acres that were burned cutting down the burned trees, hauling off debris, and bringing a spirit of encouragement to all of us. Before the day was through, over 400 tons of refuse was taken to the dump. The dump did not charge to receive the debris.
My spouse and I stayed at our house site to marvel at what was going on. Below us at a neighbors people gathered to raise an American flag. We were interviewed by the media that accompanied the Mormon Helping Hands. Telling our story and having people hear it, on that burned ground that was our home, moved us deeply.
After a while we decided to drive up the road from our house and see what else was going on. I had some guilt at not staying to haul debris but understood that part of the gift we were receiving was a gift of time for our family, a time to let others give to us, which is a very hard thing.
I had not yet been up the road above our house. As we drove slowly uphill I was silenced by the devastation. I had grown used to the rubble and burn that denoted our cluster of houses. It was home. When I saw the remains of the other homes in our area, I could see what people saw in mine. To me, it was my home. To the eye that had not lived there and loved that place on this earth, it looked like a war zone, its voice silenced by the fire.
I began to see the energy of the Helping Hands and other volunteers. The road was jammed, people, trucks, bulldozers, debris and chain saws. So many chain saws! I did not know that many chain saws existed in the world. As the trees came down and were hauled off, a fine dust rose. A grayness permeated the air but the ground was coming clean. Above the haze of the ash, the sky was blue and streaked with clouds.
We saw trucks with blue crosses and H2O written on the side slowly driving up and down the roads. We saw another truck marked First Aid. I am sure somewhere a first aid truck stopped to help someone who was injured but we always saw the trucks moving and not stopping. We heard that there was a truck full of lunch.
The traffic was flowing wherever there was space. Cars, trucks and heavy equipment gave way to whoever fit into the space that was present. No one seemed to be concerned. Trucks with trailers full of limbs backed full circle in the middle of the traffic. Sometimes it seemed that a trailer was going hit something but always there was space.
I was so caught up in the experience I could see both charred remains of our community and the energy and caring for us of those in our wider community. I began to wave and then to call out “Thank you!” After a while we started getting out of the car to thank people. It was truly healing for me to be able to thank people for their gift of time and energy. It was a chance to feel the spirit flow from the people into the land.
It rained last night. Not a harsh rain that would drive the unstable soil down the mountains but a life-giving rain