Rising from the ashes of the Caughlin fire

If you would like to help, visit United Way online at uwnns.org.

Few things in life elicit more fear than that distinctive glow of a wildfire. The horrible panic that engulfs you when the acrid smell of destruction reaches your nose is an experience unmatched by anything else in our existence. The sounds, the smells, the feelings of complete and utter hopelessness overtake you completely and immediately. As a child, I lived through a house fire. One summer night while vacationing in Colorado at my grandmother’s house, fire became my reality. The antique lamp at my bedside shorted out, and a fire ignited in the wall directly behind the top of my mattress. For some odd reason, I had elected to sleep upstairs in a different bedroom, so thankfully my experience with fire didn’t start, and end, directly under where my head rested on the pillow. Twenty-five years later, I still don’t fully know why I made the decision to sleep in a different room that night, and I will never know if that seemingly random decision spared my young life.

When faced with disaster, one’s mind wanders to experiences like these, and as the saying goes, your life truly does flash before your eyes. Just a few short days ago, I looked out the window of my home to see that all too familiar glow on the ridges surrounding the southwest part of town. My home isn’t near the area that burned, but countless friends and family found themselves at ground zero. Late into the evening I texted, called and Facebooked my loved ones to check on them, keeping myself ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice. Nothing was going to stop me from doing all I could to protect them.

The gale force winds quickly turned a small brushfire into a raging inferno, and Reno will never forget the images of windswept residents fleeing their homes, leaving behind their belongings, their memories and their lives.

In retrospect, it isn’t only our first responders who must be commended. Although we saw some 30 homes destroyed, some of them opulent mansions with fleets of luxury cars left abandoned, destined for a horrible death by fire, only one elderly gentleman lost his life at the hands of this unspeakable tragedy. The death and destruction from this firestorm is merely a fraction of what could have been, and it instills a sense of pride in our community and in ourselves to see residents, first responders and good Samaritans band together selflessly to fight to protect not only themselves, but everyone around them.

A dear family friend lamented to me that he wasn’t able to save his neighbor’s home with his garden hose, and as he vividly recounted the story of that night, never once did he mention that his was one of the only houses on the street to be spared. Surreal, to say the least.

Our quiet little community has been racked with tragedy as of late. The Amtrak disaster, the plane crash at the National Championship Air Races, and the massacre at the Carson City IHOP have put our hearts and minds to the test. We will rebuild bigger, better, stronger. Perhaps George W. Bush said it best when he famously reassured a wounded nation after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by saying, “These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of America’s resolve.”

Now begins a period of learning. Seemingly innocuous things like landscaping merit a whole new look. If this happens again, will you have the proper defensible space around your home? Have you spoken with your neighbors to form a neighborhood plan in the event of another fire? Maybe you should.

Our safety is ultimately our own responsibility. At a moment’s notice, disaster can descend on us, and the best weapon we have is preparedness.