Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The "Machine Gun" Herriman Fire - Sept 19, 2010

Sunday, September 19th started out like any Sunday in our family. We went to church, came home and had brunch, etc. We were all pretty tired because the night before we had our ward Luau that Rob and I were in charge of. We had gotten to bed late and were exhausted. We had the older kids turn on a church movie, laid down the 2 little ones for naps, and Rob and I crashed in our bedroom. A few hours later, I remember waking up completely startled and scared. I didn't know why. I now know it was because I could smell smoke while I was still asleep...not a smell you want to smell. At first I thought something was burning downstairs so I rushed down to make sure the older kids hadn't started the kitchen on fire. One of them nonchalantly said, "Mom, I think there's a fire." Our home was filled with smoke because one of the kids had left the back door open when they were looking outside.

At that point, I looked out our back window to see this. (Actually, this photo is a side view of it. That smoke was coming right into our backyard and because of the intense wind, it was coming fast and thick.)
I quickly went to the front window and saw many of my neighbors on our street coming out of their homes and talking. I ran outside and the smell completely took me off guard. It was SO thick. The wind was so strong. We had record temperatures that day so it was extremely hot, about 93 deg at that point. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like being blown by a blow dryer. I ran to our neighbor, Wry, who is in the National Guard. I asked him what was going on and he informed me that there was a major fire that had started on the other side of the mountain at Camp Williams. Wry's father is the Utah County Fire Marshall so we had a lot of good information coming from him. What we knew at that point was that a fire was sparked during a drill at Camp Williams. At first, it was thought that the fire would never get off Camp Williams property because they were fighting it from their end, but we quickly realized that this was not the case. I asked Wry how serious his dad thought it was at that point. He said that his family had packed bags and important papers. That really shocked me that it was that serious. But the longer I stood outside, the more smoke came billowing through our neighborhood and I realized that we were in danger.

I ran back into the house, and quickly grabbed Rob so I could talk to him away from the kids to avoid alarming them. I explained the situation. We hadn't eaten dinner yet and the kids were hungry. Rob told me that if we were maybe going to leave, that we needed to document our possessions. We had never gone through with a camera to actually have a record of what we owned. So as he fed the kids, I started going through the house, room by room to get a record of all of our belongings in the case that our home was destroyed. At this point, I was concerned, but not panicked.....that is until I looked out the window and saw this...
The smoke from before, was now flames on our side of the mountain. I ran back outside to talk to neighbors again to see if they had heard any more news. At this point, I was told that they had just announced that "The Cove at Herriman Springs" was being evacuated. I was completely stunned. An evacuation!? I couldn't believe it! And The Cove was just west of us. The wind continued to blow with wind gusts as high as 40 and 50 mph right in our direction. I ran back into the house and told Rob the news and we knew that we needed to take action.

We called my parents who live in Bluffdale and made them aware of the situation. They knew there was a fire in Herriman, but didn't realize how bad it was. My mom suggested that it would be a good idea to go hook up our trailer so we could pack it up and take it if we needed to leave. Thank heavens she made that suggestion! I'm sure she was inspired to do so. We asked them to see if they could come up and help me with the kids while we tried to get some things packed. They agreed and said they were on their way. By the time I got off the phone, I looked out the window and it now looked like this...
Because this was the view from our back windows and back yard, our kids could see it and knew there was danger. Rob and I tried to talk out of earshot of the kids, but kids are smart and they knew that something was seriously wrong. The pictures probably look bad, but you have to realize that it was the wind that was so scary to us. It was blowing SO hard and straight at us and every time we looked out the window, it was alarming...
We agreed that Rob would go hook up the trailer, a process that takes about 45 minutes, and I would start packing up the things that we needed. You always ask yourself, "What would I take with me, if I had to leave my home in an emergency?" My mind started racing...pictures, photo albums, baby books, home movies, computers and hard drives, the laptop, important documents, heirlooms from my grandparents..."

I pulled the older kids aside and told them that we were going to be okay, but that we were going to need to leave our house so that we could be safe. I asked each of them to go upstairs and quickly pack their little suitcases with pajamas, a change of clothes, school uniforms, socks and underwear, shoes, and that they each could take 3 small toys or stuffed animals.

My parents called and said that they weren't allowing anyone into Herriman so they couldn't come and help us. They told us that they had talked to my brother, Shawn, who lives in Riverton, and he said that we could bring the trailer to his home and park it by his house. When I looked out my back window, it looked like I-15 at 5:00. Our home backs to Rose Canyon Road which is the only road out of The Cove and other neighborhoods. It was shocking to see cars, trucks, horse trailers, etc. lined up all the way up the canyon.
I really tried to remain calm and collected, but I felt such a sense of urgency. Little did I know it at the time, but it was about this time that Rob said he started feeling panicked. Rob is a VERY rational person and it takes a lot to get him "freaked out", but he said that when he realized that the fire had come halfway down the mountain in less than a half hour, he freaked out. The adrenaline takes over and you start to "get stupid." I couldn't believe how fast this fire was moving towards us! Cayden, age 10, was great and very calm. I asked him to start helping Rob get things taken out to the trailer. The smoke was so bad that Rob had to wear a bandana over his face which only slightly helped. I felt like I was running around like a crazy person. At this point, McKell, age 8, came to me in tears. She was terrified. Normally I would be a very nurturing mommy and take the time to talk through everything with her. She is only 8 years old and can see a raging fire coming towards her home and there is chaos everywhere. But I didn't have the luxury of consoling her. I looked her in the eye and said, "McKell, we can't do this right now. I am not being mean, I am just being very serious right now. And I need you to be brave. We will have a time later when you can cry and we can talk about all of this. But right now is not that time. You need to be brave because if the little ones see you crying and getting scared, then they are going to be scared too." McKell grabbed my hand and said, "Mommy, I don't know if I can be brave! Can I say a prayer to ask Heavenly Father to help me be brave?" I wanted to cry. I gave her a big hug and told her that it was a great idea and that I knew that Heavenly Father would help her feel better. So she knelt down, right there in the living room and said a little prayer. I don't know what she said, but the faith of a little child is amazing. And when she was done, she stood up, wiped her eyes, and took over being the mommy so I could continue packing.

A few minutes later, I went in the front room to find my little Ashlee, also age 8, on her knees praying. When she saw me come in, she looked up at me with her eyes filled with tears and said, "Mommy, I need Heavenly Father to help me feel better because I don't want our house to burn down. So I said a prayer and I am feeling better." Again, my heart was so touched that she knew that she should pray and that Heavenly Father would help her. I gave her a quick hug and told her to go help McKell with the babies, and I continued to pack.

At some point, I happened to glance out the back window again, and was terrified when I saw this...

I couldn't believe how close the fire had come! At some point as we were running in and out, we heard from a neighbor that they evacuation line had moved to our street behind our home. We were officially being evacuated. We were planning to leave no matter what because of the smoke, but it was just still unbelievable that we were actually being told to leave our home.

I had things packed but I was so worried that I was forgetting important things! I felt like my mind was racing and I couldn't think clearly. At that point, I said a quick prayer asking God to help me to remember everything that was important for me to take with me. My mind was not thinking clearly and I needed help. A few seconds later, the very distinct impression came into my mind, "Call Juliann." (Juliann is my sister-in-law and best friend who lives in Kaysville.) I thought that was a ridiculous "idea" and kept packing. But again the impression came to me, "Call Juliann." And then I realized that this was the answer to my prayer. I could not think clearly in the situation that I was in, and I needed someone who was not in this situation and chaos to be able to think for me and help me know what to pack. It also helped because she knows me so well and knows the things that would be of importance to me. So I called her, explained the situation quickly, and asked her to think for me. She very calmly walked through every room of her own home and told me the things that we could see that she would pack. I had remembered pretty much everything, but then she said, "Baby Blessing Dresses, Baptism dresses, you wedding dress, your personal scriptures, heirlooms from your family." I had completely forgotten those things! I ran and grabbed all of them.

As I was taking my precious painting from my Grandpa and Grandma off the wall to take with me, it REALLY hit me that this was real. WE were evacuating our home. I couldn't believe how quickly the fire had already spread and how quickly it was heading right towards us. We received phone calls from my family assuring us that they were waiting for us at Shawn's and ready to help. It calmed my nerves so much just to have that reassurance.

We finally felt like we had everything packed. I noticed that our air conditioner was running full force on both levels which was weird because I didn't think it was too warm outside. I went through the house for one last look to make sure we had everything, turned lights off, etc. and loaded the kids in the car. Before we left, I went outside to take a final look at the fire and see where it was. The smoke smell was horrible. It looked like it was snowing because of all of the ash and soot falling from the sky. I also realized why our air conditioner was going on...we could actually feel the heat from the fire at our house because it was so close. At this point I heard a sound that I will forever remember. Amidst all the noise of fire trucks, wind, sirens, etc. I heard the gut wrenching sound of a house coming down. It was one of the worst sounds I have ever heard. We could actually see the home burning less than half a mile south of our home. It brought me to tears to know that someone was losing their home and that many more would lose their homes as well. I felt a sense of calm that our home would be okay. I noticed that there had been a big shift in the wind, which was to our advantage, because instead of the fire coming directly north towards out home, it had shifted more northeast.

This is what it looked like from our yard as we pulled out.

This is what it looked like on our street - a snowstorm. But it wasn't snow falling from the sky, it was ash and soot and debris.

We had to leave out the "back way" to avoid the traffic. Rob and the kids pulled the trailer and I drove Rob's car. I cannot express how grateful I was at that point as we drove out of our neighborhood, that we had our new trailer. What a blessing that proved to be during this time.

As we drove out of Herriman, it was unbelievable to see the whole mountain on fire. I cried as we left as I said to myself, "There is no way any of those homes are going to make it. They are all going to be gone."

Downtown Herriman was a circus with roadblocks, frantic people, lots of horse trailers, and more emergency vehicles and workers than I could count. As we drove away from our home, we received many phone calls from concerned family and friends. We truly felt the love and prayers from everyone near and far.

As we pulled up to Shawn and Heather's home, we were immediately met by my loving family. They were all there waiting for us, anxious to help, concerned about our well being. I felt like I had held it together pretty well up until this point. But as I got out of my car, I was met with the warm embraces of my amazing parents and a long, much needed hug from my big brother, Jay. It was like a floodgate was opened and I just lost it. I felt every possible emotion - fear, concern, sadness, uncertainty, love, and a huge sense of relief. We were safe. My little family was out of harm's way. We were with loved ones. My children were immediately taken care of by loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Diapers were changed, pajamas were put on, makeshift beds were made. Our most precious belongings that we had taken with us were carefully and lovingly carried in by my brothers and nephews. Our home away from home was quickly set up by Rob with help from my dad and brothers. It was a team effort to get our family set up for the night. At some point, I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so Heather quickly warmed a plate for me. We watched the local news channels and internet like hawks. Listening to every word, hanging on every bit of new information.

(LOVE this picture of my sweet and very handsome nephew, Jordan with my two babies. He has a special way with kids that I love. The both snuggled up with him on the couch.)

After a long night, we got beds made up and put 5 very tired and smoky children to bed. Their exhausted daddy soon followed. But I couldn't sleep. My back was killing me from lugging boxes, etc. and my nerves were a mess. So I took a quick trip to Walmart at 2:30 to get a fan, some food, etc. I stared in complete shock as I stood in the Walmart parking lot with a perfect view of the whole mountainside, now on fire. I still couldn't believe this was happening. It was like something out of a movie.

I finally got to sleep and slept for a few hours before the sound of helicopters going overhead and sirens woke us up. I was incredibly anxious for any information I could get. Jay was right there to help with the kids so Rob and I could try to return to our home. We weren't even sure if we could get in. We had to go through numerous road blocks and even though our house was right on the "line", the police officers allowed us to go in just to open windows and assess our home.
We were grateful that our home was safe. It smelled awful inside. But it was still standing and as we looked out our backyard, we witnessed a miracle. Home after home was untouched. All in all, there were only 3 homes destroyed in the fire. It was unbelievable to see the fire lines that had gone right up to homes, but the homes were kept safe. Sadly, we also saw the 2 homes near our home that weren't so lucky. It was so sad to see nothing standing but the chimneys. These people had lost everything. It was a bittersweet morning.

After a while, Rob went to work and I took the kids to school. We wanted some sense of normalcy for them. Plus we wanted to get them out of the smoke zone. That evening, for Family Night, we had an impromptu BBQ that Jay and Heather put together. Again, my family was there to take care of us. We packed up our smoky trailer and everyone followed us home to help us unpack and get settled.
Our new "home" for a few days.
This is what the inside of our trailer looked like.

It was really interesting to see what the kids packed when I told them to pack a bag of their important things.
Sadie, our little shoe queen, found her preschool backpack and filled it with EVERY shoe she owned. We didn't realize this until we started unpacking the trailer and found it. She is the little princess.
Our kids thought it was great! Getting to go "camping" at their cousins' house?
Couldn't get any better than that!
Our littlest evacuee
Jay and Jaxson
Such strange boys!

LOVE my big brothers who were there every moment to help us.
Along with Shawn's family and my parents.
The days following the fire were filled with a mix of emotions. It took quite a few days before the fire was considered 100% contained. We held our breath the next day after we came home as the news reported "unfavorable fire conditions" once again. We hoped and prayed that the winds wouldn't kick up the "hot spots" and start another fire. We got used to the sound of helicopters and airplanes going overhead and fire trucks going up and down the canyon. There was an eerie calm for the first few days as not everyone had been allowed back into their homes. The road behind us was almost empty for days with the exception of rescue vehicles.

In the weeks that have followed, we have begun the arduous task of getting our home back in order. We have damage to our carpets and walls. We have soot and ash throughout our home which has caused a lot of problems for us with allergies, nose bleeds, headaches, etc. I have lost my voice and upon going to the doctor today have learned that I have smoke damage and major irritation to my throat and sinuses which is causing my headaches. We are hoping it won't make its way to my lungs. The National Guard has taken full responsibility. They were unaware of the unfavorable weather conditions on that day due to a lack of communication and "fired in the face of a red flag weather warning" which is not something that they are supposed to do. We have spent the last 2 weeks working with disaster cleaning companies, carpet cleaners, etc. and have spent hours on the phone and Internet getting bids. We spent hours at the makeshift claims office at City Hall to file our claims. And now we begin getting everything done which has to be done quickly to avoid further health issues with our family.

This is definitely an experience that we will never forget. We all learned so much from this. First, I realized that when it really matters, things are just that...things. When we were evacuating and I had to pick what things to take, it never crossed my mind to take the big screen TV or the speakers or my nice China. The things I took were all things that contained priceless memories of our family. And of course, the safety and well being of our family was absolutely the first concern.

The other thing that I learned was how strong my children are. It was difficult for me, as a mother, to not be able to help my little ones through their fears the night of the fire. I desperately wanted to scoop them up in my arms and comfort them and assure them that it would all be okay. But I didn't have the time to do that. So instead, they had to turn to their Heavenly Father and rely on His help. It was life changing for me to see each of these strong children of mine kneeling in faith and pouring out their hearts to their Heavenly Father. Each had their own needs and fears, and each asked for their own specific things. But what struck me is that this was the first time that THEY had to rely on HIM all on their own. I know that was a life changing experience for them and that it gave them the confidence going forward that in their own times of need, that they have a Heavenly Father there to take care of them, even when no one else can.

I also got a glimpse into the eternal realm of things on a very small degree. I cannot explain the feeling I had as we pulled up to my brother's home after our difficult "journey" and were met with loved ones with open arms and open hearts. The relief I felt when I saw them was like nothing I had ever felt before.

I also realized how grateful I am for modern day technology. Even though the Internet was often times slow because it was overloaded, we were able to get immediate information. Many of my friends and neighbors have made the comment that they got more information from Facebook than anything else. We were able to assure family and loved ones across the country and even the world that we were okay and keep them updated on our situation. We were able to find information quickly which helped us tremendously. It is something that we often times take for granted, but I have a whole new appreciation for it.

Mostly, I am grateful for my little family. We were very blessed that our home was spared and I know that. But what I realized is that even if we hadn't been so fortunate, we would be okay because we had each other. Our home without our family is just a building. Our toys and games without children to play with them are just useless possessions. Our TV without our family eating popcorn and having a movie party is just a piece of electronics. None of it matters without our family. My family is everything to me and I will forever be grateful for their safety and happiness.

The previous pictures are mostly ones that we took, but some are from neighbors and friends and other resources. The following are some pictures from the fire. Some of them are ones that we took and others are taken by friends or news channels.

This picture breaks my heart every time I see it.

The famous "Heaven and Hell" picture. Taken on the Camp Williams side of the mountain. This is the Mt Timpanogas Temple
The flames got to 30 and 40 feet high.
Can you imagine looking and seeing this headed towards your home?
An amazing view from a helicopter of the whole mountain. This is "our" mountain that we have looked out and seen from our kitchen for the past 5+ years of living here. The kids now call it the "black mountain". For days it was covered with smoking "hot spots" and when it finally rained, you could see steam coming off of the mountain because it was still so hot.
Every time it has rained since or the wind has blown, we get that smell blown right down to us.
Right above our home, to the south of us, lives a family who I have known since I was a little girl. They were in our ward growing up and currently work at the temple with my parents. When I saw the whole mountain engulfed in flames, I sadly told my parents, "There is no way that the Warr's home made it." I was just sick at the thought of their beautiful home being gone. But, as I said before, there were miracles too numerous to count and their home was spared. The picture below is a aerial view of their home. Notice the fire lines. This is how home after home looks.

More amazing photos of the miraculous fire lines and the homes that were spared. There were angels guarding those home that night. Some wore firefighter uniforms, some were neighbors who snuck back into the evacuation zone and helped out, and some were just angels.


Jen Peacock said...

Dave told me you posted about the fire. I got around to reading it today. I'm shocked there's no comments yet showing on my end! That was the most profound and memorable post I thought you'd ever written. I am so happy that you shared it with me. I love hearing the strength in our family of faith and strength through difficult situations. You have an amazing family that kicked right in to help, you are so blessed. We prayed for your guys for a like a week in our prayers that your house would be ok. The kids were shocked at the pictures. I'm so proud of your older kids for their choice to pray and exercise faith into real action to get through it and feel through it later! Thanks for describing exactly what happened that day, it was fascinating to read. Love you , jen

Kim said...

Marci, I'm just now reading this because I've been a huge slacker and haven't blogged for months. I had tears running down my face as I read about your experience. We were so concerned about everyone out there during the fire. It was so scary! I'm so glad that your home was spared, and that you were ok!