Evacuees are excitedly talking about returning to their homes, now that the latest reports say the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona is 45 percent contained. But as the likelihood of being allowed back onto their property increases, not all survivors are wondering what they will find.
“We climbed up on the roof and it looked like it was a day or two away,” said Karen Patterson, sitting next to her husband, James Bonde, where they had just attended a meeting in the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter shelter at Wickenburg High School.
“First it was black smoke, and then a black, red glow. I was being the optimist, that it wasn’t going to come,” Bonde added.
Patterson even had time to pull brush away from their home, as they watched the fire about two miles west of them.
But the fire changed direction.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” Patterson said, recounting how it seemed like a fireball tornado literally chased them down the mountain. “It was terrifying.”
With their three children, Ethan, 11, Alison, 6 and Ayla, 3, they fled with ash so thick and the heat so intense that they weren’t sure they’d make it.
“I closed my eyes and prayed,” Patterson said. “I prayed and prayed and prayed.”
“We knew our house was already gone,” Bonde said.
But they did make it to safety and Bonde was wrong about their house. It turns out, they explained, that their house wasn’t touched by the fire at all.
“So we’re alive, and regardless of the home being there or not, if I can help anybody out in any way, that’s my main goal now,” Patterson said of her new life’s mission in grateful recognition of their good fortune.
But Ethan, their oldest child, may have beaten her to it.
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times published a story about the fire. Mentioned in the story is a drawing Ethan made at the shelter with encouragement from Red Cross disaster mental health workers, which Patterson proudly displays on her cell phone. It is of the mountain their home sits on. Their mountain, with the artistic license of a human-like face, has tears falling from its eyes.
Calling the drawing, “Everything Happens for a Reason,” Ethan has announced that he plans on being a firefighter when he grows up.
He is America’s future – born from the ashes of a devastating fire that took the lives of 19 firefighters on Sunday.