Brooke, a high school student in the Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, witnessed the sudden and unexpected destruction of the 2007 wildfires firsthand. Here she shares what it was like to live through the expereince.
You can also read diary entries about the fires from Brooke's teacher Linda Foote .
Wednesday November 7, 2007
To understand this next story, you need to hear a story from when I was little. My family owns a cabin in Big Bear and sometimes we will go up there for a weekend. One time, when I was little, my family and I went up there and we brought my cat with us. On one of the nights, I was sleeping all alone on the downstairs sofa and I got really scared. Big Bear is a lot darker than the city of San Diego, and at night it is silent outside so you can hear every tiny noise the house makes. I decided to pray. I asked God to send me some sign that I was safe and immediately after praying I heard the tinkling of the metal parts of my cat’s collar. This put me at ease. I believed it was an answer to my prayer and I was able to fall asleep soon afterwards. The ironic part to the story is my cats name…Angel.
I love Angel and she is a major comfort to me. She has shared all my sad experiences including times when I got angry with my parents and when one of my friends died. And now she is as comforting as ever. Last night I was scared before going to bed again. I prayed and told God how scared I was, and as I was praying, Angel jumped on my bed. Although I didn’t feel better right away like when I was little, she did help me. I was also reminded that I am being looked after by God and a guardian Angel.
Monday November 5, 2007
Last night as I tried to fall asleep I got really scared again. I felt so foolish but I couldn’t help it. My room was so dark and unfamiliar! I hid my head under my covers, and silently cried. Finally, after being terrified for over half an hour and not getting any closer to falling asleep, I decided to try listening to my iPod. It helped me relax and forget about the boogey-man in the closet. One song surprised me by fitting my feelings exactly. It was so perfect that it made me cry all over again! The song is called “Stand in the Rain” by Superchick. The first verse made me catch my breath, it went:
She never slows down,
She doesn't know why but
she knows that when
She's all alone it feels
Like it's all coming down.
She won't turn around,
The shadows are long
And she fears if she cries
That first tear
The tears will not stop
Listening to this song last night made me realize that there are many people in this world who are experiencing the exact same feelings as I am. In fact, about one hundred teens in my school also had houses burn down, and they are in the exact same situation as I am. This song also reminded me that God is watching out for me. I had my iPod set to shuffle and every song that came up last night seemed to have a special message in it for me. I don’t think this was a coincidence.
Sunday November 4, 2007
My Grandma and Grandpa came tonight! They are staying with us for a week so they can help us out with all the millions of things we need to do. I think they will also help make the house feel homey so hopefully I won’t be as scared. My Grandma and Grandpa are awesome. They are not like the grandparents who visit only once a year and that’s still too often. I love my grandparents. My grandma gives good advice and my grandpa is always happy.
Friday November 2, 2007
This morning I had the biggest scare! My bathroom has two light switches. One turns on a bright yellow tinted light and the other turns on a white light that flickers a couple times before completely turning on. It was dark this morning and I reached for a switch without thinking which one I was pushing. Well, I pushed the flickering light switch and the white light flickered just long enough to see a shape sitting on my counter! For a split second I thought there was a boy sitting on my bathroom counter with his legs dangling over the edge… then I realized it was only a beach towel. It gave me such a scare that I almost started crying. For some reason I am a lot more jumpy and much more easily scared.
The beach towel that was on my counter is not actually mine. It is my friend’s towel who is letting me borrow it because we don’t have any towels! I swim almost every night, and I have to have a towel or else I will freeze, so my friend lent me his. I don’t know when I am going to be able to give it back because it is not beach season right now and no one is selling beach towels!
A half an hour later, after the beach towel scare, my mom came up to my room and freaked me out a little bit. She said that she was wondering where my cat, Angel, was because she kept hearing this sound like something was locked up and trying to get out. Of course, me and my imagination start having crazy ideas. For example, I now know as a fact that there is a ghost of a person trapped in my house somewhere because of that sound. Also, on Halloween night I thought I heard my step dad come home because I heard his voice, but when I went around the corner to say hi there was no one in the house. This must mean that our house is haunted! Creepy, huh?
It doesn’t help that every picture frame is new to me so as I walk around the house I jump every time I catch something new out of the corner of my eye. And now, as I am writing this, I am creeping myself out so I think I am going to stop. Hopefully I can become accustomed to this new house soon.
Thursday November 1, 2007
There is so much we have to do and it feels like I have absolutely no time to do any of it. I got home from school today and I had no idea what to do because there were so many things I needed to do. My mom wisely told me to, “Do whatever you feel like doing right now. There is no way you are going to get everything done. Just try to not feel overwhelmed.”
She had decided the best thing for her to do was write thank you cards to all the people who have helped us. Just from the last couple of weeks she had a pretty long list of friends to thank. I decided to try to do some math homework, which turned out to be a mistake. We were working on a hard chapter, and I was too distracted to be able to concentrate. The last few days I have been very jumpy. I think the new house scares me little mostly because it is just very different and not my own.
Wednesday October 31, 2007
Today is Halloween but I am not feeling very festive. I went to a youth group Halloween party dressed up as a Dentist which was an easy costume considering my step dad is an Orthodontist. I was amazed today at the show of generosity from my friends. My youth group leader, Brendon, and his wife gave me 100 dollars to help me out because of the fire. I thanked them profusely and tried to decline the gift and told him that I really didn’t need the money. He then replied to his wife, “We really don’t care what you say, right Shanna?” At which she replied “Right!”
Another of my friends, Aneri, gave me a Macy’s gift card and told me, “I have no idea how much money is on here, it might only be a couple dollars, but I want you to have it.” I thanked her as well and decided I would try to go shopping this Saturday so I can try to replenish my wardrobe.
Tuesday October 30, 2007
The last few days we have been living in Carlsbad in a hotel and commuting to Rancho Bernardo which is about a half hour drive. It has been hard because we have two dogs, a cat, my mom, step dad, and me all in one apartment room! But all of that ends today, because we just moved into a house we will be renting for a year until the house is rebuilt. I am not quite comfortable in the house yet because it feels very different. It is not very homey. We are renting it furnished but we only have one bed! Friends of ours helped out again. Our pastor, Evan Foote, and his wife Linda as well as their son and daughter-in-law came by and gave us a blow up bed and some bedding. I was glad we didn’t have to sleep on the floor.
Monday October 29, 2007
Today was the first day of school since the fire and the day was pretty crazy. I shared my story about a hundred times, and it was really weird how many people I know who had lost their houses. Out of about 3,000 students at my high school, 100 of them lost their houses, and out of my school district, about 300 students and 20 teachers lost their houses. In some of my classes I am the only one who lost my house, but in my Spanish class I am one of five!
All of my teachers have been amazing! My AP European Civilization teacher, Mr. Lutgen, gave me a copy of all of the notes from the whole year and my Humanities teacher, Mrs. Kravchak, asked me if there was anything I needed and took a small list of things I still didn’t have including: SunSilk hair cream, a makeup case, and an alarm clock!
Throughout the day I learned that four of my good friends had lost their houses. Most of them lived in Westwood. Most of the day in each class was spent talking about each person’s experience and how we were going to continue with the rest of the year.
Sunday October 28, 2007
Today we went to church and it was really weird. Somehow everybody knew our house had burned down. Even people I didn’t even know came up to me to offer their condolences. It turned out that we were the only ones in our small church to lose our house. Half-way through the church service my mom asked me to make a list of all the things I needed for school the next day. Through all the excitement of the last week I had completely forgotten about school supplies. My mom then asked a friend of ours from the church if she and her family could get a few things from the list because we had absolutely no time to go shopping. She got everything that was on the list and more! I was so amazed. She even picked out two backpacks because she wasn’t sure which one I would like better.
Friday October 26, 2007
My life has completely changed. I have done a 180 in the course of a week. I no longer have a home. There are so many things I have to do but I don’t know what they are. I only know my life is about to become crazier than it ever was before. Life was blissfully simple before and now I don’t even know what to do.
Today we saw our house for the first time since the fire. It was completely gone, so much so that it was hard to locate my room. Seeing the house was not as emotional as I thought it would be. I went through my room a little but there was really nothing to find. Amazingly we found a ceramic sculpture still intact. In fact, most of our ceramics did not burn in the fire although they did get shattered. I decided not to sift through the contents of my room because there really was not much to find, and it was depressing seeing everything destroyed. My parents shared the same thinking.
After looking around for about half an hour, I decided to leave to go to my friend’s house. She had decided to have a movie party to help people forget about the fires. We had a lot of fun and they helped me relax and forget about my house for a little while.
Thursday October 25, 2007
Yesterday we learned that our house was burned down. It was listed as one of the houses that were completely destroyed. Thankfully, immediately after I found out about the house I went to visit my friend who was also evacuated to Carlsbad. She cheered me up and helped me forget about the fires for a few hours. We watched TV, took funny pictures, talked, and did everything else crazy teenage girls do together. Whenever someone called my cell phone to tell me how sorry they were about the house I ignored the phone call. I just was not ready to talk to people about my house yet. Finally after spending the night with my friend, I was ready to call the people whose calls I had ignored the day before. I couldn’t have done it without my friend or my parents. When my parents found out about the house, after making sure that it was indeed gone, they started cracking jokes about it! I could not believe it. I couldn’t understand how they could be so happy about our house being gone. I am thankful for their lightheartedness. It has brought me through this trying time. They see our house burning down as a blessing and as a way to start over. They can now change all the things about the house that really bugged them. If they were unhappy about our circumstances I wouldn’t be able to cope as well as I am.
Even with the help of my family I am still a little sad. Not only did I lose my house, but I feel like I won’t have a home again. We will rebuild the house but that will take at least two years, in which time I will be finishing up my senior year of high school and going away to college. It will never truly be my home again. Instead during the next two years I will be living in someone else’s house that we are only renting and it will never feel like my own.
Tuesday October 23, 2007
I am getting stir crazy and it has only been one day! As far as I know all of my friends are ok but it seems like everyone I know has been evacuated. I am scared for one of my friends because she lives in Westwood, which I know was badly hit by the fires. The last I heard, her family was not planning on evacuating. I have been trying to call her but she has not answered. There is nothing my family and I can do but sit and wait for news about our house. I hope it did not burn down.
6:00 am Monday October 22, 2007
Do you believe in karma? I don’t, but I do believe my situation contains a certain irony. This morning, around 4:30 am, I was sleeping soundly when all of a sudden I woke up to the ringing of my cell phone. I squinted at a text message from my dad that read:
Is the fire by you guys? Check tv.
After reading the message again to make sure I understood correctly, I ran and knocked on my mom and step-dad’s bedroom door and told them to check the TV. Then I ran to the backyard to see if I could see a fire. The smoke was so thick that it looked like a dense fog making spirals outside the window in the swirling winds. I thought I saw an orange glow near our house and that was when I started to panic. I ran back to my parents’ bedroom and rapped on their door again, while yelling that I saw fire outside. My mom groggily got up and slowly walked to the backyard to see for herself while my step-dad watched the news in bed and waited for my mom to come back.
I then ran into my room and started cramming pictures and other irreplaceable things into my backpack. This is where I blame those stupid games that go, “If you could only take three things from your room, what would you take?” For whatever reason, maybe I was still sleepy or just too panicked to think straight, this became my new modus operandi. Instead of grabbing everything I owned and throwing it into the car, I was particular about what I took. Instead of stuffing all my jewelry into my bag, I slowly picked out the jewelry that was most important to me. It would have taken less then a minute to grab the clothes from my drawers and run them out to the car but I left all my clothes, except of course my favorite jeans. :-)
During all my packing I was crying and yelling hysterically that we had to leave the house NOW, and I could not understand why my parents were taking so long to get ready and go. When I thought I had gotten all that was important to me I sat in the car, cried, and waited for my parents to come so we could leave. If I had not been panicking, I would have kept going to my room and cramming as much of my stuff into the car as possible. Some of the things I left, that now I wish I had taken included my laptop, my school notes, and my clothes.
However, one of the reasons I did not do that was because I was sure that there was a wall of fire surrounding my neighborhood and I was going to be trapped inside. My parents however held different views. At first, my step-dad thought the fire was far away and I was panicking for no reason. He did not realize how close the fire was until he saw the house next to ours on fire. Needless to say, he started to hurry after seeing the actual fire.
When we finally left the house it was such a relief! As we drove away, I saw a hill with fire slowing moving across it. One thing I found interesting was that the entire mountain was not ablaze, covered with fire. Rather, the fire made its way across the brush, extinguishing itself where it had already burned.
Sunday October 21, 2007
Guess what! I don’t have school tomorrow because of the fires in Ramona. True, the fire must be horrible for the people living in Ramona, having to evacuate and being scared that their home is going to burn down. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose my home. My mom was laughing at me because I was skipping around the house singing “I don’t have school tomorrow, I don’t have school tomorrow…” and who knows, maybe we can even get a week off like we did four years ago! I doubt that will be the case though because this fire seems like it’s much farther away. I decided to have a movie day with a couple of my friends tomorrow because the smoke will be too thick to do anything outside. Sarah, one of my friends, said that we are going to have to watch the fire to make sure it doesn’t come near us, but I am sure we will be fine. I can’t wait; this is going to be so much fun!