On the day after we evacuated because of the Lava Mountain fire, I stopped at Town Hall to register to vote in Wyoming.
Why would I do that? Because like so many people, I want to stay here, whatever.
“Now you’ll never forget the day you registered to vote,” said the town clerk with a smile.
I had stood in the living room taking a long, possibly last, look at the magnificent view out the window. It’s funny what you grab at the last minute, when you thought you’d already moved everything to safety. (Don’t worry, Ted. I saw your wonderful painting of the black bear in the lupine, where I had hung it to be protected from the sunlight, and brought it out under my arm as I exited.)
I can save a small painting. But what would I do if our dream house turned to ashes?
“You’d rebuild,” said the town clerk. “That’s what people do here. They don’t go away. They rebuild.”
There’s a prominent example of this in the middle of town, where Jeff Sussman’s company is now starting to rebuild on the old Mercantile site that burned to the ground in a freak fire 18 months ago.
“Of course I will rebuild,” Jeff said at the time. “How could I not?”
And so they have broken ground. The plan is less elaborate than the original vision, because in the end the insurance didn’t buy as much building as the developers anticipated. But it still looks good.
Town looks like an armed camp these days, with two separate camps serving firefighters who keep arriving from places we’ve never heard of. It sounded like an episode of MASH around our house, as huge helicopters hovered to lift buckets of water from the river and then lumbered noisily away to dump them on the newest hot spots.
But it’s still Dubois. At one of the almost-nightly public meetings about the fire, a Red Cross official stood up and announced that a service center for evacuees had been set up at the old high school to provide beds and meals. She said that she had a list of local people who were willing to offer rooms or even whole cabins to evacuees.
Rumor has it that only one lonely person is actually staying at the rescue shelter in the old high school. I haven’t had time to check that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. As far as I know, people are either seeing to their own needs independently, or staying with friends.
People tried to organize collections for the firefighters, suggesting contributions of supplies like eyedrops, lip salve, and socks. I thought about combing through my drawers for all of those extra supplies I haven’t even bothered to remove. But a Forest Service official thanked the town at the meeting, adding that donations are unnecessary. All of the crew member’s needs are supplied at the incident base, he explained.
“How can we volunteer?” asked someone in the audience. The speaker referred the question to the Red Cross representative, but she had already left the meeting. I wonder whether the Red Cross actually needed the volunteers either.
Most people I know are already volunteering, by taking up the slack for people who have had to back out on their own routine volunteer efforts because they’re too busy evacuating.
I reported to the church that I might not be able to turn up to help feed the bicycle trekkers who would be staying at the church yesterday, because we were still clearing out around the house. “Don’t worry about it,” said the minister. “We’re expecting this. We have backups.”
I couldn’t resist taaking a moment to grab a few images of this smoke cloud when I saw it from our side porch at sunset, several days before we evacuated.
The fire is a fearsome experience for all involved, but there is some beauty in it nonetheless.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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