“Fire and Fear,” Aug. 25, 2020

It seemed like a typical family gathering with the usual chatter and teasing and laughter. My daughter, her husband and their 8-year-old, Henry, were joining my husband and me for dinner.

Lucky for everyone, Nan did all the cooking, serving up her famous chicken enchiladas, a salad and, oh my, a berry pie. My job was to toss the salad. I gave it my best.

Meanwhile, the menfolk sat on the deck solving the problems of the world. And Henry (after his mom said, “That’s enough, Hen, turn it off!”) quit his video game and began quizzing me with jokes.

“So, Nana,” he said, “what do you call a cargo ship that’s loaded with snails?”

I pretended to be clueless. I’m good at it. “I give up,” I said.

“Escargot!” he shouted. And we rolled our eyes and laughed.

We were trying, all of us, to make the best of it, to just enjoy our time together. And we were doing a pretty good job.

I wish you could’ve seen us.

But you might’ve been surprised by the elephant in the room—the fact that we were all wondering if our homes would still be standing tomorrow.

All around us, California was in flames with more than 600 wildfires, most caused by dry lightning strikes. Two were burning on either side of Carmel Valley, where my husband and I have lived for the past year.

Our neighborhood was evacuated a few days ago after one of the fires grew to within a mile of our house. Our daughter and her family, who live only minutes from us, were evacuated two days later.

Fortunately, my husband’s sister and her husband offered to let us all stay at a place they own nearby. It’s been in the family for years. In fact, it’s the house where my husband lived in 1987, when he and his family were evacuated from the Pebble Beach Fire that burned every house on the block, except for the one now sheltering us.

The mood grew quieter as we sat down to dinner and joined hands to take turns saying grace. I thanked God that all our family was safe. My daughter asked that our homes would be spared. My son-in-law gave thanks for the house where we were staying and for the family that provided it. Henry, bless him, prayed for “everyone less fortunate.” And my husband said thanks for the firefighters.

That basically seemed to sum up most of what we were feeling, both then and in the days since. We’ve spent a lot of time talking and messaging with family and friends who want to be sure we’re OK. We check constantly for updates on the fires, the latest evacuations and the weather that’s forecast to bring more dry lightning, along with the threat of more fires. The air has been too smoky to spend much time outdoors, but when it clears a bit, Henry’s mom takes him to the beach.

All things considered, we feel truly blessed to be doing so well.

My husband recalls how it felt long ago to leave his home, not knowing if it would be there when he came back. But for the rest of us, and many others, it’s a new and terrifying experience.

So we try to make the best of it. We keep close to those we love and try to remember to give thanks for our blessings, rather than give in to our fears. But we can’t seem to stop checking for any breaking news.

There are times in life when we close our eyes and see only the sorrow and emptiness of some unspeakable loss. I’ve done that. So have you. But for me, it’s always been for the loss of someone I loved.

Tomorrow, I could lose my home and all it holds. If my loved ones are safe, I hope I’ll remember that things are only things; life is all that matters.

I’ll pray for the strength and courage and grace I’ve seen in others and even in myself when I’ve faced loss by letting go, giving thanks and moving on.

But today?

There’s smoke in the air and ashes in my heart. And I just want to go home.


  1. Sharon,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write all these special columns. These past few ones have been especially meaningful as we’ve also been packing bags in case of evacuation. We’ve prepared for evacuation in the past, but we’ve never had to do it. So glad your home is safe and you can go back and enjoy all those family treasures and your family!

  2. Kathy Armstrong says

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the area of the wildfires in California. My heart and prayers go out to all of you during this time. May God be with you and keep you all safe.

  3. Carolyn Merriman says

    So sorry to hear about you & your family having to evacuate. Hopefully you are back home now or soon will be. Praying for everyone to stay safe & well.

  4. Sheila Thompson says

    Oh Sharon, I am so very sorry! 😥. We will be praying for all of you. For your safety, for the firefighters, and for the hope that somehow your homes will be spared. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

  5. Sorry that you and so many others in California are going through this. Prayers for the firefighters and all those involved in controlling this. Be safe.

  6. Sharon Balint says

    You were one of the first I asked George about if he’d heard how you were when the fires first broke out in CV. I’m very glad to hear you are with Joanna and her family too, all safe in PB. I’m praying you all return home very soon, all homes intact. Our daughter Jenn and her family were evacuated from their home in Santa Cruz, safe with our son and family about 15 minutes from us. Hang in there dear friend and know you are loved, lots!

  7. Kate Sciacca says

    What a week it has been. Our kids in Fairfield and Vacaville are back home now… the Vacaville gang had the police banging on the door at 3am Wednesday morning… couldn’t take anything but the kids and the dog. Seeing the flames and feeling the heat as they drove down the road they were certain the house would be gone by morning. Praise God, those firefighters did an amazing job protecting the entire neighborhood.
    I thought of you all and wondered what the situation was in Carmel Valley and surrounding areas—-extra prayers for all of you tonight. God’s Peace and protection be with you and yours.

  8. So sorry to hear about you and Joanna! I hope you were able to move back today as the evacuation was lifted for so many. Yes, giving thanks for our families and friends and for this beautiful place we live in. At least we can drive by the beaches and breath the ocean air!

  9. Kim Thirkell says

    Prayers and love coming from the middle of Kansas!

  10. Peggy Paulin says

    I pray every night for the end of the fires in CA, and for everyone there. I have family there and I pray they stay safe. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  11. Prayers for all of those of you who are facing such a fiery enemy. Hopefully everyone’s home and their families are safe. God be with you all.

  12. Pam Dozier says

    We came home today. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than our lives and those if our loved ones and friends. Yet, I’m so happy the family albums are safe in the trunk of my car. May you guys come home tomorrow. Please. Xoxoxo

  13. Katie Musgrave says

    Praying for California. God have mercy on all the people, animals, and property there. Yes, keep the faith, but be vigilant. Katie Musgrave

  14. Peter and Connie Rankin says

    Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family at this trying time. May you all be safe and sound. Peter and Connie Rankin Braeshore Nova Scotia Canada

  15. James W Peterson says

    I will keep you all in my thoughts and will send a digital safety net to throw over Monterey and Santa Cruz.

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