Up until last December, as a wife of a fire fighter, fire events were tragedies that happened somewhere else. They were disasters that called my husband away for days or weeks, leaving me to juggle schedules, rearrange plans, and ease the sadness of little boys who missed their dad. During these times, I felt fortunate to have the companionship and day-to-day support of my circle of friends. I would watch the news coverage with a heavy heart for a community miles away, but back at home it was life as usual. Safe. Normal. Calm.
That sense of comfort forever shifted December 4th, 2017. I remember my husband told me in a panicked tone that a large and very aggressive fire was racing towards our town and for the first time, a fire catastrophe was not happening somewhere else, but here in my community. It was as if my two worlds were colliding.
Calls for assistance were no longer something I watched on the nightly news, but were sent in text messages from friends, moms in my MOPs group, and fellow fire wives. I became both a giver and recipient of care. My family sought refuge with friends while we were evacuated from our home for two days. Then after the evacuation order was lifted and we returned home, we housed a family who was still displaced. A circle of support formed, a community pouring their love out to one another, desperate to help in any tangible way. We dropped off toys for a child whose Christmas presents were gone before attending a dinner hosted for first responder families. The outpouring of care in our community mobilized us to serve, but also allowed us to be cared for in our experience of collective loss.
It was one of the heaviest months that most of us have ever experienced. The anxiety, uncertainty, and the heartbreak of seeing our friends and neighbors dealing with unfathomable loss. The shock of seeing a beloved town landmark gone or charred. But even as that weight pressed on our shoulders and our souls, we also saw the beautiful goodness of God, as people checked in on one another, made sacrifices to serve and provide, and held each other up through prayers and words of strength. And now that a year has passed, I continue to stand in amazement at how God is using the ashes from the Thomas Fire as fertilizer to grow our community, a place where my family’s roots now grow deep and strong, and to fortify it in resilience and love.
written by Kelly Hanighen-Lynch
photo credit by Jeanne Hughes