Now that the helicopters have pretty much left the premises, and the smell of smoke has drifted further a field, I have decided it is acceptable to write about the time the hills caught on fire and we had to abandon our cat.
If you live in Christchurch, Canterbury you will know there was a rather devastating fire in our Port hills. The area where we live is up in the hills and has valleys either side of it. A couple (few?) weeks ago a fire that started miles away from us became supercharged with the wind, and began to lick at the shoulders of where we live.
The day we were evacuated, I had been having tea with my mother in her garden. (Literally in her garden – I couldn’t find her when I arrived so I followed the signs: book…coffee cup…portable radio…mum) I found her asleep under some flowers in a lawn chair.
God bless her.
We sat and chatted and drank tea, while the smoke got thicker above us. I think at one point I offhandedly remarked that it was bad, but there was no way it was headed in our direction….
I’m going to fast forward because I could spend hours talking about the drive home and the sudden realisation that what had been largely a rubbernecker’s wet dream had become a very serious situation.
Through phone calls and impending anxiety I drove down the road to where my 14 year old was waiting for me, and up to our subdivision. Everything was blocked off. There were Police cars and tape, and smoke was billowing around the top of our hill.
I’m just going to stop you here.
As you can imagine, I was freaking out about multiple things at once, house, cat, husband, kids, step kids, my vape charger…
But I don’t want to write about it in too much detail; sometimes amusing things happen when ‘natural’ disasters hit (burn, flood, shake), and I believe that humour helps us keep going. Just ask any Cantabrian. We know. We’ve seen some shit.
So, I’m standing there, waiting for J to get home. My 14 year old has run off to find his step brothers as the bus couldn’t make it down the road. I’m staring up at the hill desperately wanting to take photos, but deeply not wanting for people to think I am a ‘general admission spectator’. And it’s confusing. I have the right to take mother f*cking photos. I am angry I am not allowed home to rescue my cat (Yes. Cat.) The Police man with a soul patch that just won’t quit said I can’t go up. The army boys are literally 12. I burst into tears on the side of the road, which has the added bonus of identifying that I am probably not a rubbernecker.
I have the sudden urge to text my cat.
I realise that’s not a thing yet.
My phone rings, it’s J.
J: “Babe, I got the cat out.”
Me: “Dude, where even are you?!”
J:” I’m up at the house!”
Me: “Wait, what? How’d you manage that?”
J: “I told the Police I had to check to see if the kids were still up there”
Me: “The kids are here”
J: “I lied a little bit.”
J: “Also, I have moved the minis down the hill just in case”
Me: “They have no engines in them”
J:”I pushed them. Actually I’m pretty tired”
J: “Also, I have a van… what should I fill it up with?”
Me: “Don’t you think they will notice that you arrived with an empty van and no kids, and left with a van full of furniture and no kids?!”
J: “….I’ll walk down aye?”
I never said any of it makes sense. It is just a big blur of thinking in the spur of the moment.
There is a park at the bottom of the hill with a walkway that backs onto our subdivision. The Police hadn’t quite figured that out, so a few residents were using it to loophole themselves up the hill and grab what they could. Once the kids were back at the car safely, and with all their devices in tow, J and I decided to use the park to go back up to the house.
Before you judge me, I had thought of some things I needed, like medication and beer.
Also I really really needed to go to the loo. A lot.
Once we were in, we found other residents who were at a loss about what to do.
I haven’t made a habit of befriending everyone in Westmorland yet, but when a kind older lady asked if we needed anything I felt we were close enough to tell her in a fairly desperate tone that I needed to change my tampon.
We paused and looked at each other for a moment; me trying to decide in a microsecond if it was too soon in our relationship to be sharing, and her with a look that confirmed it indeed was. But she still offered us her car. It’s stuff like this that makes the natural disasters bearable.
Filled with adrenaline, partly due to what I felt was ‘breaking and entering’ and partly because, well, giant fire, I declined the car, said a big thank you and proceeded to power walk up the hill with J at my heels.
We got inside and I grabbed a back pack.
It’s weird, but in that moment faced with the prospect of losing everything (or so we thought by the freaked out looks on the cordon enforcers down the bottom of the hill), and knowing you have a very small window of opportunity you realise how nothing you own holds much importance compared to your people. And they were fine, if not a little perturbed.
All I grabbed were a few photos of mum and dad, and some phone chargers.
I discovered I had run out of tampons.
At one point J came out with a couple of beers. I figured seeing as we had already trespassed into our own home, we may as well have a drink.
So we sat, in our house, quiet, save for sirens and helicopters, and had a beer.
After organising a place to stay and thanking the many many people who offered, we finally drove off to our friends who handed us wine and turned on the news.
J and his mate found a bloke with a car transporter trailer and while the Police were away from the cordon, managed to rescue the important things – the minis. So he could sleep that night.
We stayed away for a couple of days, and with me being so sick of not getting any reliable updates I eventually just parked myself at the foot of the hill and became best friends with Officer Soul Patch. I feel like our relationship was a little one sided.
Eventually News cameras showed up realising there might be a story in the disgruntled mood of residents who were not allowed back home. As if by magic J arrived home from work and parked his car right behind the women presenting the live News. I walked right through the shot to hug him.
All I had on were my evacuation emergency clothes from the Warehouse. And they got on the national news.
As did his car, and us hugging. We got quite a few texts that night.
A few days after we arrived back home my daughter and I went for a walk up our hill. I got into a conversation with a Police women who was patrolling the area. I think she felt bad for us so she offered to give my daughter and I a (very unauthorised) ride in the back of a patrol car to see the damage.
Ignoring the gouges in the doors and the slightly odd odor, we climbed in and tried to act ‘not arrested’. We drove up the valley and realised pretty quickly that it was worse than it looked on the news. I managed not to cry, which was good as I think we would have definitely appeared guilty then. When we got back she had to wind down the windows so we could let ourselves out of the car by leaning out the windows to unlock the doors. I would have paid good money to have had that captured on camera.
I know there isn’t much humour to be found in this whole ordeal, especially for the families that weren’t so lucky. And it was scary, especially when you are a control freak with no information.
But it’s always helpful to find humour wherever you can, I think.
And I have learned valuable lessons..
One of which includes, that I should always carry tampons.