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West Coast Fires: What It's Like to Watch the Devastation From Afar

The fires on the West Coast have devastated the people, their homes, their towns, their very lives. My heart goes out to everyone on the West Coast, and I cry. I have several friends who live out there, and I worry about them and their safety. I wonder if they too will have to suddenly run for their lives because their own house is going up in flames. The anxiety and fear that must rest on them each night, making their sleep restless and uneasy, wondering if this would create yet another trauma in their lives.

It’s one thing to sell a house and move, with all those memories wrapped up in where you had lived for years. It’s another to have that ripped out from under you by flames coming like a thief in the night. But it’s worse than that, because it’s not only your house, but the entire community that is suddenly ripped apart and separated. Friends and neighbors scattered and lost, wondering if others are OK, ripping the collective heart and soul out of the community.

I’m in the Midwest, and very far away from it, but I cry. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t. Please know that all of you affected are in my thoughts and prayers.

This poem is my acknowledgement of what is happening on the West Coast, and the devastation it is causing. Please be safe, and take care of yourselves.

Fires Burning in Hell

The west coast is burning like the fires of Hell itself
There seems to be no end in sight
People are scared and running for their very lives
Oh, someone had a party in the desert
With fireworks – are you serious?
What did you expect would happen?
With the dry heat of summer, and the air so brittle
It just takes a spark to get these fires going
Hopping from one branch to another
As though they are sharing with each other
But what they’re sharing is a taste of death
From the depths of Hell

Another careless cigarette tossed out the window
Ignites tumbleweed along the side of the road
Or lightning strikes its electricity
And ignites another helpless tree
Life is being snuffed out by each ember
Not being stopped or put out, leaving ash in its wake
And the broken and blistered branches lay
Where once was a tall majestic elm or birch
For the birds to build their nest
The animals scurry about, confused by the flames
For now they have no place to live
Or call what used to be their home

Some cities are ghost towns because they are in danger
Of encroaching fires from nearby
And most people have been evacuated
Taking what they could easily grab on their way out the door
Those cherished pictures and memorabilia
And maybe some clothing to put on their backs
But also thinking that their own home just might be spared
And when they come back, that their home might still be there!
But the children will cry, and the parents will mourn
Because they will have to start again
To rebuild the home that they lost

The air is filled with smoke, lingering over the landscape
One must be wary when going outside
Gasping for breath just trying to take the garbage out
Wearing a mask to make the air almost breathable
And then running back inside to catch their breath
The skies are covered in this eerie yellow-orange glow
From the ash haze that fills the air
While other areas have the hot red-orange of active fires
As the fires continue to rage on
There seems to be no escape from these fierce fires

The firefighters are so weary, weary to their bones
They have fought these fires with a passion like no other
Putting their lives on the line to save people and animals
And their homes, their cities, and the countryside all around them
And when the day is done, it may feel like only a small step
In conquering those horrid fires
But they are so weary that they lie down on the cool pavement
In the shadow of their firetrucks
To get just a little shuteye before the battle starts again in the morning
The battle and the fires that rage on, day after day

As a drone flies over an Oregon neighborhood
One house after another is flattened to the ground
With only rubble and ash remaining – nothing recognizable endures
Home after home – gone, lost forever
One sees the ground covered in red
A substance that was supposed to slow the fire – but it didn’t
Each house was thoroughly eaten up by the fires
Yet every now and then there would be one building still standing
One home, or an apartment building, or another home
And a tree here and there – why were these spared destruction?
My stomach churns as I see these images

And people look in sorrow at what used to be their home
Burnt to the ground by these horrendous fires
Stones uncovered and bare, exposed and naked
What used to be cars are now stripped of their trimmings
In shambles, broken and littering the ground
Parks are now barren wastelands of naked earth
And no life is left inside its precious borders
Buildings are leveled to the ground
Their parking lots a graveyard of cars
And survivors are sitting there in shock
At what has happened to their beloved town

The smoke has polluted the air with clouds of dust
Murky as if from the gates of hell
It has worked its way across much of the country
Sparing no-one from its thick smog
Leaving so much in ruin behind
And I hear that these are the worst fires in 70 years!
What will happen next year, and the year after that?
And as they start to get control over the fires
It makes me wonder what will come next

Yet as the fires start to dispel
And blue skies slowly appear
People come out of their shelter
Glad to see the clear skies again
Some will be joyful their homes were spared destruction
Others will wonder how they will start again
And I’m sure there are those who just want to run away
Far from the dry stale air that remains
But many will be determined to preserve
Their faith and their community
Their commitment to make this their home forever

If you too are on a trauma healing journey, visit The Tie Dye poet’s website to see more of her work, and check out her book here.

Getty image via Kara Capaldo

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