Emma Finch | Reflections on the North Fire

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Ash sticking to the roof of my mouth. Black leaves running through the air. The smell of burning earth and smoke. The air pulsates with heat, embers and fear. As families all along Via Patina rush to evacuate, I stand staring at the fiery inferno rushing toward us. A red mass, looking like lava, pools on the hills surrounding my home. Our home is not surrounded by residential streets. We live in the hills, where fires are usual. But they never come this close. 

The street looks like a war scene. There are firefighters, some standing on cars, some trying valiantly to slow down the fire, and some with loudspeakers, telling us to leave. Our cars are packed. My dog and grandmother are waiting in my dad’s silver Honda, the sound of diligent chanting coming from the open window. My mom’s Alfa Romeo is packed with our things. I had taken everything I could fit, some wet from my dripping shower hair. The taste of camping is in my mouth, and I have to hold my stuffed animal to my face to avoid the smoke. Little kids stand with their parents, and cars barrel down the street to safety. The sky is brown. My mom and I have not left yet, because our neighbors next door are not home, and their dog is inside. But their dog is huge, and my mom is a small woman. I cry out for her, my voice raw from the smoke. I look back at the fire, dangerously close to the houses on the other side of the street. I know the boy who lives in one of those homes. He went to my middle school. I don’t think of taking pictures, to send to a friend or just keep. Instead, I chant, my words jumbled and shaky. 

I know I must stay calm, but I’m worried. Why hasn’t my mom come out yet? Finally, she emerges with the dog, a reluctant Doberman that doesn’t want to leave. When our neighbors come speeding up the street, gratefully taking the dog from my mom, she runs to the car and we start to drive. The usually quiet roads are jammed, and embers flick through the air. I’m coughing, and I can smell the fire on me. Like somehow I’m on fire too. The car ride to my uncle’s house is silent. We don’t listen to music, because what music could you play? The sight of the flames doesn’t leave my eyes. When we get there, we look like refugees from a war-torn country. 

My grandmother is the only one who doesn’t seem shaken. Even my sweet dog is confused. My uncle’s house smells like caramel, a far cry from what we just went through. 

That night, I call and text all of my friends. People I haven’t heard from in years reach out. Later I lay in my uncle’s guest bed, but I feel like I’m tainting it somehow. I still smell like a burnt s’more, and this bed is soft, fluffy; like a hotel. I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. The afternoon replays through my mind — me out running, as usual, my lungs burning. Confused as to why my lungs and throat hurt so much, I look up to see a gray cloud hovering over me. Smoke. Ashes paint the inside of my mouth. I run, coughing, to the house. My mom says it’s in Castaic, far from us, we’ll be fine. I take a shower, but I smell strong smoke. Even though we have no official alert, something is wrong. My bathroom, which smells like soap and steam after showers, now smells like wood and Girl Scout nature trips. I jump out of the shower and don’t bother to dry my hair. I throw on a bathrobe and look outside. The world is a dark, swirling brown. I can see the flames reflecting off my neighbor’s solar panel. 

And it’s so, so hot. 

My dad comes rushing through the door and we all have to leave. I throw together clothes, some functional, and some sentimental, and all of my schoolwork. I grab my grandmother’s locket, and a book. Only one. I look out at my beloved library. Books burn fast. But I’m small, and I can’t carry everything. I choke back tears and rush out to the garage. Sirens, loudspeakers and shouts fill my peaceful little street.

Even though now I’m safe in a wonderful bed, with clean pajamas and my hair still curly from never straightening it after the shower, I feel like I’m right there in the flames. After tossing and turning, I finally fall asleep. The next morning, I wake up early. Just as I couldn’t go to bed, I couldn’t stay in it. I’m desperate to find out what became of my home. I check my notifications. My mom texted me. They were allowed home late last night, and she has sent pictures. The hills behind our home are scorched and black, but our backyard is undamaged. Everything seems fine. 

I breathe a sigh of relief, and get ready to start a new day.

Emma Finch

Academy of the Canyons freshman


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