Tragedy can strike anyone, anytime
August 21, 2007
Tahoe City came to a standstill and watched in disbelief as a plume of volcanic, ash-colored smoke rose above Tahoe Park on Saturday.
Hundreds of river rafters stopped paddling and turned their gaze upriver, staring at the ominous cloud of smoke, imagining the worse. Were they safe on the water? Dry, dead trees dotted the mountainside as the adventurous crews in rudderless rafts floated helplessly down river, completely cut-off from the world. A devilish wind stirred. How was this day going to end?
Home alone in Talmont, a girl, just turned 13, watches flames burn up the hill directly towards her. She calls her father. He hurries home only to be stopped by a roadblock.
Ashes and embers begin to fall on the Wye, across the river from the fire. People leave their jobs, anxious to get to their homes in the vicinity of the blaze to rescue loved ones and pets. The father of the teenage girl steals his way around the road block, determined to complete his all-important mission in spite of the law. Finally, he succeeds.
A completely frazzled CHP officer tries to close southbound Highway 89 all by himself, to no avail. He moves his patrol car from in front of Fanny Bridge and parks it sideways in the road, partially blocking the right turn from Squaw heading down the West Shore. Cars pour around the official vehicle as if it had been abandoned by mistake. On foot, the officer marches head on into the flow of traffic coming from highway 28 turning south towards the fire.
He steps in front of the first vehicle, screaming and pointing his finger at the innocent, surprised citizens, as if they were supposed to have known the road was closed by sheer mental telepathy. A bus load of river rafters are greatly amused by the agitated officer, and laugh aloud at him from the bus.
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“He must have been teased in high school”, suggests one of the passengers.
Who was this poor, solitary officer getting his orders from? Why didn’t he just leave his patrol car in front of Fanny Bridge? I guess some screw ups and confusion are to be expected when dire emergencies strike. But it was very unfortunate for so many visitors and locals to have to witness the unprofessional over-reaction by a public servant in uniform.
Finally, other CHP officers arrive. Highway 89 is properly closed. The Tahoe City Wye became a parking lot of curious visitors and residents who couldn’t go home. River rafting busses were having difficulty finding a place to pull over and unload their passengers. As if fiddling while Rome burned, rafting continued as usual. People were still having fun.
But not everybody. Homes were being destroyed and lives were being completely changed in a burst of flames. It wasn’t presidents or kings and queens whose fortunes, hopes and dreams were seared into nothing in a furnace of fire. It was people like you and me.
Rumors of how the fire started began to fly. The wind kicked up during the night. Many of us couldn’t sleep, knowing wind and fire can spell doom.
No, it wasn’t a barbecue that got out of hand. No one was even home when the fire started. They were at work in Kings Beach. They have no idea what happened.
The next day, sunrise flooded the West Shore. The crystal-clear, high-definition light of another day in paradise suggested life was back to normal. It was, for most of us.
Tragedy can strike anyone, anytime. Our ambitions, riches and plenty can come to a screeching halt without warning. There are those who believe it is a blessing to lose everything. The very idea runs contrary to our proud values of capitalism.
Who will benefit from the next disaster? In today’s volatile world, it could be all of us.