Panic and flames at the Highlands |

Panic and flames at the Highlands

As a kid, I asked a lot of questions from the time I first learned to speak.Sometimes I asked my parents about what things were or how they worked. Other times my friends and I would pose hypotheticals If you could only marry one New Kid on the Block, who would it be? or If your house were burning down and you had three minutes to grab your stuff, what would you take?Needless to say, Ive had 25 years to practice naming my top-five favorite anythings.And so Thursday night, I got my first real-life lesson in remembering just what is important to me.Its after 1 a.m. Friday morning and Ive been asleep for nearly three hours when Im jolted out of bed, dazed and confused, by the sounds of honking horns and neighboring screams.Fire!!! Fire!!! I hear through groggy ears, and fire, fire, I actually see through sleepy eyes. Just across the street flames legitimate flames pierce the night sky with a vibrant orange glow.People say its in times of trouble that ones true character shines through. But I say in times of trouble like the threat of a wildfire in my backyard run. Like hell.Jumping out of bed with scenes of Backdraft running through my mind, I feel like I have negative 10 seconds to gather both my thoughts and my things, running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I grab my cell phone, iPod and purse and begin a mad dash to the car to make my run for it.As my heart pumps me full of adrenaline and starts to burn little ulcers in my stomach, I bolt back into my room diving for my computer, hard drive and camera. I turn a few circles as my mind clouds over with worries.Were not really legit renters and we dont have renters insurance! … If the place burns will I have to go to work tomorrow? … I work for the newspaper, should I be covering this story right now? Should I call the photographer? Wheres my notebook?My boyfriend, who seems to be moving at snails pace, kindly orders me to calm down. Regardless, I continue in panic mode, rummaging to locate the photo quilt my mom made for my high school graduation … my childhood photo album … a keepsake box of notes my mom wrote before she died … a pair of flip-flops … do I need a jacket?Man do I wish I had a Xanax.Fortunately, I finally take a breath and everything turns out just fine. I secretly pat myself on the back, not for how childishly I reacted to an emergency, but for remembering to grab the irreplaceables.Of course I cant help but imagine the horror of watching my clothes burn in a fire. Ive got to have nearly $1,000 worth of jeans (ridiculous, I know), and then therere the ski clothes, winter jackets, shoes, and even bras. All those add up, theyre like an investment.As it turns out, just the neighbors deck was ablaze and the firefighters were swift and efficient in extinguishing the flames. No one was hurt, just scared, and the neighborhood is still standing.While Ive written about fire safety and controlled burns my fair share of times in the year Ive been with the newspaper, I suppose Ive never been fully convinced of the real dangers of catastrophic fire in the Tahoe Basin until now. And though Id love to boast a Buddhist mentality about material possessions (my father says thats not a Hartman trait), there really are some things that are simply a part of who I am. With the devastation of the Angora Fire coupled with my own scare last week, Ive got all the necessities within arms reach. And I hope you all do, too.Joanna Hartman is a Tahoe City-based reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached by e-mail at

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