After the California Wildfires
Bryan Hibbard, a student at Arrowhead Christian Academy, reports
on the devastating impact of the wildfires in and around his community
of Redlands, California.
Blackened. Melted. Desolate.
Everything she owned -- gone in a brilliant flash of fury. Christina
Foscolos, 17, a senior at Arrowhead Christian Academy in Redlands,
California, watched her house burn down
the house she had
lived in all her life. She stood by, helpless as fire consumed
a wall that once held her bedroom window. The bare springs from
what used to be her bed
showed briefly before the fire engulfed them.
A day later Foscolos walks around the charred remains of her
home (the smoldering debris is still too hot to walk on), searching
for something salvageable. The rooms are beyond recognition. She
can't even find where the pool table used to be. Her dad's $30,000
laser engraving machine is ruined beyond repair. The chimney stands
alone, like a grim obelisk, and even it looks ready to collapse.
Yet, in the midst of this destruction she sees something out
of the ordinary: a small scrap of paper, a page from her dad's
Bible. How could it be that where walls have crumbled and metal
has turned into molten liquid, this single piece of paper survives?
Twelve separate fires,
three quarters of a million acres, over 3,600 homes, 22 lives,
lost. The worst onslaught of fires in California history. Ten
Arrowhead Christian Academy (ACA) families
lost their homes in the blaze. It's hard to imagine life without
a home-without a place to call your own.
"Every so often I break down," facilities manager Kevin
Aley said. He lost his Cedar Glen home, a round "hobbit house"
which he had built with his own hands. "It's more than just
stuff. The best way to describe it is that I feel hollow to a
certain degree. It's a hollow that will fill up again eventually,
but it's hard
especially in the evenings. During the day,
I can keep myself busy; but in the night I just run out of energy;
I stop keeping myself busy and I fall apart."
Social studies teacher Debra Tirrell was spared her house but
lost her garage.
"I started to put things together. I grabbed pictures and
photo albums, some files my husband had told me to take, the homework
I was grading. I placed that all in the car, which was in the
garage. I went to the back bedroom to get some clothes when I
saw, through the window, the fire reach the wash behind
my house. I rushed out of the back door toward my garage when
I saw flames rising from it."
A cruel irony. While most victims lost their homes but were spared
the irreplaceable items they were able to cart out, the Tirrells
have a home that still stands, minus the treasures that were consumed
by the blaze.
"I'm sad for what I've lost, of course," Tirrell said.
"The pictures are symbols of my memories-a link to the past.
My favorite baby picture of Jeff, my son, is gone. But, you know,
a picture is worth a lot less than a person's life. I'm alive-my
family is alive- and that's what is really important.
Instead of destroying
faith, the fires only strengthened the faith of those who lost
"Every year I go on trips with my church to Ensenada, Mexico.
' Foscolos said. "We give the people shoe boxes full of small
essentials. I always knew they were happy to get the stuff, but,
until now, I never knew how happy they were. I realized as we
went to the Red Cross [shelter for fire victims], and church how
much simple things like soap or shampoo mean to those who don't
have a lot, because now I am one of those people."
She holds the tattered page from her
dad's bible, one of the few remnants in the midst of utter destruction.
It is a beacon of hope, lying among the smoldering rubble. The
biggest sign from God Foscolos has ever been given. Not that everything
is suddenly OK
not that she won't struggle
she has something to cling to. She has hope.
Hibbard is the XXXXX