Saturday, September 26, 2015

Battle Cry of the Dragon Daughter, Part 2

This is the blog post I never thought I would write.

I haven’t really felt like writing (or studying, or going to class) in the weeks since my Dad’s house burned down. I have however, been learning a great deal about fires. The Valley Fire burned 80,000 acres and as of writing this, its still not 100% contained more than 2 weeks after it started. It now ranks as the third most destructive fire in the history of our state.

My Dad and I spent a tense week mourning the loss of our home. We tried to distract ourselves by doing nice things like visiting coffee shops and watching trashy reality TV shows (my Dad can now name all of the Kardashians). For this vital knowledge, he is welcome. 

These past weeks have taught me more than I ever wanted to know about what happens in a disaster like this one. FEMA gets involved. Cal Fire has an information line, which requires waiting on hold for forever. You get a caseworker. And you get put on a waiting list for damage assessment teams to look at your home.

Our house is in Zone 4 of the Lake County land parcels map. On Thursday FEMA called to let us know what we already knew. That they had sent damage assessment teams to our address and that they were sorry to inform us our house had burned down. We were then listed as the 67th single family home out of the nearly 1300 homes to be lost in the blaze.

Middletown, where our house is, was among the hardest hit by the fire. The road closures to get up there were only just lifted at 5pm today. My dad drove up there yesterday under the careful watch of the California Highway Patrol. He had to pull over to vomit on the way up, he was so sick at the thought of losing everything. After all, our neighbor had said our house was an inferno, and that he had watched our home and his, burn to the ground.

When my Dad arrived at our address, the barn, the green house and the chicken coop were a pile of ashes.

And the house…

…was standing.

Our minds are actually blown that, against all odds, things have shaken down and turned out in a way that we would have barely been able to hope for.

All of the surrounding houses have been destroyed except for ours, which now looks like a big, weird space ship dotting the blackened earth. Our electrical lines have melted to the roof. The steel blades of my Dad’s saws that he left outside have melted into the ground. But our pictures, our priceless things, our home, remain safe. Slightly damaged, but in comparison to the total ruin we had imagined in past weeks, we really don’t mind.

The most amazing thing was that there were signs of firefighters around our house. Some of the eves and support beams on the porch have been sawed away. No doubt they started to catch fire and these anonymous heroes/angels happened to be there to save us. Four fire fighters were hurt in the blaze and over 4,000 fire personnel were involved in the containment efforts. To each and every one of them, we owe a debt of gratitude we can never repay.

With all of the horrible things on the news lately, its nice to have little miracle, right here in our midst. My Dad and I are so very grateful for all of your support in the face of losing our home. I hope you feel that this is your miracle too.

There's joy and relief, but also bittersweet feelings, and exhaustion. It turns out to be quiet a consignment store miracle, instead of something snazzier and perfect from Pottery Barn. Our hearts ache over the devastation the fire caused. We see our neighbors sifting through the ruble of their houses, like some sort of morbid Easter egg hunt. And we know that it could have just as easily have been us.

We can’t undo the mess this fire made of these people's lives, but we promise to do everything we can to help our community come back from this, which will no doubt take years to fully recover. 

So for today anyway, a) The 67th home on the list of 1292 destroyed houses remains standing and b) thankyouthankyouthankyou.

To help the survivors of the Valley Fire consider donating to The American Red Cross at or directly to the crowd funding site at - See more at:



Monday, September 14, 2015

Battle Cry of the Dragon Daughter: Part 1

My dad’s house burned down last night.

He was visiting family in England. A neighbor emailed to tell him.

‘Gone,’ was the subject line of the email my dad sent to tell me. And my heart sank as I read it.

He lost everything.

I didn’t know the fire was so close. If I had maybe I could have driven up there and saved some of our priceless possessions. But I didn’t. I was in my small med school world—oblivious to the world’s disasters, as usual.

“Its just stuff,” countless friends have reminded me. They are so right. We’re not hurt, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. But the sting of losing things that cannot be replaced is fresh on my heart. Paintings my grandmother made, his guitars, his books, even the really ugly 1980’s lamp that slowly became brown with dust. The Petula Clark records he used to play while I fell asleep growing up. Its hard losing that stuff—even if it makes me seem like a selfish asshole.

And then there’s the shock of it all. Which is what gets me the most. How suddenly a house full of such joy and happy times was turned to ash. Home is a special place—not only because you don’t have to wear pants, but because home is a sacred refuge from the world. When it all goes wrong, there’s always home to go back to. Except-- when there’s not.

There is something humbling and ironically metaphorical about disasters like this one. We are reminded of how helpless we are. But I am also reminded of how amazing people can be. Fire fighters are putting themselves in harms way to contain the blaze. Strangers have opened up their homes and their hearts to those who have lost theirs. I have seen the strength of rural communities like I never imagined possible. And the strength of the people helping in this disaster is stronger than any fire.

As of writing this, the fire continues to rage to 4 times the size of San Francisco. The roads are closed. So I sit at home waiting for my dad to return to the United States, so we can sit and wait and worry together.

There is solace in knowing that we are not alone. All of Middletown was burned to the ground. Over 100 homes reduced to their foundations. Rows of burned out cars line the streets.

I am determined to reclaim what the fire stole from this community. I’m just not sure how. They have enough doctors and paramedics--- and little need for second year medical students. But I can write. I can tell the stories of these people.

In writing about it, I will take back the power to decide how this ends. I will decide what my family’s story becomes and in the process I hope I can use my words to lift up a community whose physical possessions may be gone, but whose strength and spirit deserve to be known by the rest of the world.

Our homes may have burned down, but our hearts are fireproof.  

To help the survivors of the Valley Fire consider donating to The American Red Cross at or directly to the crowd funding site at