it didn’t go as planned

Today was my Isabel’s birthday.  It wasn’t the kind of day I thought it was going to be.  I planned on making her meals she picked out last week.  Pancakes with whipped cream, grilled cheese, mac ‘n cheese and a cheesecake with cherries on top.  We made it through breakfast before things began to change.  I birthday call from auntie, and an invite to go swimming was the first change.  I looked around at all the dishes on the counter, and remembered the camping laundry that still needed to be done, but I agreed to go.  On our way there Isabel said, This is going to be the best birthday ever.”

After swimming we headed out for pizza.  I looked at her and asked if that was okay with her since she wanted grilled cheese.  Her sweet little smile and nod assured me it was.  During our lunch we received a phone call that Nick godmother and husband were being evacuated.  Since her son is a firefighter we got the news a little early.  We decided to head straight there and help them pack up their belongings.  Everything from that point on seemed like some surreal dream or scene out of an action movie.

We headed into the belly of the beast.  Now, I have been keeping up on the fire and evacuation updates almost obsessively since we arrived home Tuesday (I know, I still haven’t posted pics yet!) but the closer we got the more it impacted me.  My throat has been scratchy for days, and I could see why.  The smoke was blowing right over where we live.  Driving out of the area made this more obvious.  I thought of the fireman and residents and knew it was much worse for them.  By the time we reached the first turn off, I began to realize we were in the danger zone.  Thick brown smoke covered the huge mountain range that I love so much.  My eyes welled up when I saw the disaster that was before me  It seemed the only traffic passing us were police and sheriffs flying by with their lights on.  Every set of flashing lights that went by reminded me how real this was.  I wasn’t dreaming.  I wasn’t over-reacting.  We are really going to help someone who may not have a home tomorrow.  It’s eerily true.

West onHereford 1:30 ish

West on Hwy 92 1:25 ish

When we arrived we had to wait a couple of minutes until they got there.  I immediately started shooting.  I looked around the property and knew that there was no way to save it all.  Smoke that had minutes before been a brownish haze was now a thick black cloud of smoke billowing larger and wider.  Helicopters were heard flying back and forth.  I sounded like a haunting in that moment.  They arrived and we got packing.  It was very hurried and business-like.  “This?”  “No.”  What about this?”  “Yes.”  I let the kids eat whatever and drink whatever.  This was no time to think of such things as sugar intake.  Out of all the things they had, they wanted to pack very little.  When a situation like this occurs you only bring what you could never buy.  That boils down to a very simple and short list.  Pictures, paper work, and identity.  I few sets of clothes, a couple special items, food for the animals, camera, medication  were also added.   After being there for about forty minutes, I could tell the fire was getting worse.  The wind was inconveniently gusting, and the smoke area was spreading wider.  Every pillar of black smoke gave me a chill.  Were these all different houses?  It must have been about two miles or so from us.

Moson/Montana 1:45

Moson/Montana 1:45

We got a call from the fireman son to get out and take pictures of everything.  I started clicking.  Last minute things were being packed and we went down a list of things we didn’t want to forget.  Some drinks were set by the door to take.  It was then a realized how thirsty I was.  Every swallow felt like razors cutting my throat.  Again, I thought of the brave firefighters, law enforcement and other people fighting this beast.  I realized how quickly and easily you can get dehydrated when you are so focused on a task like this.  The dog got loaded among the boxes and bags.  The kids were told to head to the car, and as I ran in and out of the house gathering and assessing I could hear the small “woots” of the police sirens.  They got closer and closer.  I knew it was time.  At some point I said , “They’re coming for us I can here them getting closer.”  We threw more things in whatever place it would fit.  I looked up at the smoke again.  It was darker and closer, and the wind was picking up even more.  I went into the house and warned, “We need to leave now, it’s getting closer and coming straight here.”  I was involuntarily shaking at this point.  Adrenaline was pumping fast and furious.


I loaded something and then I saw the police come in the driveway.  “It on Moson and Hereford”  My heart sank a little then.  It was so close so fast.  About a 3/4 of a mile away.  We all started yelling at the kids with desparite voices to buckle up.  I helped tackle a scared-witless cat into the truck  who then proceeded to urinate all over me, grabbed paperwork, water, counted kids, moved the van,  Realized I was bleeding from the cat attack,  and rushed to see what else was needed.  Moments later we were on the way out the drive.  Once on Moson headed away from the fire a real panic set in.  The traffic out was stop and go–mostly stop.  The rear-view mirror showed cars behind as far as I could see.  Black smoke beyond that.  I realized at the end of the road behind me was the fire.

In a moment like this you ask questions.  Is this happening?  Why did I bring my kids?  Is this it for me?  Why don’t they open both lanes going out?  Why is that guy still trying to save his tractor, quad, 3 trailers, two other vehicles?  Doesn’t he know he needs to leave NOW? Why isn’t this traffic moving?  Should I call people I love right now?  Am I freaking out over nothing?  Why are my kids with me!  Where is my head band?

North Palaminas Rd 1:27

I made a few phone calls to keep my mind off my anxiety.  While relaying information and checking the rear view, I thought of the people closer to the end of the road.  I prayed the wind would stop.  It felt like an hour, but was probably about 15 minutes until we were in free-flowing lanes.  Time truly seemed to creep and flash forward at the same time.

The Huachuhas from Ramsey Rd 8:45 pm

We reached our destination safely.  We hydrated, I chapsticked, Desmond got a diaper change.  Time began to be normal again.  We headed out for pizza for the second time today. Isabel got a cake despite the day’s events.  We went home.  The kids went to bed.  Still, my heart is with the ones who have no homes, who are displaced, who are at the lines, who may lose their livelihood, who don’t know Jesus.  Who need Him more than they could ever know.  Pray friends for this unpredictable and rapidly growing fire.  Pray for the gospel to be spread.


3 thoughts on “it didn’t go as planned

  1. Allison Hargrove says:

    Happy Birthday to Isabel!! This may be a birthday she won’t soon forget. You are an amazing storyteller. I felt as if I was right there with you trying to escape the fire. Any news/updates on their house? This is going to be a crazy weekend with the wind. Praying all is well.


  2. Courtney says:

    Wow Jennee, this is an amazing story. I am so happy you and your children are okay. But that is just like you, always helping others. You will all be in my prayers, may the wind stop and our land be blessed with rain. God bless the fireman, rescuers, and home owners. Happy Birthday to Isabel what a beautiful girl inside and out!


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