Saturday, August 11, 2007

Zaca Wildfire - Or What It Feels Like When The Unimaginable Happens

I suppose I should add wildfires to the list of the wild, woolly and hairy things to be afraid of in this country. As it happens, the Zaca Fire was started by construction workers, but wildfires are a natural phenomenon in this part of the world and we have an 80,000 acre one right on our doorstep that is only 68% contained.

Last weekend it was snowing in Santa Barbara. Heavy flakes of ash were pouring out of the sky, swirling and dancing in a perfect imitation of a winter wonderland, except it's chuffing August and 80ยบ. The fire is in the Los Padres National Forest, directly behind the ridge of mountains that frames Santa Barbara. The same ridge of mountains that effectively cut us off from the outside world. There's one road in to this town and one road out. Not very reassuring to think about when earlier this week there were mass e-mails and media bulletins about evacuations and packing your 'grab-and-go' box.

Fortunately the fire seems to have changed directions in the last couple of days and isn't posing a direct threat to SB right at this moment, although it's growth potential is listed as 'extreme'. Things change fast though. You don't have to live here long to hear stories of the 'Painted Cave Fire' that blazed a trail down from the mountains and even jumped the freeway into La Cumbre the flames were so intense. The Zaca Fire has yet to jump the Santa Ynez river, but then that's not as reassuring as it sounds considering the river is currently just a dried up bed of rocks and crispy dessicated scrub. Excellent.

As I'm writing this a fire engine is screaming past our window - don't they realise that Anna is napping?

I was finding it hard to write about this fire, about the idea of evacuating. Even with fire planes and helicopters buzzing overhead every few minutes, and losing our cell phone reception a few days ago, it wasn't sinking in. Honestly, it was still a little unreal to think of putting together passports and birth certificates, insurance policies and title deeds, just in case. Besides, if we were evacuated where would we go? Would we join the 200,000 people trying to go south on 2 lanes of the 101?

So there I was, basically thinking that these things only ever happen to other people, right? We have been told that the fire could feasibly pose a very real threat to Santa Barbara; to be ready, yet even as I started writing this yesterday, with the fire looming over my right shoulder I was still thinking it can't really happen, right?

But it can and it does.

As I walked out of the shower this morning I looked down to see Anna happily playing with an open bottle of ibuprofen. A Costco-sized bottle of pills and they were everywhere.

This is the sort of thing that never happens, except it does, all the time, and it happened to us this morning. The first thing that popped in to my head was our pediatrician saying 'age 2 is the age of accidental death by drowning and poisoning', but even as I was thinking that I also kept repeating, 'this isn't happening, this can't be happening'.

Anna said 'sowie Mummy'

I was trying so hard to keep calm. I got down on the floor and asked her if she'd eaten any and she said 'yes', I asked how many and she said 'fee'. In my mind I was still thinking this is not happening, she couldn't really have eaten any, how is this happening.

Then I freaked out.

I tried sticking my fingers down her throat to get her to throw up. It did not go well, she didn't throw up, I got bitten and she's looking at me with tears welling up in her eyes wondering why the hell I'm torturing her like this.

I have the number for poison control in my cell phone. I didn't call them. I thought they'd whisk her away in an ambulance, pump her stomach, put me in jail, plus I wasn't even sure she'd eaten any. If you ask her how many biscuits she wants she says 'fee', how many swings on the towel, 'fee'. Even if it was just 'fee' though, I kept envisioning her poor little liver and all those hospital facesheets I see at work after ibuprofen OD cases with 'multiple organ failure' and encephalopathy as the diagnosis.

In the end I called my friend who's a doctor, and without doubt the most level-headed person I know. I was crying so hard I could barely get the words out, I said 'emergency, ibuprofen' and 'Anna'.

She called poison control and conferenced us in, and Anna's fine. Of course she's fine, because these things never happen, right? She would have had to have eaten 12 to be in any serious danger. If I'd taken her to the ER they would have just monitored her, not pumped her stomach. I was told to make her eat and drink a lot and keep an eye on her.

So, yes, I've packed my fire 'grab and go' box, because lightning does strike twice.


gingajoy said...

holy crap, you poor poor thing! I have definitely had the ibuprofen experience. you never think it will happen, and suddenly there's your baby sitting on the floor with an open bottle of nyquil in front of him... ugh...

AliBlahBlah said...

Phew, glad to hear it's not just me.....although maybe it's just ex-pat parents?! If that was the case though, it would have been Paracetamol and Lemsip!

Reema dsouza said...

In fact, I am really impressed by that. I do not know how it's going to go, but I think it's a good idea and very necessary in a lot of places.
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