“Mom, it’s getting closer.” It’s September of 2015 and my 16-year-old son is on his computer checking the progress of the Valley Fire that is ripping through Northern California. He’s trying not to let his emotions show, but I can hear the catch in his voice.
My 19-year-old son, away at college, is texting. “I think we’re going to lose the cabin. This is so sad.”
My husband and I are obsessing over Twitter and Facebook, trying to get news. Everyone has been evacuated, so we rely on social media posts from the fire crews. Via Twitter, we learn that the 75,000-acre fire has reached Sycamore Road in Loch Lomond, not more than 150 yards from our little cabin.
My family bought the place in 1949. It was built around 1920, and it hasn’t changed much. Back then, the area was home to Hoberg’s and Seigler Springs, two big resorts right out of the movie “Dirty Dancing.” For decades, they attracted thousands of guests from around the country.
Four generations of my family spent time there. It was where we gathered with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, our dogs, our kids. It was where I learned to ride horses, fish and swim. There were huge community bingo games, dances on starry nights, long days at the Loch Lomond pool, ping pong tournaments, shuffleboard, cards, outdoor movies, hiking, softball games. It’s where I go to feel close to my Dad, who died in 2001. The cabin was his joy. I still feel his spirit there.
In the 1970s, the resorts closed and the recreation options narrowed. For my kids, the cabin meant unplugged family time — no live television, no Wi-Fi. It’s not a fancy place, but it is the center of many precious family memories and for me, it’s the happiest place on earth.
“Loch Lomond is red,” reads a post. Fire crews have drenched the area in fire retardant and will fight through the night to save the cabins. Unfortunately, some have already burned to the ground.
We go to bed. We can’t sleep. We hope for the best. We pray for the firefighters. We wait. It will be nearly two days before we hear.
A post on Facebook on September 15: “Please pass this on to everyone. We are still here. As of 11 am Tuesday morning, Loch Lomond is, for the most part, saved.”
We can only hope that includes us.
A week or so later, the roads open up. Our car is loaded with items to donate to local relief efforts. It’s a long drive. PG&E has lanes blocked along Highway 175 as they work to replace power lines. We wait our turn to access the single open lane. We pass melted cars, homes reduced to rubble. Two miles from the cabin, we pass the 55-acre Hoberg’s Resort, which, after being shuttered for decades, was in the process of being restored for a grand re-opening. Everything is gone, from the original lodge to scores of 100-foot pine trees.
And then we reach the cabin. Not only is it still standing, it is completely undamaged. The fire missed us by fewer than 100 yards. All we have to do is sweep ash off the deck. I am moved to tears by our good luck and grief-stricken for those who are not so fortunate. The devastation is stunning.
I work every day with members of the fire service. Some have become close personal friends. I have always had great respect for the job they do, and the courage with which they do it. But now my feelings are personal.
Debra Hall has been the marketing consultant to Rescue Air Systems, the leader in FARS technology, for more than a decade. Prior to launching her consulting business, she was the director of marketing, promotion and branding for the San Francisco Chronicle during years of successive record profits. She has been honored with numerous national and international advertising and marketing awards. Debra is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of Stanford University.