How we grew our faith in the flames
When I got the word that my family was being evacuated I felt helpless. I was over a thousand miles away with no prior warning that this could happen. The Pole Creek fire was a few miles from our little town of Woodland Hills and was moving faster by the minute. We knew when we moved there just six months earlier that fire could be a concern, but you never think it could really happen to you.
Over the next few hours I tried to stay in contact with my husband to find out any updates. When he called me and said, “We are being evacuated…what do I grab?” my mind went blank. I knew family photo albums, my laptop, and the book I had put together with all our important documents but I couldn’t think of anything else. We didn’t think we’d be gone for that long, maybe two or three days so my husband put our bunnies in the garage with food and water and got off the mountain. All we could do is watch and pray. That night, the pictures on the news and social media were horrifying. The flames were so high and they were right in the backyard of our sweet community.
I talked to a friend who lived right on the ridge. The firefighters told her that they expected the fire to be at her house by one. They said they’d do their best to save her house and to leave her back door unlocked just in case the fire trapped them and they had no way out.
A friend from Elk Ridge(a nearby city) that was also evacuated, said they were talking to the fire chief trying to come up with a plan. As they looked at the flames raging toward Woodland Hills he said “I don’t think we can save that community.”
I stayed glued to my phone as more pictures were posted. I changed my flight plans and came home a day earlier. As I got off the plane the valley was full of smoke. You couldn’t see the mountains at all which in Utah is a rare thing. The closer I got to home the more that reality started to set in. We were “homeless” bouncing from hotel to airbnb. We had moved three times in five days. We had just a few changes of clothes.
I think the weirdest part was going to the store to buy necessities like shampoo and toothbrushes and seeing everyone else’s lives moving on like normal where I felt like my life was standing still. My world was on pause while everyone else’s was playing out like nothing was happening. As I reflect back to that moment I realize people often feel like that when a trial affects them so deeply. It could be a death, news about a health issue or a wayward child. All of these things can and do rock our world. But it’s important to not stay there too long. The more we look outside ourselves the more the world begins to move, slower, but it moves.
There were so many volunteers and donations that came in they were actually asked to stop. The local businesses had dinners for evacuees and firefighters. The whole community came together and prayed for one another. I know there were people all over the country praying for our little town. We were directed by our religious leader to pray at certain times because there’s power in thousands of people praying together. Later we found out that those times were pivotal points in the fire efforts. We prayed a lot and that’s when the miracles started to come.
One firefighter that was stationed at the top of the mountain was in charge of keeping an eye on the fire said that the wind was so bad that night his clothes flapped like sheets in the wind. The wind was blowing right toward our neighborhood but all night he watched the fire and it stayed still. Fire that was advancing miles every hour was held in its place despite the wind.
Another firefighter reported the winds blowing up the canyon pushing the fire back. For anyone who’s lived by a canyon you know that wind never blows up a canyon, it always comes down the canyon.
Despite the worst weather conditions the fire moved out of character, moved slowly and in some cases retreated. As hundreds of firefighters from all over the country came pouring in so did the signs of gratitude. Signs that said “we love our heros” and “thank you firefighters” could be seen all over the city. Every few days they would have community meetings about the fire where we’d receive updates from those in charge of the operation. During one of these meetings an 8 year old boy came up to the guy over the fire operation and handed him a new pair of gloves. He said he just had a birthday and wanted to use his birthday money to buy the gloves for a firefighter. Little and big miracles were happening at the fire and away from it.
That Sunday we were asked to participate in a community fast. As other stakes, wards, and individuals joined together in prayer and fasting we came together for a united cause. We prayed for the firefighters to be safe and have the courage necessary to fight the fire. We prayed for rain. We prayed for the safety of our friends and neighbors. There was nothing sweeter than hearing my children pray for the safety of the firefighters who were risking their lives to protect our homes. That Sunday afternoon our prayers were answered. With no rain, no precipitation at all in the forecast, it rained. It didn’t rain long, just a few minutes, but after the rain came…a rainbow. I knew that rain wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire, but it brought hope. It was another witness that God is in the details of our lives. We recognized that when we as His children can join together for a common goal, that miracles do happen.
I was amazed to see how the community came together for the firefighters and the evacuees. One woman came to where the evacuation center was with warm rolls. She just wanted to help and share with her neighbors. It taught me so much about how service can bring people together, heal wounded (and scared) hearts and bring hope to those in need.
Each day we watched as the fire got closer and closer to our home. The craziest thing was scrolling through images posted on social media and finding a picture of my house and the fire all in the same picture. At one point it was 300 yards from our home.
Each day they were letting people go up to their homes with a police escort to grab some things. We tried three times to get to our house and get the bunnies in the garage but were denied because of the street we live on wasn’t deemed safe. Finally, on our fourth attempt they said yes! It was an eerie feeling driving up our street. The houses had fire hoses around them, it felt like a ghost town. When we arrived at our home and got out of the car the smell of the forest fire was so strong. In the valley it smelled like a fire, but being that is was so close the only way I can describe it is, burnt campfire.
By some miracle the bunnies were ok. They desperately needed water. We gave them water and ran inside to grab a few things, medication and extra clothes. The officer that had escorted us had a timer going on his phone so we went as fast as we could grabbing whatever we thought we would need. We went so fast that it that the possibility of it being the last time we would be in our home,didn’t sink in. As we drove away I felt a deep sense of peace. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know if my house would be safe, I didn’t know what our future would hold, but I did know that whatever happened, we would be ok.
It’s funny how being evacuated and having pretty much nothing makes you realize all the “things” that aren’t important. We only had what would fit in the trunk of my car and that was enough. You realize it’s the little things in life that are most important and you become much more grateful for small conveniences that we tend to take for granted everyday. When we moved to an apartment in Payson (our third move in five days) my husband took the kids to school and I went ahead to check out the apartment. It was exactly what we needed to try to normalize the situation for our children. I went through the kitchen and opened the cupboards, there were pop tarts, cereal, granola bars, just a few things but it brought me to my knees in gratitude. I was so grateful for a place to stay, a place that had a few “normal” things for my kids, a place that we could call home until we were able to return.
After being evacuated for 9 days we got the word we could go home. It came as a shock because we thought for sure it would be another week. There were still hot spots and smoke on the mountain. Our house smelled of campfire and smoke, but we didn’t care. We were finally home.
That night we talked with our children about their experience. They had handled the chaos like champs. All week we had been telling them the stories and the miracles that had happened hoping to inspire them. I mainly wanted to impress upon my 11 year old’s mind the existence of God. He had been struggling with knowing if God was real and if He answered prayers for a few years. Last time we had talked about the matter he was convinced that God was just a made up thing that people talked about to make themselves feel better. * Because of the stories, because of the trial of faith, and because of the goodness of those around us my, son said “Because of this experience I know that God is real and He does answer our prayers.” These are the moments your mama heart yearns for. These are the moments that you realize the sacrifice was worth it. We have been asked by our friends if we were glad we moved to Woodland Hills after all that has happened and my answer is an astounding YES. My children learning there is a god made everything worth it!
As I reflect back on all the lessons we have learned my hope is that I become a little more sensitive to those going through trials. When we are going through our own trials, our life stands still and it can seem like a whirlwind of life going on around us while we are standing still. By understanding that we can be more accepting and supportive of those around us that are struggling.
I also know that God can take any situations and use it for His good. When we trust in God, when we surrender our will for His, when we put our faith in Him knowing whatever outcome is going to be exactly what we need in that time in our lives, we find peace. That’s where we can triumph.