Ashley LodatoBy Ashley Lodato

There is, of course, nothing to write about other than the fires. The Fires. That a few unfortunately located lightning strikes could blaze so quickly into a raging inferno of the current proportions is still a source of amazement, but blaze they did and the lives of many in our valley are irrevocably changed.

I write my column without having had Internet access or email since last Thursday’s power outage, and without phone communication with all but my immediate neighbors since Friday, so sincere apologies if you have tried to contact me about including something in my column. I’ll get to your news when life returns to normal. But for now all the news that matters concerns those whose homes or lives have been endangered, and especially the staggering number of those who have already lost their homes. And yet the report comes more in the form of questions than answers.

What do you say to a friend who stops by your house in her loaded car, having left her house for what may be the final time? How do you explain to children the concept of packing for an evacuation without traumatizing them? What do you do for those who have had to endure the heartbreaking business of watching their homes burn?

When thinking about house fires in a philosophical sense, it seems very easy to tell ourselves that as long as the people get out safely, nothing else matters. And in the purest sense this is, of course, true. In school they teach our kids to rescue the “Ps”: People, Pets, Photos, Passports, and Paperwork. But my guess is that when your car is loaded with these Ps and you’ve evacuated the area of immediate danger, any sense of relief you might feel is tempered by a nearly paralyzing fear. How indeed do you recover from having lost almost everything?

The terrible irony of this disaster is that it has brought out the best in everyone. From hotel proprietors offering free lodging to evacuees, to neighbors clearing each other’s homes of valuables, to friends devising systems to provide water and refrigeration, we are all drawing on our inner stores of compassion, generosity, and ingenuity to mitigate a situation that could otherwise turn us all toward despair.

We’re driven by a sense of purpose that is our saving grace. The fires have brought forward our best selves, and although this doesn’t make the fires worth it by any stretch of the imagination, it is one small silver lining. We’re learning just how strong, inventive, empathetic, and charitable we can be, and if we carry this knowledge into the life we’ll lead when this dreadful affair is over, it will be a small gift from the big nightmare that many valley residents are currently living.