Hanna fire brings perspective
September 9, 2020
I thought it would be clever to write my thoughts on Saturday as I waited to see if I was going to have to be evacuated due to the 316 fire and the potential of losing pretty much everything I owned.
I can’t tell you how interesting the story was because when the order came that the town was under a mandatory evacuation, I shutdown my computer without saving the document.
When you are in a hurry, you do careless things.
Ironically, I was at the first fire that started on the railroad tracks at about 11:30 a.m. Given its location near the Hanna Basin Museum, I remember thinking that incident was a close call. It was extinguished in a fairly quick manner and I was at the Hanna football field to watch the first game of the season. The fire would have stayed in the background of my mind, but there was smoke coming from another area outside of town.
I didn’t give it much thought until Jackie Jones and myself, cameras in hand, left the football field at halftime and walked down towards the railroad tracks to get a better look at where the smoke was coming from. If you know Hanna, then put yourself near the cemetery, just outside of town. That is where the dark plumes of smoke seemed to be. How close to the cemetery was anybody’s guess, but Jackie and I both said we hoped there was no danger to that area.
Back at the game, the smoke seemed to be getting worse but my focus was an recording the game. I did hear, from being near the EMS folk stationed at the game, that US 30 from Hanna Junction to Walcott Junction was closed. That meant the Little Snake River Valley football team was going down WY 72.
Not a big deal.
I went around town and took pictures of the smoke from different parts of town knowing this fire was probably going to be newsworthy.
I had no idea.
I got back home and saw Marshal Jeff Neimark down the street. His eyes were so irritated by the smoke from where he had just been he had to use bottled water to cleanse his eyes. He told me the authorities were recommending people leave town, but it was not mandatory.
I am a resident that has green lawns. In fact, I was watering my yards during the football game. I decided that, although the smoke was getting worse and several planes were buzzing overhead, the best course of action was for me to stay and water down everything.
Plus, I am a reporter so it is sort of in our DNA to stay with a story as long as we can.
This was definitely turning into a story as I saw neighbors and others on my street start loading up their campers and RVs to leave. While taking pictures out on my front line, I saw dozens of Hanna residents heed the call to evacuate.
Realizing that I should record this with words, I went to my computer to work. I started getting texts from many asking if I was okay. I responded I was fine.
My column was centered on, ‘what do you take when you have limited space and little time to decide what is important to you.’
I got to find out faster than I imagined.
My aunt had told me to get all important papers when she called.
That made sense, so I grabbed what I deemed important and the bit of jewelry I have. I knew the cat I had recently inherited from my mother and stepfather would be going with me.
That was about as far as I went in gathering belongings. I got back to my story.
Amanda, my co-worker at the Sun, was the person who made me realize that a mandatory evacuation was imminent. She wrote me the evacuation was mandatory from what she knew.
That didn’t bode well.
I looked around my home at all the pictures, furniture and other stuff I have accumulated over the years.
I have left fully furnished apartments while living overseas and not thought twice. It comes with the territory of moving around country to country. When I did so, I always knew I had a place in Wyoming that was my repository of possessions that meant something to me.
As I stood looking around, I had to face all these things I had saved over the year, were potentially going to disappear from my life forever. No amount of insurance money was going to replace what my grandparents, parents, family and friends had given me.
“Its just things,” I told myself. “Pick out something you want around you, if you do lose everything.”
I knew whatever I took was going to have to fit in the trunk of my Mazda. I settled on my collection of old bartending books. I have quite a few. As I boxed them up, the electricity went out.
I went outside and heard over a loudspeaker from the Carbon County Sherriff’s Department that Amanda was right, the town was under mandatory evacuation.
I strategically put sprinklers next to the house and left the water running, I grabbed the cat and then my computer, which I didn’t shut down properly.
I left my home of over 20 years to the fates.
I wasn’t encouraged by the black smoke everywhere I looked, but a calm took over. If I was meant to lose all that I owned, then that was what would happen.
From all the texts that I was getting concerning my safety, I knew the important thing was that I was getting to leave in one piece. I was saving my stepfather’s beloved cat and that seemed the most important.
This is my first real experience of losing everything that I own and I found it amazing that I was okay. Sure, I would be crushed about losing things I hold dear, but when faced with what to take and not, I took surprisingly little.
I can’t say this is how everyone would react but, when leaving town, I stopped and talked with people helping to fight the fire and get people out of town.
I watched the streams of vehicles leave, many with trailers and campers in tow. Almost all those vehicles had dogs.
I smiled when I saw this. I don’t know what else each vehicle had, but it was nice to know pets were a priority for all.
I left hoping the fire would be kept from town.
The fire came close.
The pictures in the paper tell that story.
The help of the people, towns, law enforcement, private companies and fire departments from all over that came together to stop this monster from engulfing our homes can’t be overstated. I know I am grateful and I think I can say for other Hanna residents they are thankful, too.
Hanna residents were evacuated to Laramie and the Red Cross was excellent. I had never been exposed to them personally and now know first-hand all the good they do.
While waiting in a hotel room, a lot of rumors were going on. I have to say, they were not helpful. There is enough angst going on in one’s mind without people throwing out unsubstantiated stories.
The next day came and we were allowed back in town at 1 p.m.
When I drove up and saw how close the fire had come to structures in town, I have to give praise again to all those that kept the fire at bay.
I drove up to my home, happy to see the sprinklers still doing their job.
I entered my house and it was as I had left it.
It was as if nothing had changed but, in reality, much had.
There is so much I am not taking for granted any longer.
I know there are a lot of people that really care what happens to me. I know people came from all over to help a town they didn’t know and put in incredible effort. I know to be proud of many people in positions of authority;that proved their worth in a time of serious crisis.
I know possessions, no matter how long I have had them, are not worth getting upset about losing, although it is interesting to me my old bartending books made the cut over most everything else.
I also learned firsthand the worst situations really do bring out the best in people.