Thursday, November 18th.
The fire engines woke me up first. There are always fire trucks rushing somewhere in a city, but these ones screamed their way closer and closer until they sounded like they stopped right in front of my building. But it was the smell of burning plastic that got me out of bed.
I stumbled over to the bedroom window, in that sleep drunk state you get in when you’ve only been asleep for forty minutes. My husband said, “You smell burning, too?”
He went onto our balcony and I went to check the kids’ bedroom doors. We have smoke detectors and sprinklers in the apartment throughout the building, and they should be going off if there was a fire anywhere inside, but I could smell something burning.
I touched both bedroom doors and verified they were cool when my husband called “You have to come see this.”
I walked onto our sixth-floor patio, the cold air biting through my t-shirt. Immediately to my right, orange-red fog poured out of the abandoned houses in the cul-de-sac next door. It looked like a scene from the rock concert from hell, and we had a front-row seat.
We might need to leave in a hurry. I went back to the kids’ bedrooms. There is no gentle way to wake up your kids and tell them to get dressed, there’s a fire, and we might need to leave, but I tried. Maybe it worked because my youngest fell right back asleep once he had his clothes on. My eldest stared at the fire with her father until the smoke drove her back inside.
It took less than five minutes to pack a small go-bag. Phone, laptop, chargers, snacks for the kids, and a knitting project for me. It was almost as if I’d practiced evacuating all week. Maybe on some level I had. Four days earlier, a month’s worth of rain landed on Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in less than 48 hours. Much of Abbotsford was underwater. All of the major highways connecting us to points East shut down. Some closed due to landslides while others had whole sections washed out by flooding rivers.
And yet, our little piece of Vancouver was mostly untouched. We were stranded with the Port of Vancouver on our side of the break. Unlike our friends in the interior, we didn’t need the National Guard to fly food in. Nobody had to evacuate their homes. All we had to do was ration gas and not panic.
I sat down on the couch and waited. Every part of me felt heavy with the need to sleep. A couple of neighbours stood outside near the firetrucks and updated the building Discord channel with news and pictures of the fire. A little after midnight the firefighters had the blaze contained. I sent my eldest back to bed.
Once again, we were disaster adjacent.
You Might Not Want to Live Just Anywhere
The fire could have been so much worse. We live in a city, reasonably close to a fire department that stayed at the site of the fire through the night. The flooding could have been worse. Only five people died in the mudslides.The damage is plenty bad–one of our highways might be fixed within two months, depending on winter weather conditions. And as I write this, we have another storm queuing up to drop another heck-ton (technical term) of water on the Lower Mainland. But for those of us in Vancouver, it’s unlikely that we’ll need to ration more than gas.
My family’s close encounters with disaster made me realize that just because remote workers CAN live anywhere, doesn’t mean we should. We can’t be location agnostic. We need to think in terms of extreme weather events before choosing a place to live. While climate change will affect the entire globe, some places will be less livable than others.
If you live in the U.S., you can use FEMA.gov to look up your flood risk. For those of us outside the US, a Google search using your city’s name and ‘floodplain mapping’ will usually yield results. If you want to know what areas will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, a little tool called ‘Surging Seas’ can help you with that. I found the book ‘How to Prepare for Climate Change’ by David Pogue useful, though the ‘where should I live’ section focuses on the U.S.A.
Of course, not everyone can move. Health issues, aging relatives, economic limitations, and other factors can keep us in a place with known climate risks. If that describes your situation, then you may want to focus on disaster preparation. I can shelter in my home, but the fire scare revealed that I need to pack a better go-bag.
Disasters can hit at unexpected times and places. Do you have supplies ready if you need to shelter at home or get out in a hurry? It might be time for a little audit.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
Staring out at the weather and seething. All kidding aside, I’m in the middle of informational interviews with a few people. I also finished up season one of Latinx lit mag and am beginning the planning for season two.
I want to be in the middle of planning my 25th wedding anniversary party, but with the highways closed and omnicron finding its way around the world, I have no idea what the world will look like on January 4th. I’ll be happy if we can go out to dinner somewhere nice and maybe see a show. Cross your fingers for me?