The Night of the 10 Plagues in San Diego (Wildfires 2014)

I’m nowhere near the fires. I hope everyone is safe and doing okay. 

Many years ago, I was sleeping or trying to sleep in my bed next to my large, sliding glass door that opens to a balcony overlooking the street.  I heard a terrible crashing noise, like metal garbage cans falling off the back of a truck. My neighbors across the way had metal plates covering their driveway, and so I assumed someone had just come home very, very late. I fell back asleep.

Maybe an hour later my mom woke me up and told me the fish tank had broke. We had at least 8 fishtanks in the house at the time, so what did she mean “the” fish tank? I zombie-walked towards the hallway and by the time I stepped outside my door, my bare feet landed on wet carpet.

My parents had deconstructed their bed and my dad stood inside its black metal frame with a wet-dry vac.  My brother was using the suction functions of the carpet cleaner. The 100 gallon fish tank in my parents’ bedroom now only contained 10 gallons at most, and its front plate of glass was missing down to the last 4 inches. It had separated from the wooden frame at the top of the tank, bowed forward, and shattered, emptying most of its contents. I could hear fish bodies slapping the remaining water.

That night we lost two fish. One had gotten stuck in a nook of the bedframe and was left unnoticed for too long, the other, my poor Ma stepped on.  Later we would lose one or two more to the stress, but the remaining 40 or so survived. We spent some more time moving furniture and soaking up water with towels and suction devices, and my dad transferred the fish to new homes.

I wasn’t much help or maybe they wanted me to get enough sleep for school the next day, so they sent me to the guest bedroom downstairs so they could continue vacuuming without disturbing me. I woke up the next morning totally disoriented from being in the wrong bed. Then I looked out the window. The sky was orange. I wouldn’t be going to school.

When I stepped out of the bedroom, my parents already had the TV running with news of the Cedar fire. The timeline is fuzzy for me, but at first we had a very confident sense that we wouldn’t be evacuated, then the reverse-911 calls started happening, and then a vehicle drove through our cul-de-sac announcing the evacuation call on a megaphone.

As we drove away from our drenched house (the spread of the water was so bad that we eventually had to replace the floor/ceiling for that room as well as all the carpet for my parents room, the living room below it, and the stairs) our sense of hysteria crackled in the air between us. “Well, fuck. Let it burn,” we joked. We tried to cope with humor as we always do. “Floods, fires… What’s next?” I said, “Locusts?”

Our house didn’t burn, and not because it was dripping with fish water, but because hard-working firefighters prevented the flames from leaping the road and igniting the nearby Mission Trails Regional Park. We were able to return to our home in a few days. The fish, which (unlike the birds and dogs) couldn’t evacuate with us, were happy to be fed.

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