The Fire In Kibbutz Amiad

Hi gang,

Sorry I didn’t publish anything for a while. While working on my next post last Friday, my plans took quite a turn. This post tells the story. Nothing about copyright infringement today, hope you’re not disappointed.

Story starts here

It was Friday at noon. I enter the house and mutter to Julie, my girlfriend: “Do you smell smoke? I think someone is having a BBQ under our window!”. I get so irritated that I storm outside, ready to yell at whoever was stinking my house up. The smell is too strong for a barbecue. I look around.

Smoke. Lots of smoke.

“Julie, It ain’t no Barbie! I shout through the door. It looks like a conflagration!”. I see huge clouds of smoke just over the hill outside my house.

While trying to decide if we should call 911, a firefighter plane goes above our heads. “Well, I guess they already know”, we agree.

I go back in, and get my camera. By the time I get outside, the wind changes its direction. Smoke scatters. Instead of cool shots of smokey sky, I take nice macros of some scenery.

A nice macro shot as the smoke went away

Once I was done with the camera, I went back in, closed the windows and switched the air conditioner to circulate indoor air instead of its default outdoor settings. Nothing else required, all taken care of, right? I sat down to work on my next post, as I promised here.

A phone call

Just as I was getting some momentum going, my cell phone rang. It was my dad, who lives ten minutes walk away.

“Strange”, I thought. Dad always sleeps between 2:00 and 4:00 pm on a Friday, (which is like a Saturday anywhere but Israel). Why is he calling?

“Hi dad, I’m kinda in the middle of something” – I answer the call. “Did you hear? We are ordered to evacuate immediately. Open the door and you’ll hear the firefighters calling”.

I open the door. Siren comes and goes. Then another one, and another one. A fire truck, a police car, and another police car. Then I hear them calling on their megaphones:

All citizens must evacuate their houses immediately“.

This was not a drill, or a joke. They where dead serious, and spot-on. Minutes later, while I was standing outside my house, staring at the ever-growing number of police cars and firetrucks, I started coughing. The smoke was becoming very thick.

You have five minutes to evacuate your home

I went inside. My phone beeped. SMS message from the emergency services – “All citizens must evacuate their houses, with no exemptions. The local council has sent a bus to take all people who don’t have a car”.  Oh my god. This is for real.

What do you take with you, when you have no idea if the house will burn down and what will remain?

Julie and I take out me little trolley. We throw in our iPads, laptops and cameras. Something’s missing. “Clothes!” Julie says, and we throw in some underwear and some tops. “Passports! IDs!” I shout back. That’s it, we take another glimpse, I snap my iPod and key chain, and we’re out the door.

Julie starts the car. “Where to?” she asks. “Out of here!” I answer.

Pedal to the metal

We leave the Kibbutz and drive up north. Go through a smokey cloud. And another one seconds later. We realize it’s a huge conflagration and wonder what’s gonna happen, and if our home will survive. It’s surrounding it from three different directions at the same time.

We decide to stop debating about what we left behind, as what’s done is done. We stop to eat something, and settle in a friend’s house, waiting for news to come.

Rumors, that’s all we have. One channel says the firefighters got it under control. Another reporter on a second channel says it’s completely out of control and there is a serious danger that all of the village houses will be burned down to ashes. We open the web browser at our friend’s place, and check out for news.

“All roads leading to and from the area are closed”.

Getting better information

I call the radio station I used to work for. “Hey, do you need someone to operate the news desk? I’m close to the studio and don’t mind to pop in and help”.

The station usually broadcasts recorded shows on Friday and Saturday. But now, many people might be looking desperately for some news while driving their car away from their (soon to be) burning houses.

And from another angle – if I operate the news desk, I get access to people who actually know what’s going on. The beauty of journalism, right? Sadly, they already have someone on standby, and I am left with the rumors.

Time goes by, so slowly

An hour passes, then another one. My parents only got two kilometers away before the roads were closed down. They’re with my grandpa, standing in a traffic junction seeing it all in action. My grandpa, a holocaust survivor, being urged again out of his house, with no time to pack without a clue if he will have a house to come back to. It’s painful for me to even try to imagine what goes through his mind.

At 5:45 PM the phone rings. It’s the radio station’s manager. “Can you get to the studio by 6:00?” she asks, and I answer with no hesitation. I rush Julie and Chloe (our dog) to the car and off we go.

A confused and worried Chloe

First think I do when I arrive is to call the spokesman of the fire dept. “There is no longer any danger of the fire reaching the houses”. Phew. Breath in, breath out. I can calm down a bit.

Back home

We were back home as the night fell. We could still see roaring fire, and at 2am one fire truck was still at work, tens of meters away from the house.The fire kept on burning during Saturday, Sunday, Monday and even Tuesday dawn.

At the end of the day, the house was saved. None of the houses in our Kibbutz (read: village) suffered major damage. The conflagration was brought to a halt just about 50-100 meters away of our home. Same goes for my parent’s house, just 200-300 meters away from theirs.

The ground left after the fire.

Everything smells now like one big cigarette, and everything outside is covered with soot. Most of the trees and flowers are gone, and the ground has basically become coal.

Flowers covered with black soot

Still, it could have been so much worse! Yes, I lost a day or two worth of work, and had some cleaning to do, but that’s nothing compared to losing the house or god forbid having anyone injured.

Still, going through this experience, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you were in my position. What would you pack if you had only five minutes to evacuate your home? How would you handle it?