Unfortunately, many of us know someone affected by the recent devastating wildfires in California.
In my case, it is a good friend of mine named Renee, who used to teach with me in our Fontana district, who moved to Paradise several years ago. She and her husband lost their home and his business, but luckily escaped with their lives, the clothes on their backs, and their two cats. They currently live with friends in Lodi, and she drives an hour to her work at a school near Chico. They have no idea where they will eventually end up...
Recently my husband and I flew flew to New Orleans to spend nine days with our son's family for the Thanksgiving season, and when we flew into Sacramento Airport for a connecting flight, the whole area was covered in thick smoke from the raging Camp Fire, which was still in the process of becoming the deadliest wildfire in modern California history. (At last count, it had killed at least 85 people and destroyed at least 15,800 structures.)
When we boarded our next plane, a family of six boarded as well. They were dressed in summer clothes, which seemed unusual, and each child hugged a stuffed toy and a blanket. My first, mostly subconscious thought was that they were refugees from that fire. And about an hour into the flight, that was confirmed.
Those family members were overheard talking about their harrowing experience, and were on their way to live with relatives in Tennessee, because they had nothing to go back to in Paradise.
A man seated across the aisle from them stood up, took off his coat, and handed it to the father, who had no coat.
Because so many people wanted to know about their experience, the stewardesses persuaded that father to go to the front of the plane and use the microphone to explain what happened to them.
One of the things I remember him describing was that while they were escaping Paradise in their car, they were surrounded by flames on both sides of the road, and some of the occupied cars behind them did NOT make it to safety!
Meanwhile, the stewardesses surreptitiously went around to the other passengers and accepted monetary donations for the family. Plus, a blank journal was passed around for passengers to write words of encouragement.
When we landed in New Orleans, that family exited the plane last, because they had been seated at the back of the plane. Once outside the plane, they were handed the journal and money. Once they realized what they had received, they cried. So did the rest of us who witnessed it.
I've flown a lot in my lifetime, and will continue to do so. I've flown so much that I don't remember much about those experiences. But THIS was a flight I will never forget!
(Darlene Scalf is a Fontana resident.)