On Friday night we were evacuated from our home in the middle of the night. The pounding on the door occurred at 11:59PM. However, it didn’t come as much of a surprise though because at 5:00PM we had already lost our power and water.
Racing around gathering belongings at a moments notice to evacuate your house - potentially forever - has got to be difficult enough at the best of times, but I never imagined having to do it in the dark with no utilities.
Liam escalated the fastest. Losing our utilities was the final straw that he had been holding onto. After the lights went out and his water bottle dried up, he started to panic. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched your young child crumble and collapse from fear, stress and anxiety but let me assure you, it takes every ounce of courage and strength to put on a brave face and not breakdown with them.
Meanwhile none of our neighbours were waiting for an official evacuation order. They too saw the loss of utilities as the final straw and they were all loading up and taking off. I wasn’t so keen on this idea so we began bedtime routine while also asking the kids to gather one small box of their most precious, worldly possessions just in case the orders came in the middle of the night.
It was fascinating to watch a five and six year old grapple with this concept. I was quite surprised seeing what they deemed important and what they didn’t care about. It was heartbreaking at the same time watching them come to terms with this. In their mind, anything left behind would be burned in the fire. No exceptions. They don’t understand “possibility”.
After we had those small boxes packed by flashlight, I tried to begin bedtime routine. Have you ever done a bedtime routine without water? Toilet doesn’t work. Sink doesn’t work. We had to use bottled water. And all of this by flashlight.
While Ethan held it together, with only a minor outburst, Liam came unglued when he realized his nightlight and clock wouldn’t work. This immediately dysregulated him so severely I couldn’t get him back. After about half an hour of consoling him and assuring him I would keep him safe, I had to leave and let him cry himself to sleep.
Madison was next. She was most annoyed that she had been neglected due to the power outage, the stress and anxiety of a looming evacuation order and being outnumbered by dysregulated children. I did my best to get enough food into her - typically a two hour process, that had to be rushed and shortened drastically. Then it was off to bed for her too.
In the living room Kaitlyn was having the worst day and now evening of her life. She too had come unglued and wouldn’t settle for anything or anyone. She refused to sleep, and even feeds were not going well. This just added enormous stress to the situation as either Lisa or I had to continually be with her, holding her, rocking her, burping her, changing her or for a brief moment letting her sleep on us.
At midnight when the knock came on the door, we had a lot of things put together already. Most of our neighbours had evacuated already, which just communicated to me that we wouldn’t be able to avoid the evacuation orders. Thankfully they gave us time. I specifically told him we had four kids, three with disabilities and an infant so it would take us a couple hours to load up. He told me we had time and encouraged me to be thorough with what we packed because it likely would be quite some time before we would be allowed back.
The kids took top priority; but when I began thinking about their disabilities, my anxiety level spiked. We have tens of thousands of dollars of supports and equipment that are vital for Madison. Most of these items are physically enormous. We wouldn’t be able to bring any of them with us.
I have regulating items and tools scattered throughout the house for Ethan and now Liam. What was important and what could be left behind. What about food??? No, you don’t understand unless you have kids like mine. If you’ve followed my journey and story for the past few years, maybe you can imagine how leaving my carefully assembled pantry behind, damn near killed me. Each of my kids have very specific foods they need for their regulation - even for their health. And while all of this is replaceable… it is NOT instantly replaceable. It has taken me time and a lot of work to assemble all of this. Some of you, my most loyal friends and followers have even helped me with this!!! Remember the Veggie Straws saga? The “owl cookies”? The goldfish cracker? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Finally around 2AM, I had everything gathered and packed. Our mini van was stuffed to the gills. Every time I opened the door to take another load out to the vehicle, I inhaled a lung full of smoke and was showered with falling ash and embers while seeing the glow of the fire over the hills get bigger and bigger.
It was time to wake up the kids and break the bad news they had gone to bed fearing. Liam was first. I was so proud of him, because he sprung into action immediately and was far calmer than I was expecting. But he really struggled with the reality of everything setting in. He had hoped to wake up and be told it was just a bad dream.
I moved over to Ethan next. I chose a gentle approach with him, by spinning some of the details. I woke him up and told him it was time for an adventure. We were going on a drive. A special, fun, adventure drive that could only happen in the middle of the night. He smiled at me, got excited and just as I was leaving his room, he rolled over, pulled the blanket over his head and went back to sleep.
So, I decided it was time for the truth. I knelt down beside his bed and told him the scary news. “Ethan, tonight a big, strong firefighter came to our door and knocked very loudly and told us we HAVE TO leave our house tonight. He told us we could only bring what was most important to us, so that’s why I’m here waking you up, because I’m taking YOU with me, because you’re most important to me”
He shot up, wide eyed and tossed his blankets aside before bolting out of his room. I figured I had scared him too much and instantly regretted my decision. I got up and ran after him. I caught up to him in the family room where I heard him ask in a panic, “Is Madison okay?!? Is Madison awake?!?” as he slid under the curtain and disappeared into her little makeshift room.
I yanked the curtain down and followed him into her room where he was kneeling over her in bed aggressively shaking her awake. He was panicked, urgently coaxing her to wake up. It was so obvious to me at that moment, but I instantly teared up and started crying. I had just told him that he was the most important person to me, so he ran to find the most important person to HIM… and it was his twin sister!!! It was a moment that lasted maybe 20 seconds, but I will NEVER FORGET it. Words can’t even convey the entire scene and what unfolded. It was priceless. It was the most incredible scene I’ve ever witnessed. I’m balling my eyes out even now, reliving it as I type this out.
The kids were all amazing. Even Kaitlyn had FINALLY fallen asleep by now. Everyone grabbed last minute items as we were leaving. Snacks for the road. Mementos that we would be devastated if they burned. And some clothes for the next day or two. And then one by one we left the house and buckled into our vehicle. The boys were buzzing with anxious energy. Madison was terrified. She was so scared, and we couldn’t do anything about it. We could just see the terror dripping out of her eyes. She was physically shaking, with her bottom lip quivering as she tried to hold back the tears. But what can you do in a situation like this? There has to be some degree of cold, urgent, emotionless action taken, and for our hypersensitive, dysregulated kids that’s a tough pill to swallow - especially with Madison who has no form of communication.
By the time I loaded myself in, two minutes later having only grabbed my laptop, my violin, a shirt my grandma made me and a Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar and Coca Cola for the road, our van was so coated in ash I couldn’t even see out the windshield.
Most of our community was gone already, but our neighbours across the cul de sac from us, had begun packing their motor home full at midnight when they got the knock on their door. But when he went to start it, it wouldn’t turn over. I can’t imagine the panic that must have hit him. By the time we were leaving two hours later, a massive tow truck has just rolled in to tow him out.
We joined a long line of others heading out on the roads that were all closed by now, except for evacuees leaving the area. A friend of mine had heard of the evacuation alert a few days earlier and had offered me her vacation house up at Big White Ski Resort. It was a completely vacant, three bedroom house in my favourite village, about an hour an a half outside of the evacuation zone. How could I say no?
Big White was what drew me (and Lisa) to the Okanagan in the first place back in 2009. I opened my third and final restaurant up on top of the mountain there. It’s a village that instantly captured my heart. I still dream of building a house of my own up there some day in the FeatherTop division, but for now I just needed some place to go in the middle of the night - and short of driving to Alberta, this was the most viable option.
So we drove through the night with no one sleeping except for Kaitlyn. We arrived at dawn and actually had quite a bit of natural light already as we unpacked. Everyone was wired and no one was willing to go back to bed, so we baked muffins as we always do on Saturday morning and started our day a few hours earlier than normal, and having gotten no sleep.
We have no idea how long we’ll be evacuated for. We’re assuming AT LEAST four days, but likely seven to ten. This fire is enormous getting close to 600 km/sq. in size and it’s moving fast due to how dry this region is and the winds we’ve been having recently.
For now we’re safe. In fact, we’re more than safe. I’ve turned this week into our family vacation. We didn’t have one planned this year due to Kaitlyn’s arrival, but now that we’ve been forced out of our home, and my friend has allowed us to stay at her house in one of the most beautiful, sought after resorts in North America… it’s hard for my kids NOT to see this as a vacation. So, why not.
I’ve published blogs about this before… it’s all about perspective. Ethan has taught us how to stand on our heads and see problems from a new perspective. This is case and point. I saw it as a fire evacuation. My kids saw it as a family vacation. I’ll leave it up to you now… either we’ve been evacuated or we’re on vacation. You decide.