My life changed about two months ago on a calm Sunday morning. My family and I were sitting at a breakfast table in Palm Springs. We got a phone call from my grandma saying that there was a fire and it looked like it was near our house. We immediately began calling neighbors. There was no answer. One minute later, we got a call from our home security system saying that our smoke alarms were going off. We thought, uh-oh, that can't be good.
We rushed up to our hotel room and turned on the news. Sure enough, there was a fire right by our house. It just happened to be the biggest wildfire in California history. We saw a neighbor and friend's house burning. By that time, I was shaking uncontrollably.
We started packing. We wanted to get as close as possible. We drove to a friend's house who lived away from the fire. As we drove, we saw a mountaintop on fire. When we got to her house, we watched the news for about an hour. Then we drove to a hotel.
While we were there we managed to get in contact with the neighbor who had my dog and guinea pig. We drove to the hotel that they were in. That night, the worst part came. A neighbor called. She had snuck down to our house and told us it was gone. We all sat there on the bed--in complete shock. After a few moments, the tears came. No sleep came that night.
A couple of days later, my mom and dad went to see the house. When they came back to the hotel, I asked them what it looked like. They said it looked a lot like a war zone. A while later, I went to see the house, or "chimney." When I saw it, I was at a loss for words. I cried.
Then I began to help look for things in the rubble. We found the remains of our piano. We also found some china, a few soccer metals, my piggy bank, and a few more things. It was an odd feeling to see a charred lump and try to guess what it was. I scooped up some ash of my room. I will keep that forever.
We spent the next few weeks at the Residence Inn. Each day I would think of a new thing that was gone. Even though so many people and strangers were being so kind, giving us money and clothes, the childhood things can never be replaced.
While I was at the Residence Inn, Megan, my friend from school, was there too. We carpooled to and from school. Believe me, it was really strange going down an elevator and eating breakfast in the lobby. One morning in the lobby, a lady came up to us and gave us her phone number and said that we could stay at her house. We had never seen her in our life.
Losing our house taught us how wonderful Scripps Ranch is. We will always remember the support people gave us. Although in about a year we will be living in our new house, the memory of this time and everything that was lost will never leave. We are never going to replace some things, but we will surely rebuild our lives on Meadowdale Lane. For home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Scripps Ranch, and on the end of Meadowdale Lane. We'll be back!
[Editor's note: Lauren originally wrote her story as a writing exercise for school. Her mother says it was supposed to be one paragraph, but the words just flowed. In the following article, Lauren's mom, Vicki, thanks just some of the many people who helped them during their time of need.]
We are a family--Dan, Vicki, Lauren, Brooke, and Ali--who lost our home on Meadowdale Lane. While there are no words to describe the loss we have suffered, we know many of you are suffering as well, and for that we are truly sorry. The purpose of our writing is to express our gratitude to this community that has more than supported us--it has literally carried us during a time when we couldn't function on our own. The generosity of not only our friends and neighbors, but complete strangers, has overwhelmed us. A huge, heartfelt thank you to the entire community, and to the following groups and individuals.
Saint Gregory the Great, its parishioners, and everyone who donated items and volunteered there. What can we say? You provided everything we needed to get through those first few awful weeks. The Residence Inn and Springhill Suites, our "home away from home." Councilmember Brian Maienschein and everyone who helped set up and staff the Local Assistance Center at the Recreation Center. How would we ever have known what to do without their help?
The women of Ali's playgroup who provided three vans full of clothing, toys, supplies, certificates, and so much more! The Creekside Court residents who put together the annual "Whispering Ridge" Halloween Carnival at the last minute. All of the games, crafts, and prizes for the planned carnival burned in my home.
The firefighters and police officers who fought so hard to protect our community during this crisis. Dan's coworkers at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines, who were incredibly generous with time off, gifts, clothes, money, and moral support.
Our dear friends and neighbors, the Shalinskys and Evatts, who took some of their precious moments before they evacuated to go into our home--we were out of town--and get out our animals, as well as to grab some pictures off the walls and piano top.
A woman I know only as "Andrea," who met us in the hotel lobby the second day and offered to let us live with her. I think it was at that moment that we began to believe that we would somehow make it through all this, that we were not alone and our community would help us. The kind people who drove around as we sifted through our rubble offering gloves, sifters, water, boxes, and help.
All of the many, many local businesses that provided meals, certificates, discounts, and so forth--we will be faithful patrons forever. The teacher in Santee who we have never met, but who "adopted" our bookworm Lauren and has given her so much.
The SRCA for its support to the entire community during this time. All of our wonderful friends, especially the Volle, Lanz, Hoffer, Tirshfield, DaCosta, Porter, Salvato, Diehl, and Rowland families. Our families, especially my brother, Andy, who survived a massive heart attack the Friday before the fire, and gave me great perspective. Compared to the fear of losing my only sibling, losing my house was a piece of cake.
And last, but certainly not least, our guardian angels, the Balelo and Stevens families. There are no words to express the love and gratitude we feel for you and all you have done for us. We are forever indebted to you for helping us to rebuild our home and our hearts.
Thank you as well to all of you who I do not have the space to thank here, but who have made a difference in our lives. Please know that every prayer, good wish, phone call, gift, or gesture extended to us has eased our burden and given meaning, and even joy, to a horrible situation. The silver lining to all of this is that we are together, we are healthy, and we live surrounded by the best people in the best community in the world. Thank you, Scripps Ranch!