Dana's Story

In 2008 I was living in Montecito right outside of Santa Barbara, in the hills. One night some kids were at the property above mine and decided to have a bonfire. They didn’t put it out with water and the next day the Santa Anna winds picked up to 80 miles an hour and the fire began. Within an hour it had burned 50 to 60 homes. It took 210 homes in total. One of them was mine.

I was on my way home from Pismo Beach when it started. I had one of my son’s with me, but my boyfriend, mother and other two children were still in the home. When I first saw the flames I thought it was a control burn but then realized it was too late for a control burn. I hurried up the mountain and there was one lone cop who had parked his car so that nobody could go through. I saw the flames getting bigger and bigger. There was a line behind me and everyone was freaking out. It was so windy; literally raining fire. I couldn’t get through to anyone on the phone. I’m completely panicking. The cop told me, “No – you can’t go in there. Don’t worry, they will be evacuated.”

I said, “No. Fuck this, I am going. Nobody knows what is going on!” It’s the worst feeling in the world to think your family could be burning. Nothing was going to stop me. The woman behind me wouldn’t move her car, my son is screaming at me to calm down, the cop is telling me I can’t go to my children, and I just lost all control.

I put the car in reverse, slammed into the woman’s car. I wanted to go the back way in, but now she is screaming that I hit her car, the cop is also screaming, I’m screaming, my son is screaming and I all I know is that I will, I will, get to my family. I backed up and drove right through someone’s property, took out a statue and went down the mountain. By this time the fire is going up the other side. I’m frantically calling my house, calling everybody and anybody, just crazy calling. I couldn’t reach them so I just knew, I knew, they were in there. My son kept telling me to calm down. I could not. It was impossible. All I could think was, “No matter what, I have to get to them”. I got to the top and could see absolutely nothing. The whole mountainside was engulfed. I was like, “AAAAAAAH Omigod, my kids, Omigod, my kids”. I knew they were in there. At that point you don’t care. You will literally go through fire. Nothing was going to stop me. I was so insane, so desperate, you can’t imagine. My son is screaming that we can’t drive through that – we will die and just then the phone rings and it was my neighbor. I will never forget it. She said, “Dana, there’s been a fire!” and I said, “I know, I’m here, I’m ready to go in, where is my mom, my kids?” and she said, “Dana, no – they have been evacuated – go to the mission, they are there, everyone is fine. They are all fine. The whole mountainside is gone. Don’t go in there, just go to the mission.” I dropped the phone and my son freaked, “Mom, what is happening?” I just said, “They are OK. They are all OK.”

The flames were everywhere. I finally snapped out of it. My son was screaming at me that we had to get out of there, we were going to burn. I flipped around again, I even went over a cliff, but we made it. I went to the mission and, mercifully, found my family.

While we watched the fire burn, my little guy kept running back and forth saying, “All our stuff! We lost all our stuff!” I just said, “No, it’s OK. You can always buy stuff back. We can’t buy each other back.”

I used to live a very wealthy lifestyle. My life has changed. Wealth doesn’t matter to me anymore. When you experience that you could lose your children, or your loved ones, the shit you own doesn’t matter. Before I went through this I would see something about a war torn country and how someone’s child was killed and feel bad. Now when I see that, I feel it. There were five minutes. They had five minutes to run, literally run. Many of my neighbors were horribly burned as they ran. It happened just like that, and it can happen just like that.

I would say that life is truly precious because you are here only once. The love, the moments that are full of love; that is what is important.

My teenagers used to say, “Oh, I’m just going to kill myself! Life sucks!” They don’t say that anymore because they know that once you are gone, you are gone.

To anyone going through loss, and who is saying, "Screw this, or screw that; what am I even here for?" I would say believe me, I've been there, and I go through that, but maybe take a page out of my book - When I go back to that horrible, burning moment and what it would have been to lose my kids, and then the phone ringing and finding out that they were safe was literally like getting my life back again. I guess you could say it was as though I had my life taken from me and ten minutes later it was given back. This is now my point of reference. We all want material things, but really, it doesn’t matter.

We matter.


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