We’ve all played the game, the one where you consider what you would grab if your house was on fire and you had no time to pack. When your life literally depended on your getting out of there ASAP.
Risa Nye and her family faced that decision, but it was no game.
It was less than a month before Nye’s 40th birthday. She was musing over the passage of time and her lost youth when the unthinkable occurred.
There Was a Fire Here
In her beautifully told but wrenching new memoir, There Was a Fire Here, Nye recounts the trauma and the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed her home.
It happened on October 19, 1991. A grass fire was reported and quickly contained by fire crews. Or so they thought. The next day gusts of wind quickly spread pockets of fire still burning in the grass. Within a short time flames destroyed the local power station, obliterating eight pumping plants. Water pressure dropped. The smoke and fluttering ash were heavy enough to cause residents’ eyes to sting.
And the fire spread like … wildfire.
Nye and her husband Bruce told their two young children that they would wait out the firestorm at the home of Bruce’s parents nearby. They gathered what they thought was important at the time: changes of clothing, jewelry, photo albums.
In fact, they never returned to their beautiful home. It was the Great Oakland Fire that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 25 people.
Their home was leveled to its foundation. It would take two years to rebuild.
Nye skillfully builds the tension and horror, the feeling of surrealism, as she and her husband absorb the extent of the destruction. Belongings and keepsakes that remained in the house were gone forever. Articles of clothing, photos of great-grandparents, children’s toys, were never to be seen again. The blue baseball glove Nye’s father had given her; a gorgeous pink party dress — a consignment shop steal — she had worn just twice; a baby blanket. She grieves their loss. In chapters titled “Artifacts,” Nye shares the sentimental significance of these items, and it is heartbreaking.
She writes, “There was a fire here that wiped out not only things, not only people, but memories–a past with nothing left to mark its presence.”
Haunting and sobering, yes, but inspirational with dashes of humor as well, There Was a Fire Here is one woman’s story of catastrophic loss and the will to move on.
I received a copy of There Was a Fire Here from She Writes Press for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.