As fire advanced, they debated when to leave

Sue Miller
Special to The Black Mountain News

It was fun, I thought, not worrying about taking the fabric cushions in every night at our home between Black Mountain and Lake Lure. Visions of my Western states, Sunset magazines, with the outdoor rooms and opened sliding doors open all the time, the indoors and outdoors melding into wonderful open spaces - this was October. Occasionally a lusting wind would sweep across the decks, and I would have to close the doors.

Still the Southwest feeling was in the air.

Now it was November and suddenly our lovely rain forest woods were gasping for water. My family was busy with graduation and travel. Busy, busy.

Then the night of the election, I heard a siren. I have lived here 30 years, and never have I heard the siren. Never knew we had one at the volunteer fire house. It sounded three times. Umm, I think.

On Nov. 10, we were informed there was a large fire burning up on Mount Shumont, very close to our nephew's home. He and his family were in South Korea. We alerted them. Our fire department people were putting on fire attire and heading to the upper mountains area above Lake Lure. They were 15 miles from us.

We found out the name of the fire was the Party Rock fire. There was a phone number we could call to get information about the fire and what was happening where. I called to see how we could help.

Stay calm, I was told. Clean leaves and debris from around our home. Stay inside to avoid the smoke.

We kept all communications open so we our Korea family could know the latest. Most of the time, they were way ahead of us with news. We had the map on our cell phones and could see the fire spreading.

The fire expanded by thousands of acres over the weekend. It was so surreal. Rains, floods, landslides, frozen rains and blizzards - we have been through this together. But never this level of an all-out California-style fire.

The smoke began to filter over the mountains northward toward us. It covered the valley floors and blew into our yards. We watched the map’s red fire ring expand towards us. We watched the tall grasses in our yard to see how fast and in what direction the wind was blowing.

Hourly we decided whether to go or stay.

The Shumont area had been evacuated, and all the north side of Lake Lure was told to do the same. Door to door, firefighters told people to get out.

My husband and I decided what to take from the house and what will we leave. I collected my journals, paintings, picture albums and my featherweight Singer sewing machine. I had forgotten clothes to wear, my toiletries, etc. I was surprised about this in retrospect.

Family and friends called to see what help we might need, offering places for us to stay. We are grateful for their concerns.

I went over to the fire house and was told by the fire chief, go home, you are safe. That felt great to hear, but “what ifs” circled in my mind.

We decided to go down the highway toward the Shumont fire area. There we came upon several fire trucks and an official-looking four-wheeler. Inside was a very decorated fire marshal. He was so reassuring, telling me Lake Lure and the Shumont area residents would be able to return to their homes and businesses the next day.

We praised all the fire teams. The fire marshal told me also how the firefighters trusted their teams, that they were in constant communication. This was the most reassuring and calming information I could have gotten. Why? I do not know. It just let me know they knew what they were doing. In their hands, we were safe, I felt. They knew their business.

By Friday afternoon, the whole of the sky was filled with smoke. We began seeing the large army bombers flying through the smoke, spraying retardant. I was sitting out on our deck, watching with the field glasses and looking up on my cell phone what the retardant was made of and how much each plane could carry.

Somewhere in all of this, I became aware of a new sound in our woods - a very black duck-like bird. It was a coot, a water bird. I never saw one around here before. It came straight toward us, like an omen of peace among chaos. We were so happy to see him. It went right past us into the woods. And that was that. We have not seen it again. We took pictures.

But my husband and I were still wavering between going and staying.

We decided to go to a concert at a home off Riceville Road that we had lined up a month ago. What the heck - life is “doing,” not “waiting.” Returning home, we were happy to see that our homes and property were not in danger.

I still am watching the grasses around our house to see which way the wind is blowing. I am still a little nervous, but I’m so thankful to our firefighters and our community.

As for thinking how fun Southwest deck living was a few months ago, I will take a rainy scene anytime. And, I will take the cushions in every night.