An open letter:
I am sure all of you are aware of the terrible fires raging in the West. Normally, when things of this nature occur, we glance at the TV and think, "That's terrible" but honestly, other than following the story on the news, we really do not know how it feels to have a disaster hit you. It's something that happens to someone else.
Now, I do know. In the Oregon fires raging across the state during the past couple of weeks, my family lost all of our property (7 acres) when it burned to the ground. The property was in the family for 48 years. We were very, very fortunate to have actually moved from the house 4 weeks to the day. We had been living there for years. Most people in the area barely had time to get out - 15 minutes at best. Getting evacuated goes in three levels: Level One - Pack a bag; Level Two - leave; Level Three - Get out now. Don't take anything. Everyone got Level Three. There was no Level One or Two.
Many of our friends and neighbors did not fare as well as we did. They lost homes and had nowhere to go. Entire towns around us burned down. Clinics, post offices, lodges, businesses, restaurants, churches, grocery stores, schools, even the fire station and a fire truck, you name it. All gone. No one that night received any other alarm other than Level Three. That's how fast the fire spread. Volunteers banged on doors, alarms sounded on cell phones and TV, horns honked and people of all ages, fled.
As they left, no one had time to grab much of anything. It's funny how you think when panicked. What should you do? One friend's 14 year old granddaughter threw her jeans and computer into a paper bag. Ironically, my friend, standing in her nightgown, looked around and thought, "What will I take?" and in her moment of panic, grabbed her dog and her hand sanitizer. I know how lucky we were. If there is a god, fire god, rain god, miracle worker, or just plain ole Lady Luck, I am a believer. I cannot tell you the devastation. 500,000 people out of homes or evacuated, in dire need of housing, clothing, food, supplies, medicine, basic necessities and of course, jobs.
The next 10 days were a nightmare. We were evacuated from the new house - Level 2. The smoke was so bad, we could not see the house across the street, let alone our own back fence. Truthfully, I was shaken up. Something very rare for me. The fire started at the 47 mile post on the highway and we lived at the 46.5 mile post. The fire spread so rapidly that there would have been no time to get out. There were no neighbors around, it was nighttime, we would have probably been asleep, so no one to warn us. The time it would have taken to call 911 would not have been enough. In all probability, we most likely would have died.
It's funny how, in the face of tragedy, you still have to carry on life. While we were traipsing around like Gypsies from hotel to Air B and B, we thanked our lucky stars that we even were able to do that. Others were not as lucky. One evacuation center, the high school, was suddenly caught in the fire and 150 evacuees had to be airlifted by helicopter off the school's track. I can only imagine the fear.
In the meantime, I was caught in the most bizarre work scene. I had to work. As an entrepreneur, no one covers your paid time off other than you. So, there I was, going from restaurant to restaurant interviewing candidates via Zoom, sitting outdoors because of the pandemic and talking to clients in our car. No one knew.I felt I had to remain as professional as possible. Finally, it got too hard to handle. Disguising something that is happening to you so you can work was probably not the best way to go. Well, frankly, I am never to old to learn something.
If I did tell someone, the reaction was sometimes strange. What do you say to someone? How should they respond? When I wrote an email that phones, cell service and internet would be intermittent because of the fire, some of my clients refused to acknowledge what was going on and would say something like, "How about changing the meeting to 10am?" I felt confused and slighted. Didn't they get it? Couldn't I have just one little, "I'm sorry to hear that?" And, I would fall back to - it's a TV event. It doesn't affect them. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
A good friend of mine, desperate to get a job, contacted me to help him. Because he was a good friend, I explained what was going on and that my resources were probably very limited right now. His response was, "Sorry to hear that. Can you get me a temp job?" I honestly didn't know what to say. My husband said I should stop trying to gain empathy. And why was I, anyway? I think he had a point. Then I realized, I wasn't looking for empathy. I wasn't looking for sympathy. I wasn't even looking for understanding. I was looking for someone to fix it. Please fix this. I turned it around. I told him, "Look. If the new house goes, we're going to save a lot of money. We won't have to hire another moving van."
I quickly realized that unless you are in the scene, you cannot imagine a disaster. Unless you have been through it, you cannot get your mind around what it is like to have to drive through a fire that is raging on either side of the highway to get to safety. Or, evacuate your home because the smoke is so hazardous it can cause heart attacks and strokes. That sort of scenario happens in 15 second sound bites, not to you. I began to have survivors guilt. I told myself, "What are you complaining about? Other people are so much worse off than we are." Of course, I was trying to minimize what was going on. Push it down. A couple of friends from out-of-state dropped me an email saying, "I don't suppose you are anywhere near those fires, right?" Because again, it doesn't happen to you and it doesn't happen to anyone you know.
At this writing, our fire is 22% contained. It's supposed to rain tonight. However, over 500,000 people have been evacuated or lost their homes or businesses and in our fire alone, (not inclusive of the many other fires around the state), over 175,000 acres have been burned. The state has over a million acres, gone forever. That, of course, causes landslides and mudslides. Frankly, I think I would rather have that over the fire. It's hard to say. In the meantime, I am talking to candidates, filling job searches but not acting as nothing has happened to this wonderful community.
"I realized I wasn't looking for empathy. I wasn't looking for sympathy. I wasn't even looking for understanding. I just wanted someone to fix it."
It's amazing how people help each other out. Amazing. There is kindness everywhere. People putting other people first. I have never experienced this level of community spirit. The will to survive and rebuild is incredible. Everyone, from younger generations to the elderly, seem to have taken a positive view.
However, they need help and I am hoping that you are the one that can see your way, just a little bit, to give some assistance. Volunteers, despite the pandemic, are out there assisting others. People are helping people. The spirit is strong, the determination to come through this overwhelmingly unbreakable.
Please donate to a worthy cause. You can donate to the Red Cross and specify the Western fires. Even $10.00 goes a long way. There are other non-profits specifically for certain fires. Here are just a few:
Lane County Government Assistance
Local TV station - donations for victims of fire - KVAL TV
Please make this more than a TV event. Donate, volunteer, send clothing, food & supplies. Whatever you can do helps. While people remain resilient, believe me, the strongest belief anyone can have, is that there's no place like hope.
Thanks for listening.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.