See the Story of the Fire Part 1 here
After JB’s initial call letting me know there was fire in the area, I was thinking that it would be like the fire we had a few years ago, which was started by a car accident near the same bridge. It went up the hill about half a mile away, but they quickly had it under control. It was scary but not SCARY. I was talking on the phone to Dr. Mel, the chimps’ vet, about something unrelated when JB called me back with an update. I put the land line phone down to pick up my cell (and JB’s call) and he calmly told me that Diana was packing up their animal friends from the house and the staff on site (Jackie and Elizabeth) were going to “stick with me a few more minutes and then get out of here.” I remember listening carefully and then saying “Is there anything I can do from here?” Of course there wasn’t. I felt so helpless. But in retrospect I am glad I was working from home that afternoon because I was the one with solid internet service and could keep folks updated.
I sent an email to our Board letting them know what was happening, and then I waited for updates from Elizabeth, JB, and Diana via texts and calls. Here’s one from Diana: “They are asking us to evacuate soon. We are spraying the building. They can’t make us leave.” And another: “They have big hoses. Building will be okay.” Then Diana, Elizabeth and Jackie left and parked down the road to watch the scene. They took radios and stayed in contact with JB in the chimp house. Here’s one text from Diana as she sat in her car and watched: “There’s a chance the house didn’t burn down yet. Three helicopters dropping water around the property.”
I was relaying updates to our Board, preparing to update our supporters on Facebook, and somehow not freaking out. I felt eerily calm, but helpless at the same time. I think I wasn’t allowing myself to consider many of the “what ifs.” I didn’t want to affect signals or more emergent communications, so I just waited for updates from our amazing team. Elizabeth reported: “Teary. But ok.” Diana called me at one point and I could hear JB talking on the radio in Diana’s car. Then Diana came back on and I could hear the shakiness in her voice as she said “It’s pretty bad, Sarah.” There were no appropriate words in that moment. What do you say?
I’ve known JB since 1997 – fifteen years now. We were fellow grad students at Central Washington University, where we spent our Thursday evenings racing back from our seminar classes to my apartment where JB, our friend Charles and I would make huge falafel dinners with vegan cake for dessert. We would excitedly watch Beverly Hills 90210 and laugh about how we were avoiding working on our thesis write-ups. After hearing Diana’s voice tell me matter-of-factly that it was really bad, the reality of the situation and what one of my best human friends and my beloved chimp friends faced hit me like a wall of fire.