My parents, thank G-d, live about fifteen miles away from the nearest fire. For now, people in their area are not being ordered to evacuate. But I remember fifteen years ago, being far away at college, eyes glued to the TV -- as the fires advanced toward my home. Meanwhile my parents and their neighbors were gathering up pets and photos, loading their cars and heading to a designated school-shelter, a few miles away.
To see the news, you might think that the movement of a fire that large is hard to miss and easy to predict. This isn't the case. A fire can tear across a city at about two miles an hour, especially when strong winds are involved. Last year a similar fire made its way through large sections of California, including both residential and forested areas. My mother's friend had a daughter living in a suburban town, far from any forest. The fire was forty miles away, and she and her family went to sleep, feeling far away from it all.
They awoke the next morning to a phone call from their neighbor. The fire is closing in. Run for your lives. They ran.
Their house burned to the ground. They lost everything.
In my parents' area, when a fire approaches the local emergency services enact what is called a "Reverse 911," that is, everyone in the area receives a recorded phone call from 911 instructing them when to evacuate and where to go. My mother's friend's daughter received no such call. Her neighbor took action and called her. She did not assume that her neighbor had heard about the fire from another source.
Like most others in Israel, our neighborhood has a phone list (what's known in Israel as a daf kesher), which is probably the most wrinkled paper on the refrigerator. We have used this list for day-to-day events, such as kids' sleepover invitations, recipe swaps and meeting arrangements. We have also used it to share tragic news, like the time three years ago that two of us took it upon ourselves to call every household, one after the other, in order to personally deliver the terrible news that our neighbor had just been killed in a car crash.
That should be the last time we use the list for such a thing.
But if there's ever a question, a doubt, whether someone you know has already adjusted the car seat straps, checked that wailing house alarm, pulled over to the car on the side of the road, or passed along the latest news update -- assume you are the only one. Take action. Make the call.
Keep the balance,