Coming to the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) to get a Tzu Chi cash card wasn’t Sandy Price’s idea. She had never asked anyone for help with money before, and didn’t really want to be sitting there waiting for her number to be called.
But, her older sister had begged her to go and she agreed.
Sandy eventually put her pride aside and gave in to her dire need for help.
Sandy felt a bit uncomfortable when a Tzu Chi volunteer asked what had happened. That life changing day had begun like any other. She dropped her daughter off at high school before going to work. There was no evacuation alert, just an urgent call from a friend. She rushed out of the office after warning her co-workers, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
After quickly picking her daughter up from school, she stopped by a home to give a ride to an elderly friend. By this time the wild fire had turned the town of Paradise into a raging inferno. Most of the escape routes were already bumper-to-bumper, so she hurried to the more elevated Savemart parking lot to check out the situation.
Road conditions only worsened over time, so they waited a few hours before Sandy tried to leave town again.
Heavy smoke was darkening the sky as if it was midnight; trees on either side of the road were ablaze. No one was going anywhere in the severe traffic jam as more and more people fled for their lives.
Then Sandy saw a pregnant woman in the midst of delivery at a roadside gas station, and pulled over to help. As a medical professional with up-to-date CPR certification, she keeps her car stocked with latex gloves and clean sheets. She would never drive past someone in need of urgent attention.
So Sandy parked her car and sprang into action to help the mother deliver what turned out to be her fifth child. While comforting the mom, she urged her not to push–luckily the baby hadn’t yet breached– and try to hard to hold the baby in.
An ambulance arrived just then, so Sandy was able to let the EMTs take over while she and her daughter resumed their escape.
The traffic conditions had continued to deteriorate. Every road was an endless parking lot, so a motorcyclist had jumped off his bike to help by directing the traffic at an intersection.
The visibility was so poor now, an accident was sure to happen. Sandy said this motorcyclist had appeared like a guardian angel.
With his help, Sandy was able to drive onto an intersection toward the best escape route. As the drivers passed the motorcyclist, many lowered their windows and urged him to leave soon. But he kept saying, ”Just a little longer, a few more minutes. I can hang on a little longer before leaving.”
Sandy became lost in memories. No longer having a home to go back to, she didn’t know what she would do next. For a month after the fire, her moods kept changing.
At first depressed and dispirited, she slowly gained control of her emotions until she felt ready to look at her situation with more confidence and clarity.
She cheered herself up with positive thoughts. ”While we were driving out of town, I came close to losing hope. But, I survived! I have already seen the worst, because what could be more difficult than escaping for our lives? I have also come across so many nice people like you who truly care about us, and go to so much trouble to help us,” Sandy explains.
From deep beneath the ashes of the mountain fire, the first sprout to appear in the wasteland is a delicate fireweed. It’s a powerful symbol of rebirth and hope. When things seem the most hopeless, we long for a pair of warm hands and a warmer heart that is ready to assist devastated residents find their way out of the darkness.
Every time I think of Sandy, I can see the delicate image of a sprouting fireweed appear in those clearing eyes.