Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Rainbow Miracle

On the evening of our house fire, almost exactly four years ago, a miracle happened. In fact, there was more than one, but the miracle that came to mind today was our rainbow miracle.

This isn't our miracle rainbow, but ours was just as beautiful as this one.
This isn't OUR miracle rainbow, but ours was just as beautiful as this one.

July 2011 was a month for the record books with temperatures above 100 degrees reported every day but one, with barely a trace of rain to be found. The scorching sun had dried out the trees and dead, brown leaves littered the ground in every yard in the neighborhood. It was no wonder then, when ash started falling out of the sky from the fire that we didn't know was spreading up the hill towards us, that small piles of leaves began to catch on fire.

We saw it first when we noticed our neighbor fighting to drag his garden hoses to reach the burning leaves in his yard. I shouted for our son Tim, who had just gotten home from the gym, to "Help Ron!" My husband was already trying to help, delivering a bucket or two of water from our outdoor faucet before we all suddenly realized those flames were very close to our garage. The three of us each had the same thought: Get the cars out and up to the street. We each jumped into a vehicle, drove quickly up the driveway, then Tim came back down and raced his motorcycle up to the road, too. He said later that he felt like Evel Knievel as he roared up the driveway to safety.

Things were happening fast and, as I got out of my car, our son returned from his third trip to the house, this time holding our cat, Oreo. He put her in his car and I began shouting, "Get Daisy! Get Daisy!" as our dog was still in the house. About the same time, Tim began patting my arm, telling me, "It's just stuff, Mom, it's just stuff." That was when I suddenly realized that it wasn't just the garage that was in danger, our house was in the path of the flames, too. I remember hearing a sudden loud, roaring "Whoosh!" as I saw the stand of tall pine trees behind the fire break, beyond the houses, burst into flame. I remember screaming, "No! No! No!" even though, looking back, I still had no realization of how bad the situation already was.

Tim and I stayed with the cars. Volunteer firemen began arriving, the fire chief first among them. Tim screamed at him, "Get my dad out!" and it was only then that I realized Chris wasn't with us. He had returned to the house and, as I found out later, was having a difficult time getting the excited Daisy on her leash. Once he had her, he had to decide which of the three ways out would offer him the clearest path through the fire that was beginning to take over the yard, surrounding the house. Many months later I asked Chris if, during that time, the house was already burning and he still doesn't know for sure. He just knew, whichever door he chose, he'd have to run through burning leaves to get himself and Daisy to safety.

Tim was still screaming at the fire chief, using language I hoped that he didn't even know (he's a former Marine, so of course he knew those words), insisting that someone help his dad get out of there. Fortunately, as the fire chief was explaining that he didn't have equipment to help him, Chris and Daisy suddenly arrived at the top of the driveway, safe. He wore shorts, no shirt, with flip-flops on his feet.

Firefighters continued to arrive and the street was beginning to fill with cars and I realized fire trucks were coming, too. Our cul-de-sac was filling up, so Tim and I exchanged sets of keys as I decided to move his car, with Oreo inside, as far away as I could get it. Chris had loaded Daisy into his truck which he also moved a house or two up the street, though he still has no recollection of doing so. Tim's task was to move my car away, which he did and then returned to help fight the fire.

We live at the end of a half-mile road and as I drove away from what I at some point finally realized was our burning home, cars continued to pour into the neighborhood from the opposite direction. Eventually, after stopping briefly to ask a couple of different neighbors if they happened to have a cat carrier I could use, I was able to get off our street, down our hill (there's only one way into the neighborhood, up that same hill), and head into town. I wasn't sure where I would go until I thought of our friends, our daughter-in-law's family who live near the school, perhaps another half-mile away. The three-minute drive took far longer as traffic heading downhill continually stopped to pull over for fire trucks and first responders coming up the hill, answering the call.

Eventually I did arrive at our friends' house and pulled into their driveway. I don't remember the sequence of events, but I know that I stayed in the car with Oreo, with the air conditioning running for our poor, scared cat, while I used Donna's phone to call our other son to let him know what was going on. Somehow I also did a phone interview from the car, on live TV during the local news, telling people in a surprisingly calm voice what I perceived was going on (my house was burning and I didn't know where my husband was). I still run into people who tell me that they heard me that evening on the news.

The rock fireplace and chimney,
still standing after the fire that destroyed our house.

As it turns out, the wind that blew the fire up the back side of the hill towards our neighborhood shifted, re-directing the fire around our garage, missing it entirely but consuming the house instead. Our neighbor Ron's house was also spared, though the scorched grass that was visible very close to their front walk testified that it was a close call. Our neighbors on the other side were able to get their two small dogs out of their house which had smoke damage inside and heat damage outside. No other homes were touched, though hundreds of acres of the military installation behind our neighborhood were burned and the fire re-ignited at least three times over the next couple of days.

But back to our rainbow miracle.

As it turns out, my husband was there on the hill the whole evening, walking up and down our road, talking with authorities, neighbors, and onlookers who had managed to make it into the neighborhood. Someone finally gave him a shirt, and everyone who didn't know her already got to know our dog, Daisy. As for me, my friend Donna drove me to Walmart in Tim's car, with Oreo still in the backseat and the a/c blasting the whole time. I stayed in the car while Donna went in to buy a carrier and basic supplies for Oreo. Then she filled the car up with gas as I was concerned (maybe a little bit paranoid) that we were going to run out of gas and poor Oreo would bake in the heat (it was 104 that day). As we retraced our route, returning to her house, I suddenly noticed in the direction of the thick smoke that there was a rainbow in the sky, right over where our house would have stood.

I probably startled her when I saw the rainbow. I remember gasping and shouting something along the lines of, "Look! Look! There's a rainbow! Everything's going to be all right!" I know now that I was in shock at the time, but the one message that got through, the one thing I was sure of at that particular moment, was that no matter what was happening up on our hill, everything was going to be all right.

But that's only half of the rainbow miracle. Later on, when Tim was finally able to track me down and come and get me and we returned to the hill, reuniting our family, I found out that my husband had seen the rainbow, too. I don't remember which of us mentioned it first, but we both saw the rainbow and we both acknowledged it as a sign of good things to come.

"Dad and Dog"
in front of our new house.

There were many miracles in the course of the fire episode and the weeks and months following it as we went through the re-building process. The most obvious was the fact that Chris and Daisy got out of the house at all, though what made it a true miracle was that neither of them had even a single scorched hair on their bodies. Chris did fall and injure his arm as he ran out the door and off the porch, but we truly believe there was an angel waiting there for him to carry the two of them out, safely, the rest of the way.

It has been four years since the fire and as I write this my body trembles all over again. In fact, there's a fair chance I'll have bad dreams tonight, though they're fewer and farther between these days. While many details of that evening's events remain sketchy, the rainbow is still very clear. Someday I'll write about more miracles that surrounded the events of the fire and what followed, but this is enough to share for now. We have no doubt that God blessed us with amazing promises through that rainbow, and that he has kept all of them.

What triggered the rainbow memory today, besides that the fire anniversary is tomorrow, was what caught my eye as I walked through our beautiful new home this morning. We've decorated the house using items with many colors and the bright, cheerful environment that we live in every day now is a constant reminder of God's goodness in so many ways. I haven't been able to write about these events before, but this was the time. Actually, I believe being able to do so now is another gift.

I hope that the next time you see a rainbow, you think of the miracles in your own life and promises that God has made to you. I hope you can see the evidence of your miracles as easily as we see the evidence of ours, every single day.

It turns out that during the fire there had been a brief thunderstorm with rain several miles from our house. Also, airplanes were used in fighting the fire and had been going back and forth for a couple of hours delivering water from the air trying to put out the forest fire that raged below. Likely the storm, but possibly the water being dropped on the fire, generated the rainbow.

Here's a link with weather data from the month of July 2011. Every day that month except July 4th the high temp was 100 degrees or above with several 107 degree days. There was no precipitation recorded that month, other than two or three days with "T" (trace) rain, EXCEPT on July 28th, the day of the fire, with 0.21 inches. It fell at the airport, several miles from our house, in the direction of the rainbow.

Here's a link to the last remaining news story about the fire that I can find online.

Rainbow photo:

Personal photos: The author,


  1. Susan, thank you for sharing your story. I am so thankful that you, your family, and your animals made it out ok. Even though we live in a world where sometimes bad things happen, it is so comforting to know that God is always with us and will never leave us or forsake us. Bless you friend!

  2. Sharon, you are a walking testimony of the power of our God. Thank you so much for your visit, your comment, and your blessing!

  3. Susan, what a traumatic event for you and your family. I'm thankful to know that all of you, including Daisy and Oreo, are all safe from harm. You've written such a vivid portrayal of that day, we live it through your eyes. I would have been horrified, as you were, to see the fire encroaching on my home. But the good part is, everyone is okay and life goes on. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. Thank you, Nancy. You know, we all have things to go through in our lives then, yes, life does go on. The important thing is how we apply what we've learned to make our lives better, going forward.

  5. Susan, I am so thankful that everyone in your family, including your pets made it through this tragic event. I do believe that you all truly had angels surrounding and protecting you that day. God is good.

  6. Diane, the presence of angels is so evident as we look back, it's amazing. Indeed, God is good - all the time!

  7. Susan, I had chills reading this. It is such a great blessing that your family (including Oreo and Daisy!) made it out to safety. Your rainbow miracle is beautifully and powerfully told.

  8. Trish, thank you so very much. Someday I'll be able to write about more of the blessings that came as a result of that memorable day.

  9. As I write this, there is smoke in the sky. Farther north my husband's house, now rented to tenants in Carmel Valley, is too close for comfort to a raging fire. I am so glad you were all safe after your fire, but I can imagine how traumatic losing your home must have been. I'm glad God sent you a rainbow. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Barbara, thank you for reading and for your kind comment. I'm pretty sure I would go stir crazy if I lived in California where you do, near where there are so many huge wildfires. I hope and pray that the rented house, and the renters, and you and your husband stay safe!