Wildfire: Tiny House Evacuation

There were a number of other titles I thought about using for this post. "The Day the Sheriff Told Us to Leave Our Tiny House." "Trying Out a Smaller RV." "One-Hour KonMari." While any number of descriptions would fit this article and grab people's attention, they all felt a little misleading. In order to avoid sensationalism, we decided to stick as close to the actual nature of what happened to us as possible.

A few weeks ago, we had to evacuate our tiny house for nearly twenty-four hours due to the threat of a wildfire burning about a mile away from our home.

You Think It Will Never Happen to You

This is one of those scenarios that you talk about as conversation starters or at team-building events and even when planning for emergencies with significant others. "If you had to evacuate for a fire, what one thing would you grab?" but you never actually think it will happen to you. This time it did happen to us, and it was a very surreal experience.

It Started Out as a Normal Day

That day began like any other Wednesday. Chris went to work early in the morning and then spent the afternoon with our girls at the park while I stayed home and took some time to myself. I threw in a load of cloth diaper laundry and planned to make a stir fry for dinner.

We had been experiencing some very mild March weather with a few beautiful, sunny days accompanied by a warm wind. We had even talked about how warm the wind was. We don't usually get wind like that here, and certainly never in March. When Chris arrived home with the girls, I went out to meet them and took a short walk up the long driveway to take in the promise of Spring weather to come as I waited for the familiar crunch of tires on gravel. It was peaceful and revitalizing.

There Were Clues That Something Wasn't Right

As we all stepped back indoors, the drastic difference in the humidity inside shocked our senses. It was so dry outside. It seemed like the perfect day to open all of our windows and air the place out after a long winter. Our living room is surrounded on three sides by glass, and when we open everything up, it almost feels like we're sitting outside. Sunshine went outdoors to wait for Grandma to get home from work, and we continued about our day, enjoying the fresh breeze and the sunlight filtering through the trees, when Chris commented on the smoky smell that was beginning to permeate our home.

Someone must be having a campfire, we figured. It was a beautiful day for eating outdoors.

As the minutes ticked by, there were more clues that something wasn't right, but we didn't put any of it together right away. I heard a siren that seemed far louder than we are used to hearing out here in the middle of the woods. I attributed it to freeway noise that had carried on the wind from the Interstate below. Then the helicopters started to fly overhead. We hear our fair share of choppers living where we do in the hills between major cities. In retrospect, these ones sounded different--quieter and yet closer--than the usual military aircraft that occasionally fly overhead and shake our whole house.

I began cooking dinner as the helicopter sounds continued. Sunshine was at Grandma's house having a grand time, and I contemplated whether I should make her come home for dinner tonight or let her stay and play.

And then suddenly Grandma was at our door. Alone.

"Randi called and left a message," she said. Randi is the mother of my childhood best friend. She and her husband live just a couple of miles down the hill from us.

"There's a fire."

Words were quickly exchanged about where the fire started and how far away it was and whether we'd have to evacuate. Shock and disbelief swiftly turned to confusion and anxiety. Should we start to pack?Were we overreacting? What about dinner? Was Sunshine okay? (She was.)

Just In Case

My mom returned to her own home to begin her own packing efforts while Chris and I discussed what to do. We quickly pulled out bags and began throwing stuff inside just in case. Between grabbing belongings and praying and trying to stay calm and not melt into a puddle on the floor, I finished making a dinner that I wasn't sure anyone would eat. Chris ran for practical items: toothbrushes and toothpaste and deodorant and extra clothes. I focused on items that would be hard to replace. Sentimental things and valuables.

It was a scenario that we had discussed before, always in a hypothetical, it-will-never-happen-to-us way.

When I was a child, the house next door to my grandparents' house caught fire. I remember the phone call. The confusion. The fear as we waited to hear if Grandma and Grandpa's house would get caught in the flames as well. Thankfully it didn't, but that afternoon as we went to their home after the danger had passed and the fire was extinguished, a very vivid memory was seared into my brain.

My grandmother had suitcases lying around her living room filled with framed photos.

When faced with the prospect of losing everything, she chose to collect the irreplaceable mementos of family that hung throughout her home.

On this warm, breezy March day, I looked around my own home and asked myself what is irreplaceable in my life? If I come back tomorrow and all of this is gone, what will I miss the most?

We are blessed to live in a time when photos and documents are backed up in the cloud, so our suitcases were not filled with pictures, though we did grab a few. In the chaos, there were other items that we packed that meant as much to us as those photos meant to my grandmother. Our wedding rings, which no longer fit and sit in a cupboard waiting to be resized someday. A necklace from each of my grandmothers. (I put both around my neck so they wouldn't get lost.) A file folder full of keepsakes, of which I now realize I only cared about one: the ultrasound pictures of the first baby we loved and lost, with her beautiful hand splayed, almost as if she was waving goodbye on that day nearly eight years ago now before her heart stopped beating. The only pictures I would truly miss that could never be replaced with new ones and new memories.

And one other item that I had always put on the top of the list every time someone asked me what one thing I would take with me in case of a fire. The Bible my grandmother gave me right before she died.

We packed other things as well: computers, my sewing machine, a bag full of stuffed animals (I confess to actually thinking that I would be okay if the rest burned), a few vital documents that weren't already safely stored elsewhere, the dinner that I hastily finished making and Chris packed into portable containers.

We debated whether we should actually start putting things in the car when we saw my brother next door loading up his own trunk, so we began loading ours as well.

Part way into this process we remembered that we have a cat, so despite the fact that she hadn't left our home in nearly ten years, we packed her up, too.

We debated which car to potentially leave behind since we had five vehicles available and only four adults to drive them. (My dad was at work at the time.) In the end, we left our truck, which was arguably the smallest loss, and Chris drove my parents' extra vehicle.

The Evacuation Order

In the middle of our packing endeavors, as we wondered whether our efforts were overkill, we saw the flashing red and blue lights come down our driveway.

It was time to finish loading up and go. This was no longer theoretical.

We strapped the girls into their car seats and ran to grab what was left. As we hurried to throw in a few last-minute things, I looked around.

The air was so smoky. Ash was falling through the trees.


There have been few moments in my life when I felt as much fear as I did that day, looking around at everything we had worked hard to build up and wondering if it would all be gone in a few hours. The park model that we somehow made into a home and that became a friend in the process. The home I grew up in that my parents built from the ground up. The truck that had been given to us from a very generous aunt and uncle right before Sunshine was born. I walked around my home, trying not to cry as I said some impossible goodbyes and wished for the first time that our house was more mobile.

As I stood there in the falling ash, my precious daughters oblivious to the danger and possible loss of everything they were familiar with, a new urgency hit me. I knew without a doubt that I needed to go. I needed to get them to safety.

And I cried as I pulled out of the driveway, struggling to hold back sobs over fear of the future and what it would mean to lose everything. Of knowing that this life we have built could change so quickly.

I somberly nodded to the deputy parked at the end of our road, knowing that once I passed, I would not be allowed back. In a haze, I followed that old familiar road down the hill that I had driven so many times. So many cars were parked at the little gravel turnout at the bottom of our hill. Were they our neighbors? Did they have someplace to go?

I continued on, tears streaming down my face as I tried to pull myself together for the little ones sitting in the backseat.

Safe Haven

Turn after familiar turn, I drove on autopilot to the house that I've written about many times before here. The home of my grandpa and uncle and cousins. The home where I'll always be welcome.

During the chaos of packing I had fired off a few texts to my aunt and cousin. As soon as we got the official evacuation notice, my cousin and her family had turned around on their way to church and rushed back home to be there when we arrived. Their daughters quickly released my girls from their car seats, and they all ran off to play as I sat in the car, stunned and in disbelief at everything that was happening.

When I finally stepped out of the car, the tears began again, and I just stood there with my cousin, my friend, and cried.

She asked what she could do to help, and I asked if she could feed my kids. She's good at feeding people.

Feeling Powerless

I moved from one place to the next, wandering around, at a bit of a loss for what to do next. I talked to my grandpa briefly. I sent Chris's mom a text so she wouldn't worry if she saw news of the evacuation online. I wondered where Chris was and whether he'd be arriving soon.

Over the next few minutes, one by one the rest of my family arrived.

Chris pulled up with our cat, whom I'd once again forgotten about, and we had to figure out where to put her for the night. A large closet in the shop was quickly cleared out, and a litter box and food, water, and bedding were laid out for her with a gate to guard the door against curious little ones accidentally letting her loose in an unfamiliar place.


Watching my family come together and welcome us was a touching thing. I have always asserted that I would never be homeless because we are surrounded by so many generous people who love us so much, and this night proved that to be true.

We were welcomed to use their travel trailer for as long as we needed, and Sunshine was thrilled at the prospect of actually sleeping in "the trailer." She had been begging to stay the night at her cousins' place for months, and she was excited about our "sleepover."


Not too long after we all arrived, the plume of smoke that you could see hovering over the wooded hill nearby slowly dissipated. The helicopters slowed and eventually stopped. All we could do was wait and keep checking for updates and hope for the best.

The fire continued to smolder overnight, but it was too dangerous for firefighters to continue in their containment efforts, so we had to wait until the morning for an official update. At 9:30 am we were told that firefighters were continuing their work and there would be another update in a couple of hours. The next update sounded more promising, but the evacuation order was still kept in place for the time being. It wasn't until after 3 pm that the evacuation level was lowered to a 2, meaning we could go home as long as we were prepared to leave again at a moment's notice.


Coming home again was a blessed thing. Seeing our house still standing and knowing how much we could have lost that day still gives me chills. The fire never came truly close to our park model that night, but we've seen photos of just how close it got to some of our neighbors' homes. It all started from someone burning brush. It's a scary thing to contemplate.

We existed in a sort of limbo that night and into the next morning, holding our breath as we prayed that the worst was over. As the weather turned and rain began to fall the next afternoon, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The evacuation order was soon lifted completely, and the fire was officially 100% contained by the following morning.


As we unpacked our bags that day, I couldn't help but look at our stuff a little differently. We've been through the KonMari process, or at least a good portion of it, but we still had so much that I now realize ultimately doesn't matter that much to me. I'm not planning to run out and ditch even more of my clothes or toss more kitchen items tomorrow or anything, but I can't help but see it all in a whole new light.

In the end, we grabbed what we loved, and other than the television (which I admit I was sad to leave behind!) and the house itself, most of what we love fits in the trunk of our car. This still amazes me.

The most important truth, though, is that our most precious "things" were strapped in the backseat of our car.

I hope we never need to evacuate again, and I certainly hope a fire never truly threatens our home. But I am so thankful to know that if the worst does happen, we have loved ones to take us in and, most importantly, we have each other. As much as we love our home and the life we've made for ourselves here, as long as we all are safe and healthy, we'll still have everything that really matters even if the rest goes up in smoke.

And that's a pretty good feeling.

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