There is nothing prettier than autumn in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Whether driving to and from work, riding on back roads on a weekend, or running errands, the beauty of the colors makes one want to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the view. I always carry my camera with me as I never know when a particular scene will induce me to stop and try to capture the moment. Real-life is always better than the pictures, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Some people say they have never seen a miracle, but I think the reds, oranges, and yellows of foliage season meet the criteria. To live in a place where we are surrounded by such beauty, one must take the time to let life pause for a moment so that we can feel the majesty of it all.
While we are enjoying this, I am thinking and praying for all the people in the western United States and the terrible times they are going through with the fires that are out of control. Loss of life, property, dreams, hopes, and so much more are part of their lives right now. We watch the news, see pictures of the fires, read the stories, and wish we could do something to help. Entire towns have been burned. People have been evacuated and firefighters are risking their lives to save others and put out the fires.
Currently, fires are burning in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
In an article by Emma Newburger for CNBC, she stated, “More than 3 million acres have burned in California, a record in state history.” Firefighters are battling 29 major fires there as of mid-September. As many as 64,000 people are under evacuation orders. High winds have contributed to areas that are already dry.
Newburger also wrote, “About 500,000 people are under evacuation orders in Oregon, over roughly 10 percent of the state’s population.” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said that “more than 900,000 acres have burned … well above the yearly average of 500,000 acres. We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state.”
An article by Capi Lynn on Sept. 11 for The Statesman Journal of the USA TODAY Network particularly touched me about a family in Marion County, Oregon. On Monday evening, Sept. 7, Chris Tofte left his family at home to go and borrow a friend’s trailer. His family included his wife, Angela, to whom he had been married for 24 years, their 13-year-old son Wyatt, his mother-in-law Peggy (who had recently broken her leg and was supposed to have surgery in the next few days), their dog Duke, and three cats. Angela was packing what they would need to evacuate and waiting for Chris to return with the trailer. The fire was still 15 miles away so they figured they had plenty of time. Chris had not returned by bedtime, so the family went to bed only to be awoken by their house on fire. The family car was still in the yard and Angela put her son, mother, and pets in the car and tried to leave. They were unable to use the car. No one knows why, but one theory is that the car caught fire. Angela’s priority was to save Wyatt. Lynn states, “It was clear to Angela they would not be able to drive out. She needed to save Wyatt. She told him and Duke, the family’s 200-pound bull mastiff mix, to run for it.” Angela also realized that there was no way she would be able to save her mother so she had to make the difficult decision to leave her in the car. Angela started walking and it is believed she walked three miles. In the meantime, Chris had driven through a blockade at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, trying to find his way up the 4.5 miles of road to his house amid the smoke, fire, and downed trees. He came upon a woman wearing underwear. Lynn wrote, “Her hair was singed, her mouth looked almost black, and her bare feet were severely burned. He impatiently tried to help her into his car, explaining how he needed to find his wife and son, feeling like she was resisting. Finally, she spoke. ‘I am your wife.’ He felt like he was going to pass out. He thought he would start crying.” Chris turned around and went back to where the paramedics were stationed at the blockade. Angela was transported to a burn center in Portland. She is in critical condition and heavily sedated.
Wyatt was still missing. Chris turned around and tried to go back up the same road, but the conditions were even worse, and he had to go back. The next day he and his friends started a search. At some point, he connected with deputies who told him that Wyatt’s body had been found. Wyatt had returned to his home and gotten into the driver’s side of a car in the yard. This is where his body was found with his beloved dog, Duke, in his lap. His grandmother, Peggy, also died in the fire.
What a tragedy for this family and what a nightmare to live through. It has been constantly on my mind since I read the story. They, as well as all the people in the western states, need our prayers as these fires continue to spread at a rapid rate.
Life is a journey. Life is fragile. At any moment it can take a tragic turn. Always remember to tell your loved ones how much you care. You may not get a second chance.