Guest editorial |

Guest editorial

Wildfire worries stir painful memories, prompting local homeowner to warn others

Melissa Marsted, Park City

On the Fourth of July, I received a notice on our new Nextdoor Neighbor messaging system that a small brush fire ignited.

Luckily, the homeowners were home and were able to extinguish it with a garden hose. That night, as I went to sleep I could hear firecrackers in the Pinebrook streets and just hoped that nothing would ignite.

I lost my house in a California wildfire in November 2008. There is rarely a day that goes by when I am not reminded the disaster.

I was home with my older son who was 13 at the time. Normally we would have been out at some after-school activity and the two of us had returned from a run right when a friend called to tell me to look out my back window.

There it was. With billows of flames and smoke spiraling into the sky about a mile away as a crow might fly, I immediately started to evacuate, and somehow I had a calmness about me, going around the house from room to room while my son packed our car.

We had three animals and a salt-water aquarium to think about. What was I going to do with our fish and how I was I going to collect our two cats? I was separated at the time, too. The father of our younger son was picking up him up from soccer practice. My son and I were on our own to make decisions and when to decide it was time to leave. No one came to our door to evacuate us. I have no recollection of hearing sirens, but to this day, I panic at the sound.

The Santa Barbara Tea Fire came through and completely destroyed my home of 16 years and nearly 220 other homes in 24 hours.

The boys and I and two of our pets (with one cat left behind that we were able to find four days later) stayed in a hotel and then a friend’s house for two weeks.

Within days the insurance adjuster came by to explain our benefits. Fortunately we were well insured but it was not enough for me to be able to rebuild or buy another home where I had lived for 20 years. From 2008 to 2012, the boys and I moved nine times for a variety of reasons but over the ensuing years rental prices escalated so dramatically that I was forced to move and leave California.

It was exactly five years ago in the month of July that I was visiting Park City and had an amazing run along the Mid Mountain Trail and the aspen trees and wildflowers. Coincidentally right at that time, nearly four years after the fire, the last of the fire insurance money came through and I was able to buy a home in Pinebrook and file the LLC for a publishing company I created.

I moved to Park City full-time in May 2013 with my younger son who started Park City High as a junior. The town embraced the two of us, and he is now flourishing at an East Coast college while my older son, now a college graduate, is working for a start-up company here in Park City for the summer before he heads to San Francisco in the fall. They have grown to love Park City as I have for the art, culture, and outdoor adventures.

Still, the recent fire in Pinebrook, the memories of our evacuation and the fear of fires will not leave me. I appeal to all of you to really think about anything you can do to be cautious with equipment when working in your yards and fires of any kind outside. And, yes, it was just stuff that my sons and I lost, but I have found the worst of it all were the friends of 20 years that I left behind in California. I miss them so so much.