A Journey of Preparedness

grassy field


As a country girl at heart, there’s nothing that brings me more joy than slipping into my boots, donning my blue jeans, and sitting up against a fire in the fireplace warming my back. I love to share stories with family and friends while relishing every moment. But amidst the serene backdrop of my family ranch in San Luis Obispo, lies a moment etched in memory – a moment that sparked my dedication to disaster preparedness. Here is my wildfire tale and the lessons I learned.

In August of 1994, a devastating wildfire swept through our cherished ranch, leaving destruction in its wake. The Highway 41 Fire burned 49,000 acres and destroyed 42 homes, 61 other structures, and 91 vehicles, with the worst of the damage occurring in Tassajara Canyon. It started in the coastal mountains, threatening Morro Bay until the winds shifted it in the direction of Atascadero. As flames danced perilously close and smoke filled the air, my family and I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness and vulnerability. It was a pivotal moment, one that thrust us into the harsh reality of crisis without a plan or strategy – only fear and confusion. When it was all said and done, we lost a home. 

But from that dark moment emerged a determination never to feel that helpless again. I embarked on a journey of learning, paying attention to the lessons preparedness had to offer. While growing up on the ranch, I was already quite astute to my surroundings by being on top of the weather, keeping an keen eye on the cattle, and all the details needed to make our home run smoothly. However, it never crossed my mind just how important a communication plan would be for my family, especially when there was inclement weather and wildfires. I strengthened my relationships with my neighbors, realizing the importance of community support during a crisis. While there were many supplies on our property, I never thought I would need an emergency kit to evacuate. I remember throwing items in the trunks of our cars in a panic. Now I know better. I learned the importance of conducting safety drills with my family and staying informed about what is happening in my community. These lessons have become invaluable tools, guiding me through the uncertainties of life with confidence and resilience. 

The first lesson came in the form of heightened awareness. I became acutely attuned to the signs of impending danger, vigilant in monitoring weather patterns, and proactive in assessing local fire conditions. I learned that preparedness begins with awareness – understanding the risks and taking proactive steps to mitigate them.

Equally vital was the lesson on communication. In the chaos of the wildfire, communication faltered, leaving us disjointed and isolated. We had no plan. I recall calling friends as we piled pets in our cars with our belongings and all of us waking up in the living room of dear friends that took us in. I vowed never to let that happen again. I developed a comprehensive communication plan for my family, outlining emergency contacts, designated meeting spots, evacuation routes and choosing places where we would go if were ever to be displaced again. I also reached out to neighbors, fostering connections that proved invaluable in times of crisis.

Yet, perhaps the most profound lesson of all was the power of community. In the aftermath of the wildfire, our community rallied together in an awe-inspiring display of strength and resilience. Neighbor stood by neighbor, strangers became allies, and together, we embarked on picking up the pieces with the goal of recovery. It underscored the undeniable truth that our collective strength lies in unity – that together, we are capable of weathering any storm.

Reflecting on that pivotal day fills me with gratitude for the lessons it imparted. It’s a privilege to share those lessons with others, empowering them to navigate the challenges that lie ahead. Because in the realm of disaster preparedness, knowledge is indeed power, and community is our greatest asset.

So let us heed the lessons of the past, let us prepare diligently for the future, and let us face adversity with unwavering courage, resilience, and solidarity. Together, we possess the resilience to overcome any obstacle that crosses our path.