Pauline Nevins: Santa is safe from the fire |

Pauline Nevins: Santa is safe from the fire

The call came. We were in the evacuation warning zone of the River Fire. I wished I’d paid more attention when my hiking friend, Virginia, mentioned she had a go-bag ready. I thought about it, then forgot about it.

Now my husband and I were scurrying around, struggling to get the suitcase from a top shelf in the basement. What should I pack? Then I remembered the email from Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, that I’d skimmed the day before, meaning to read later. It contained her newsletter: August is Here. Immediately visible is a link to a Cal Fire pamphlet entitled: WILDFIRE IS COMING … ARE YOU READY TO GO? The email arrived one day before the River Fire exploded at the Bear River campground, less than five miles from our house. I packed a suitcase. We waited, watched and listened.

A KVMR radio station host confirmed evacuation areas, read zone numbers and each street within those zones. Pascale Fusshoeller, editor of, provided real-time fire updates for the station and on the website. I perk up whenever I hear her distinctive accent.

On an internet site, I located a map of the River Fire with evacuation zones listed. All of them in Nevada County. I couldn’t see zones listed for Placer County. Considering these frequent wildfires, shouldn’t all areas have zone numbers we memorize like our zip and area codes? I now know I should have checked the Placer County sheriff’s website for Placer information. Two days later, the Nevada County Sheriffs’s Office lifted the evacuation warning for our area.

Now out of danger, I could focus on others. I knew they had evacuated some Chicago Park residents. In years past, I volunteered at the Colfax Winterfest as one of Santa’s Elves. Santa had a summer home in Chicago Park. I phoned him. No answer. I phoned a mutual friend, Sharlene, who once owned and operated a beauty salon in Colfax for decades. A cheerful voice told me the number was not in service.

I contacted another mutual friend, Debbie. Before she and her boyfriend had received the all clear to return home, his appendix burst. He was being operated on as she spoke. I’ve learned since they’re both safe at their homes, and he’s recovering well.

I located Sharlene, and she invited me to lunch in Colfax at Grandma C’s Kitchen on Main Street. Sharlene and I sat across from each other in the cozy restaurant, relieved that neither had to evacuate, and heartsick by the number of homes burned to the ground.

Were it not for the swift actions by Placer County Fire Chief Brian Estes, who called in the massive air support, and the heroic firefighters, the River Fire could have been even more catastrophic.

What about Santa, I asked Sharlene? He’s joining us, she said. And in he walked — out of uniform. Santa had received an emergency alert, and left his house as ordered. He stayed with his lady friend in Grass Valley. What about Mrs. Claus? She was back home safe in Colfax. Her Facebook post thanked a kind friend who’d looked after Mittens, her cat, during the evacuation.

The day of the fire, our land-line had rung repeatedly. Cell phones beeped, emails and Facebook messages flooded in from family and friends offering safe havens and assistance. Callers know we are not as nimble as we used to be. Jim sends me an estimated time of arrival from the basement man cave to our dinner table. I’m lucky if I can bench press a 5-pound bag of ice.

Among the emails was one from my well-known yoga teacher, Suzanne Grace. She had been on her way home from out of town when she heard news of the fire. Although she was on an August break, she invited her students to an impromptu, complimentary yoga session. Suzanne’s decades of yoga and meditative training had calmed her stress, and she wanted the same for her students.

The night of the fire, I couldn’t sleep. We were safe for now, but what if the wind changed? I’d read that fires make their own wind. I slid open the bedroom sliding door and stepped out onto the deck.

The night sky was surprisingly free of smoke. Among the twinkling stars, there was one moving slowly. A red light blinked. My vision blurred. It was a helicopter. One of our guardian angels.

Pauline Nevins is the author of the memoir, “Fudge: The Downs and Ups of a Biracial, Half-Irish British War Baby,“ and ”Bonkers for Conkers,“ a compilation of personal essays. She lives in Colfax and can be reached at

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