The smell of smoke is in the air again.  And as I drive down to work, I hear about a small fire that ignited on Sugarloaf Road.  Fortunately, the fire fighters jump on it quickly and snuff it out when it is only around seven acres.

But thinking about how easily a fire can start reminds me to locate our fire boxes, and go through them once again.

Just a reminder of what a fire box is.  I first heard the term, “fire boxes” from some neighbors up the road from us.  They have lived in our neighborhood for almost thirty years, so know a thing or two about wildfires and evacuations.

As I walked the dogs one day, we engaged in conversation.

“Another hot and dry summer.  It makes me nervous about wildfires.”

“Well, we’ve had to evacuate several times in our thirty years.  I’ve become quite good at knowing how to evacuate in 10 minutes or less.  Grab the pets, grab the fire boxes and get out.”

“Fire boxes?  What do you mean by fire boxes?”

“I put our personal mementos into boxes.  You know, the things that can’t be replaced, photos that don’t have digital files, things from our children.”

“Oh, I never thought about that.  I’ll have to put some stuff together at home.  Thanks!”

That led to three plastic bins of items, letters, photos and other assorted items being filled and stacked in an easily accessible area.

In fact, when we did have to evacuate quickly for the Cold Springs Wildfire, I knew exactly where those boxes were.  After I first got the pets into the car, I went for the fire boxes and loaded them into the car.

You might be wondering, what’s in my fire boxes?

  • Photos — lots of photos from when I was a child, back when you took pictures with film.  These photos are of my family — my grandfather, my parents, old dogs.  In short, they are memories of my childhood.
  • National Park Service Memorabilia — my NPS ranger hat and my farewell items.  In the Park Service, it is a tradition when a permanent employee leaves a park for a new one (or retires), that the park gives them a plaque to remember their time there.  I have a plaque with a miniature replica of the Liberty Bell on it with my name and the dates I worked at Independence National Historical Park.  A canal boat carved out of wood reminds me of the three years I spent at the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
  • Letters — Back in the old days, people used to hand-write letters to loved ones.  I still have some cards and letters from my mother and my grandmother.  For some reason, my grandmother used to call me Pebbles and she always wrote her letters in marker, similar to a Sharpie.

“Dear Pebbles, I hope that you love going to college in Williamsburg.  With your                            smarts, I know you will do well.”

  • Christmas Ornaments — During my many travels around the world and the country, I have collected Christmas ornaments.  Some of my favorite include a glass rooster from Kauai (for the chickens that roam the island) and a grizzly bear from Glacier National Park.  Other ornaments are gifts that were given to me by friends and family.  These could never be replaced, so they definitely go in my fire box.
  • Painting(s) – they don’t really fit into our boxes, but if I had the time, there is a painting I would take too.   Several years ago, my friend, Megan, and I backpacked into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  When we finished, we stopped at a studio near the rim of the Grand Canyon.  I found an oil painting done by a local Native American artist painted on wood.    I bought it in part, as a commemoration of our achievement of hiking the canyon.  But it also signifies our life in Nederland as the painting is of a moose. No animal reminds me of home more than the moose who have made themselves at home near our house each winter.

So, what’s in your fire box?  Or if you don’t live in the Wildfire Zone, what is near and dear to your heart that you would put in a fire box?  It really puts things into focus about what we truly value and what is just stuff that we could easily replace.