Facing Fires with Friends

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“I can smell the fire,” I told Gabriel and the children.

As we stepped outside the building, the deafening roar of flying planes and the sight of smoke billowing from the top of a nearby mountain added to the burning smell that stimulated our senses. Yet everyone continued their regular routines; isolated fires occur here most summers, so the local folk were not worried.

It had not rained in weeks, and like the rest of Europe, the heat wave had hit Croatia. Before the fire began, a wave of warm weather made for perfect swimming conditions in the sea. We had no idea what had been brewing at the top of the mountain. Some said the fire was intentional, similar to others across Europe. Others said it began in Bosnia, and since it was not on Croatian land, the Croatian border patrol did nothing to prevent its spread. Rumors had begun to swirl as the fire gained momentum and burned across the mountain.

This was our first wildfire. We are from Florida, where roads and other obstacles prevent fires from spreading. Here, however, abundant dry vegetation spread across the endless mountains and hills with no obstacles in sight.

Without warning, a strong wind blew, and the fire quickly jumped. No one had expected it to reach the mountaintop behind our home. But as we watched the fire move toward our home—one parched tree after another fueling the flames—we jumped in the car and headed straight to our house.

At home, we grabbed essential documents, clothes, and food and threw them in a bag in case we needed to evacuate. We then joined our neighbors, who stood outside their homes and watched the fire.

At first, we were intent on leaving to protect our children. Then we noticed a shift in our neighbors’ demeanor. This fire was bringing everyone together. Some men volunteered to assist the firefighters. Others made their driveways available to anyone needing to relocate their cars if the fire changed directions. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors. Firefighters came down for the occasional break; they had been working for 48 hours straight. We began to feel more a part of our community than ever before. We realized that leaving would mean abandoning our community in a moment of potential despair, so we decided to leave only when everyone else did.

Close to midnight, the children and I finally crawled into bed. Gabriel had stayed outside chatting with neighbors and firefighters until 3:00 a.m. when finally the fires were extinguished. It is in moments like these that community is built. These moments show your true character and love for those around you. We are grateful to be safe and even more grateful that God used this fire to embed us more into our community.

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