Prepared for a Crisis? Or Not?

“I’m always prepared,” I used to say.

As a former Cub Scout leader and the mother of Eagle Scouts, I’ve always been one to be prepared—particularly for crisisPrepared, boy scouts, be prepared, Santa Rosa fires, US Navy, command and control, eagle scouts, cub scouts, safety tips, emergency preparedness situations.

I nodded when I read Oswald Chambers’ words in the My Utmost for His Highest devotional on September 10:

“We imagine we would be all right if a big crisis arose; but the big crisis will only reveal the stuff we are made of, it will not put anything into us. . . . Crises always reveal character.”

As I admired California’s golden hillsides against blue skies in September 2017, I felt uneasy.

The previous winter’s heavy, and welcomed, drought-ending rain had produced hillsides covered with tall, now dried, grass.

Prepared from Navy moves

After twelve Navy moves, I knew each new home required speciation planning–particularly for an emergency.

At our last house in a high fire zone, I’d posted a card in a cupboard listing what to take in a fire, labeled in order of importance, noting where to find it.

But I’d left that paper behind when we moved.

“I really ought to post it again,” I mused that September 10, but let the idea float away in the warm summer sun.

I’d written a blog post about how to prepare for a fire.

How could I forget what I’d already researched?


A month later, I lugged a tub of unscanned photos down the stairs in the dark. We’d lost electricity to the wild winds roaring through the night and shaking the house.

A very scary night

The golden hillsides, dark at 3:30 in the morning, now wore a red halo of thick smoke.

I’d been filling the back of the SUV for thirty minutes. The kitten mewed from her cage on the passenger seat.

But it was no longer a question of what I could take, rather “What can I not live without?”

“Into your car. Now!” shouted my husband in his Navy voice.

That night from the safety of our son’s house, we watched the Santa Rosa fires burn down 2900 homes.

The Navy and the scouts prepare

Six adults and five children scanned the hills for fire the next day. Using his phone, my husband set up a command and control center with his two Eagle scouts.

The Commander monitored events on his computer. Son #1, with his ten year-old Cub Scout, examined topological maps of nearby Annadel State Park and analyzed wind direction.

Son #2 drove off to survey the park from a distance and talk to local officials.

The little girls danced to Disney tunes.

We women cooked, organized, and watched our men.

I exchanged texts with my brother, periodically glancing over my husband’s shoulder to see four fires headed toward our neighborhood.

My brother had a suggestion. The men thought it a good backup plan.

Prepared to execute the plan

When the police bull horns ordered us to evacuate the fires, the Cub Scout gasped. “Where will we go?”

The Commander smiled—submarine life prepares you for hours of boredom and seconds of terror. My brother had provided an answer. “To the beach. We’re going to your aunt and uncle’s house at the beach.”

Monitoring the situation

The boy’s trembling stopped. “Really?” He shouted to the panicking sisters and cousins. “We’re going to the beach!”

They stopped in surprise. “The beach?” then scrambled for shoes.

Crisis averted, their cheerful characters returned. Ultimately, our houses survived.

The Commander, the kitten and I returned home thirteen days after we left.

The immediate crisis—fire—has passed, but now the strength of our community’s character will display itself in rebuilding. We’re all talking about how to prepare for the next fire.

I, for one, am going to post that list—and finally get the photos scanned.


One family prepares, or not, for the Santa Rosa fires. Click to Tweet

The Navy and the boy scouts prepare for evacuation. Click to Tweet

Cool heads in crisis: a Navy commander and 3 boy scouts. Click to Tweet


Leave a comment


  1. Anna

     /  November 7, 2017

    So you didn’t say….or I missed it…did you lose your house?

    • Michelle Ule

       /  November 7, 2017

      Oh, crucial error!

      The Tubbs fire came within five blocks of our house and while we were out 13 days, our house–at one point in the middle of four raging fires–came through fine. All five family homes in the area are still standing–but it was very close and we are all very thankful.

      We, like everyone else, know countless families that lost homes–27 from our church alone.

      • Anna

         /  November 7, 2017

        Thanks for your answer. Such a test of faith, uh! I’m so glad this was not in God’s will for your family. The air quality must still be a challenge especially for those already dealing with breathing issues.

        • Michelle Ule

           /  November 7, 2017

          It has gently rained twice and we’re not wearing masks anymore. They deliberately kept school closed for two weeks to help children with the trauma and to keep them out of the truly awful air as long as possible. There’s lots of discussion of how to minimize the harmful effects of all those buildings–6000–literally going up in smoke. Locals are working hard to keep ashes out of the water supply, for example, as Sonoma County is an agricultural area. We’ll be ministering here for the rest of our lives.

  2. So glad your home survived! Libby

    • Michelle Ule

       /  November 10, 2017

      Thanks, Libby. It’s astonishing how much home seems to mean to us now!

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