Although five years isn’t really a long time, it seems as though the world is a very different place today compared to what it was on August 1, 2009. Objectively, I know that I have changed far more than the world around me, but subjectively there are times when I feel like a stranger in my own life. Things that I thought would never change have changed, and still other things I thought I could depend on have been lost forever.
For those of us who live (or lived) in the Angeles Forest, the Station Fire is more than a few lines in history. It was a cusp, a pivotal point beyond which nothing is the same. The fire itself was horrific, raging through the chaparral-covered hillsides with a vengeance like something out of the Old Testament. It destroyed old forest growth, wildlife, homes and lives. And I’m not just speaking of the two firefighters who died in the fire. In the five years since the Station Fire at least three Angelenos have died, one by suicide.
And I am not the only who feels altered, different from who we were before. Over and over again, as survivors have met and shared and bonded around this shared disaster experience, I have heard the same sentiments expressed, the same sense of otherness described. It is part of our bond, and something that we can accept in each other without question or judgement.
Rebuilding, where it has happened at all, has been slow and spotty. None of the homes lost on National Forest lands can be rebuilt, and few residents on privately owned lands have been able to return and rebuild. Red tape and inter-agency turf wars have made a daunting task nearly impossible for more than a few, and the process has been wearing for everyone who has made the effort.
Five years after the Station Fire I am still wrestling with the reality that the forest I knew is never going to be the same. The trees are different, the wildlife is different, the riverbed is very different, even the quality of the light and air is different. Sometimes different is not a bad thing, but in this case the differences are constant reminders of what was lost. Those differences are sometimes so great that it seems as though the forest I knew was a place where I lived in another life.