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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Phew! (02/11/10)

TITLE: Fear Like Fire Burns
By Anita van der Elst


Southern California goes up in flames every year. Parts of it anyway. But we hadn’t planned that the route to our new home would be in it.

My husband and are in our mid 50’s. This November day in 2008 presented a new beginning for us. Empty nesters, we’d downsized and rented a two-bedroom condo in Orange County, fifteen miles to the west, and today we were moving in.

My husband’s cell phone rang. It was our friend Tony calling, on his way to give us a hand.

“What’s Tony yakking about?” I asked.

“He’s on the 91 freeway and a huge brushfire is burning at Green River Drive. He says it looks like the westbound lanes are being shut down,” my husband replied, frowning.

“But that’s our route!” I protested.

We were helpless to prevent the closure.

From our front yard we could easily see the billows of smoke rising to the west. After Tony arrived we left the computer on to keep track of the fire as we loaded boxes into our trucks.

I checked on-line as the guys took a break, swigging down bottles of water.

“Two more fires have erupted in close proximity to the Green River location,” I relayed to them.

The canyons are an open invitation for a fiery convergence and the flames responded greedily. God bless the local firefighting personnel. They did all they could but in one area when the water gave out, they had to let the fire take its toll.

Our day became a blur of ash filled air, palm trees burning like torches, a sky ranging in hue from yellow to black, and streets turned into endless parking lots by hundreds of people evacuating their homes.

Taking the longer alternate route through Carbon Canyon, we gawked at the smoke surging up over the ridges on both sides. I gasped and pointed at a construction crane on a ridge crest, a flaming sacrifice in its claw offered up. We emerged from the west end of the road minutes before it was closed down.


We inched along with our curb-to-curb companions down Imperial Highway. The smoke surrounding us like an impenetrable wall prevented us from seeing where we’d come from or where we were going.

It was late afternoon when we finally reached our condo and unloaded. All routes going east and west were now closed or so congested with traffic it was advised to stay off them. Our plan to shuttle back and forth and finish the move in one day had to be scrapped. Once the fires were under control we spread the task over the next ten days. But our hardship was nothing compared to many in the area.

The fires snuck through the canyons into well-kept higher-end neighborhoods and hop-skipped through them, leaving dozens of properties with nothing standing but a forlorn fireplace chimney or two. It reminded me of scenes from Gone With the Wind.

A friend told how he’d gone to the back door to check on the canyon behind his house. When he opened the door the fire was licking at the shrubbery separating the yard from the canyon. In the time it took to escape out the front door, the fire had leaped to get a taste of the eaves in the back.


We now face another move, not by our choice but because our landlord has to sell and new owners want to move in. We’ve found another rental just a couple miles away. But fear rises. Flames don’t threaten this time; now it’s our finances that have burned up in the combustive economy of 2009, and paying jobs are few and far between for my self-employed husband. Fear burns more intensely in my heart than what I felt that day when every breath was smoke-filled. Can we catch up on our overdue bills and come up with the cost of renting anew? Will God bring us through this fiery furnace? Will I once again be able to say “Phew!”?

I’m reminded of three men in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They came out of it without a hair singed, not even smelling of smoke. I have a feeling they didn’t even say “Phew!” or any word like it in their vocabulary.

My prayer is that I will sense the fourth man in the flames as surely as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did.

But I’ll probably still say “Phew!”

(Biblical reference: Daniel 3)

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This article has been read 507 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke02/18/10
Robyn Burke02/18/10
Sorry, meant to say more than just WOW, although that sure sums up how this impacted me.

You captured the scenes so perfectly with your descriptions!

The fear in your heart is vividly portrayed as well. I love how you wrap this all up with the Daniel reference.

All the makings of a great devotional. thank you for this encouraging read sistah!
Barbara Lynn Culler02/21/10
Oh my gosh, I remember that fire! Since I was in Brea when it broke out, and needed to return to Chino. I was scared just trying to get back home!I could see all your descriptions and it was like reliving that experience again!
Rikki Akeo02/24/10
Well, I can say two things.
This story must be real. I know that part of the 91.
Also, we must be neighbors. :D
I grew up in Orange County. I'm a partial reader of your article. Love it!
Lisa Keck02/25/10
I remember that move. I was sorry I couldn't help but Dave was glad I hadn't offered because of my sensitivity to smoke. You painted a good picture here but let's hope after March of 2010 your next move is with the rest of us who leave it all behind for our completely furnished paid for Mansion.