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“Door To Door Inferno”

[This is a 'Down The Rabbit Hole' post. Deal with it. If you can figure out which County is in such deep, deep badness – more power to you. This is the evening of Day 1 of the Firecracker War.]



2017: Lifeboat
2016: Atrocity Day
2015: Log of the _Blue Oyster_
2014: Pile It On
2013: Door to Door Inferno (this one, also part of Globall War of Terror)
2012: Future Imperfect
2011: Freedom From Fear: The Home Front
2010: War of Terror: On The Front Line
2009: America Back To Work
2008: nonfiction break "The Power of Nightmares," a censored film about Islamic and Christian fundamentalism
2007: In The Hole, Spectacularly Not Winning
2006: Security & Space
2005: GlobAll War Of Terror (same series)

I am sweating profusely wearing my mostly useless Kevlar body armor. I am in full rig: boots, BDU pants, Kevlar, BDU blouse, tactical vest (“SHERIFF”), white hard hat. Borrowed radio clipped to my gun belt set to the Green, the County Sheriff Tactical frequency. Mike wrapped over my shoulder. Belt with all the trimmings – pistol, pepper spray, handcuffs. AR rifle on cheap nylon sling over my back. Also a borrowed 30 round magazine stuffed in my lower BDU pants. A bunch of riot ties looped behind my pistol holster. Wearing dollar store gloves with the right index finger hastily cut out. Backpack with hydration tube clipped to my collar.

I am grateful for the brisk evening air as the sun finishes setting in the west. The sun is rivaled by an evil glow from the north. Everything here smells of smoke, of things that should not burn. Not just things either. Some of the street lights are still on. There is an eerie air of normalcy, but here and there signs of chaos. An abandoned vehicle. A smashed window. A house door, left open. The occasional stray dog or stray person. We shout at the latter to walk south.

Our team leader is a County Reserve Deputy Sheriff. Accompanying him is another reserve deputy with a broken ankle and other injuries – she is monitoring four radios in the front seat of the police car, and should be in a nice warm hospital bed. The Green is one of them; Cal Fire; county mutual aid; and the cobbled up Battalion Tactical for co-ordination with the crews round the frequencies out. In addition, the local AM station – the only one still up – is desperately trying to keep people informed, narrating nightmare.

Boris and I are security guards. But not today. The four of us are playing deputy sheriff, but only two of us have gone through the formalities of an academy.

Today is a bad day.

Boris is driving very slowly, alternating the siren with the PA system. The team leader and I are walking on either side of the cruiser.

“This is the County Sheriff's Office. This area is under a mandatory evacuation order. Leave your homes with what you can carry. Drive or walk south. If you need help, come outside. Otherwise go now.”

We are going door to door and house to house, doing the unthinkable. We are kicking people out of their own homes in the midst of the worst disaster the Bay Area has ever faced.

Three blocks away, we hear the snarl of chainsaws and roar of a bulldozer as a Cal Fire crew – inmate crew I'd been told -- hastily chopped down trees too large to bulldoze. The bulldozer scraps the lawns and gardens and everything else normally found in a front lawn down to bare earth. They are working both sides of the residential street.

BOOM. They just blew another one. We have learned to tune out these explosions, although each one is the death of a family's hopes and dreams.

“What?” a man shouts as he comes out of his house. “What is this?” He is wearing a bath robe. Perhaps he was asleep.

“Mandatory evacuation. Everyone needs to leave right now.”

“What? Why?”

Asleep. If he looked over his shoulder to the north, he could see the glow.

“San Francisco got nuked two hours ago. Major fire headed south. We are clearing a firebreak. How many people in the house?”

“My mother and myself. She's elderly and sick, she can't be moved.”

The team leader steps out towards him.

I say briefly, “She has to be. Can she walk to the bathroom?”

“Yes... but I tell you, she's sick!”

“Then she can walk to your car.” I walk past him into the house.

“What are you doing?”

“Ma'am!” I call out. “County Sheriff's Office!”

Behind me, he is arguing with the team leader, the one with five years reserve experience and a full academy of training. I am just a jumped-up security guard who was an EMT once. I am already changing mental gears to patient transport. I really hope she's ambulatory.

“In here,” a voice says weakly. I walk into a little old lady's bedroom. She is also wearing a bathrobe. She is in her 70s, just sitting up from what appears to have been a nap.

“I'm really sorry, ma'am, but there's a big fire and we have to get you out right now. Can you get yourself dressed?”

“Yes... what did you say?”

“Ma'am, there's a really big fire headed this way and we need to empty all the houses on this block.”

“Oh dear. Let me get my coat. Should I get my things? Will we be gone long?”

“Ma'am, get dressed and get your medications. Is there anyone else in the house?”

“No... my son is out front...” She really looks at me for the first time. I am dressed for war, standing in her bedroom, the room she fully expected to die in sometime in the next year or two, and somehow she is the one out of place.

The evil red glow from the north is a hint around the windows. She notices it and pauses, hand on her dresser.

“How long do we have?”

“Five minutes, ma'am. Is there anything I can grab for you? I have to go back outside now.”

She has five minutes to grab her stuff from amid the accumulation of a lifetime.

She shakes her head.

The man, her son, is angrily throwing stuff out of his car's trunk and muttering under his breath.

Immediately upon seeing me and getting the thumbs up sign, the team leader is already going to the next house, knocking on the door. No car out front.

“County Sheriff's Office!” he shouts.

“Fuck off!” someone shouts back from inside.

Wrong answer.

I unsling the rifle and bring it to low carry, waddling towards the deputy as he stands exposed on the porch. I am looking at sight lines.

“We're the Sheriff! Your house is about to be on fire!”

“Blow me! Get a warrant!”

“This is a public safety emergency! San Francisco got nuked!”

The man's reply had something to do with a mother.

I used the side garden gate to enter the back yard. Moving quickly as I could in full gear, I sliced the pie around the back rear corner to confront a second floor deck with sliding glass doors and stairs up.

I took the stairs two at a time when I heard rhythmic pounding on the door. My team leader was banging on the door with his baton. Not going to breach it, but definitely going to annoy the living daylights out of whoever thought he would ever need to re-paint it.

“Fuck you! Go away!” a man in his 30s, unkempt, long hair and two day's beard was shouting at the door as I opened the sliding glass door with my left hand, then entered pointing my rifle.

He hadn't seen me. So I took a knee, took a bead with my rifle, announced myself with a shout.

“SHERIFF'S OFFICE! HANDS UP!”

He froze and turned around slowly, hands at shoulder height.

“Hands up or I fire,” I announced clearly and loudly in the sudden quiet prompted by my shout. “Higher!”

He complied.

“Now unlock the door and the chain. Slowly. Do it now.”

As if he was in a trance, he complied.

“Good. Now back away from the door.”

Hearing the door unlock, the team leader pushed it open with a foot, handgun in his right hand.

“Who else in the house?”

“Just me. What is this?”

“The town's on fire. Everyone out.”

“Holy shit. The nuke, huh?”

“Yup. Are you good now?”

“Yeah,” the man said, visibly shaken. “I'm good. Can I grab my stuff?”

“You have five minutes,” the team leader said and turned his back and walked out. I brought my rifle back to low ready, off point.

I went back to the elderly woman's house. She was in the car now. The man driving was glaring at us, which was totally understandable.

BOOM. Another one.

“What the fuck was that?” the man shouted.

Boris said from the steering wheel of the cruiser, “Sir, start your car and drive south. Do it now.”

I wasn't about to tell him if he hadn't figured it out.

I entered the house as they left for the quick final sweep. I heard a bird squawk. Caged. I carried the cage outside.

“Quit fucking with that and sweep this one!” my team leader said as I put the birdcage down on the sidewalk. Maybe Animal Services would pick it up. More likely someone would free it and it would live, or not. Most likely not.

So I walked over to the house of the man I'd just pointed a rifle at. He was out front with a backpack containing what appeared to be a lot of bottled water. Good thinking.

“Sorry, man,” he said as I went in. “Take anything you want.” Then he turned and walked south.

“Good luck, sir,” I said as I quickly checked all three levels. On the way back out, I grabbed a cold Coke from the fridge and pocketed it next to the rifle magazine I'd not yet needed to use.

The rhythm continued. Go to the next house, announce ourselves. Explain briefly but forcefully. Get the people out. No time for stuff. Pets freed or left in container on the sidewalk. Walk, bicycle or drive – but get south and get going. Sorry, ma'am, don't know. You have five minutes. No, sir, please go now. What's your name, child? Write it – first and last --on her forehead with a permanent ink marker and note it down in my notepad with the address. Amy Reid, 2321 Crescent, Age 8, mom at work in San Francisco. A neighbor family takes her with them.

Bulldozers getting closer. We have to move faster.

I happen to be looking east down when I hear the BOOM, closer now. County Bomb Squad... Army Corps of Engineers... firefighting heavy rescue team... somebody with explosives quickly taking down the supports of single family homes, which are surprisingly resistant to this sort of thing. The three story house slumps to the side, a debris field which the bulldozer promptly plows into.

More chainsaw sounds. A tree falls in the distance, I see its branches waving.

“Next one.'

Boris stops, freezes in place. Then he parks and gets out of the car. Walks up the walkway, does something with his hand, opens the door.

A minute later, a woman and a little boy, maybe four years old, come out, leading a dog on a leash. They are carrying a backpack each and the woman has a lidded bucket – probably survival supplies. He kisses her briefly but hard. He ruffles the fur of the dog, who whines when he does not get in the car with them. She drives away with dog and child.

Boris is now carrying a large field pack and a rifle case. He puts them into the back of the patrol cruiser.

Then Boris turns and throws his keys back into the house. His own house.

“Clear,” he announces calmly.

We go to the next house.

The evil red glow is getting brighter. It is as if the sun has not actually gone down – just decided to hang out north for a bit. The smoke smells of barbeque. I am not at all hungry.

We sweep faster, getting the lives out of the way of the fire crews.

Behind us, the fire crews continue their battle with Armageddon the only way they can – cutting a firebreak wide enough to stop a nuclear-ignited urban wildland interface fire.

I choke down the Coke between houses. I start to look for a recycle bin and drop it instead.

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