Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fire, Fear, and the Final Weekend of Fest

The 2011 Fest season is over. The feeling is bittersweet. By the time the Final Weekend comes around every year I'm more than ready for it: My product is dusty, my feet are tired from standing all day, I want my weekends back.

This year brought an especially jarring and traumatic Final Weekend. I'd spent long hours preparing for Fest's final three days, and James and I had no sooner fallen asleep Thursday night (correction: Friday morning) than we were awakened by a neighbor bursting into the shop to warn us of a fire.

It's important to note here that the Fest grounds are drier than newsprint -- this year especially -- and many of the buildings there are old and tinderboxy. As far as I know, few people sleep on site during the show season as permission to stay overnight in the shops is given only to those booth owners who jump through hoops and reconstruct their buildings to Code (at great personal expense). I have no idea who was responsible for calling 911, but if there hadn't been someone already on site at the time, the aforementioned fire would not have been called in as quickly nor contained as rapidly as it was. Just in the first few minutes that I was aware of it, I watched in horror as it roared through a whole line of buildings....

My initial awake moments were nothing but confusion and chaos. I could hear the roar of the flames and feel the heat, even though the fire was still at some distance away. Crews had yet to arrive; I could hear their sirens. But even though I knew help was on its way, I thought for sure we'd die -- to me, the fire was just that out of control. In stunned silence I watched it rage and roar and reach for the stars. Tree branches crackled in the updraft, picnic tables bubbled from the heat. The noise was deafening.

After our initial shock, James and I took off in opposite directions, banging on shop doors and rousting our neighbors. Then I hunkered back in fascination as fire trucks sped on site and men in silhouette fought the flames. (Above is video I took after crews arrived. As awful as it looks, it doesn't begin to capture what things were really like....)

When all was contained, we shopkeepers were escorted away together in our cloaks and pajamas, and I stood at C-Gate in stunned silence, wrapped in every layer I could find yet still cold and shivering.... All around me, participants were filing up from the campgrounds. Many were in costume and being directed to the Front Gate where patrons were already waiting for the show to begin. They'd at least be entertained there while crews secured the burn area before opening the gates.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. And all had been speedily contained. WE WERE SO LUCKY and knew it; things could've been far worse, especially if fire had occurred the day before when winds were high. Or if the morning's flames had reached the giant propane tank that stands just yards from the burn site. 

James and I learned that our entire neighborhood would be roped off for the day due to the investigation. And upon learning that we wouldn't personally be opening for business, the two of us took the opportunity to actually see the Show, albeit in a zombified, sleep-deprived manner. And later that evening when we were given the OK to return to our shops, the two of us walked through the campground on our way back from the parking lot and encountered a troupe of fire dancers rehearsing their performance, and I immediately felt a rush of adrenaline as I watched them jump through the flames.... The sight, the sound, the smell, the heat, the bodies in silhouette -- it all combined to give me nightmares. And I woke the next morning convinced that it was all happening again, like some crazy version of Groundhog's Day.

The remaining two days of that final 3-day weekend went by in a blur. Folks came 'round to say their goodbyes. Talk was all about the fire. Just relaying the news made me remember it all over again, and I'm afraid I spent that Saturday acting a little shell-shocked.... I sold some stuff, I'm not sure what. I think my sales were decent (at least I hope they were), but in the grand scheme of things I really didn't care. I just wanted to get through the weekend and return to the safety of Tumbledown.

And now that I'm here, I can feel myself succumbing to the pull of the Rabbit Hole. My lungs seem compromised, my sinuses are packed with dust, my throat is sore, I'm coughing myself hoarse, and I suspect I've got a case of the Post-Fest Crud. I need liquids and a book or two. And silence.

So if you don't hear from me for a titch, that's where I am. Decompressing in Lala-land and feeling like the world's biggest baby.

P.S.: In rereading this post, I realize I've made it sound as though the fire was my own personal catastrophe. Please know that my heart goes out to those Fest folk who lost their buildings! And I offer up the biggest of thankyous to everything imaginable that was responsible that morning for saving lives. ~delayne.