Reno, NV

What It Feels Like to Drive Through A Wildfire: Heading West on 80 During The Summer of Fire and Ash, August 2021

Jenny Justice

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I had to pick up my daughter. She was staying with her other parent in California for two weeks before the start of school and I had to pick her up. For two days, ash had been falling from the sky due to the massive wildfires in Northern California, right near our hometown of Reno, NV.

And as I got into my car to head West on I-80, I knew I would be going through areas very close to the most recent blaze. Ash fell from the sky as I walked to my car. Ash was all over my car. Ash was floating down like truly twisted, dystopian snowflakes. The sky was one giant smoke cloud.

I checked and double checked, the road was open. And I wanted my daughter home safely and soon. So, I drove through the most intense and heavy smoke I had ever seen in the Reno area. The Reno skyline was barely visible. I could see outlines of our biggest little casinos but not much else.

It feels sad and surreal to be driving through smoke at all, but even stranger and more eerie to know that you are heading right towards the worst of it. The smoke was thick down here in Reno and I could only imagine what it might be like once I hit the mountain, and neared Colfax, the primary site of the fire.

And yet there were other cars driving alongside me. Everyone still had places to be, things to do. And everyone does what we always try to do - insert and force normalcy into circumstances and situations that are clearly not normal, that are more dystopian and less okay. If anyone had told me years ago, before I lived out West, that one day I would be driving through a wildfire and that ash would be falling but I would keep going - I would have never believed them.

And that’s the thing. Now I do. And now I see how we have normalized it. Just as we have normalized COVID. Just as we have normalized all other forms of well, let’s face it, traumatic things that should require a bit of a pause in business as usual. I made it through the wildfire area, twice, there and back but I did not feel great about it. It was heavy. The forest burning down, climate change, the new normal, it is heavy stuff.

My heart goes out to those living in areas directly impacted by these fires - the things lost, the habitats ruined, the homes, human and animal, destroyed and the firefighters and first responders who are out there on it, trying to contain blaze after blaze.

I know we have to do what we have to do, that life goes on, that we reach for normal because it keeps us sane, but I also know that taking a minute to actually feel, not numb, but feel the depth of this situation, I believe is pretty important too. `

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Jenny Justice is a poet, writer, mother and teacher. She is just a girl in the world, new to town and learning to love this city - Reno, NV. She writes about all things local from food, to fun, to what you need to know to have a good day, good week, or good time in The Biggest Little City. Jenny loves books and will encourage that love of books with her book reviews. She also writes about relationships, dating, parenting, and other topics when the muse moves her. Follow her for good food, good books, and good fun especially in the Biggest Little City in the world.

Reno, NV
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