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Matt Von Pinnon, Published June 30 2012

Von Pinnon: With moments to escape, what would you take?

If you had only moments to leave your home – possibly for good – what would you grab?

It’s a question I think about from time to time, and yet usually the thought sort of fades away as I reason it’s something I’ll likely never encounter.

But lately, with flash flooding in Duluth, a fatal apartment fire in Fergus Falls and a major home fire in Oakport Township, the question has lingered.

Then I heard about a column from a Colorado Springs Gazette writer that really drove it home.

The piece, titled “Hell in the rearview mirror,” recounts the experience author and evacuee Bill Vogrin had as his family was ordered to leave their home because of the fast-advancing wildfires there.

“My heart was pounding as I made one last sweep through our little house in Raven Hills,” he wrote. “I wondered if my family would ever celebrate another birthday here. I paused at the window where we saw so much wildlife in the woods outside. Where we always put up our Christmas tree.

“In the garage, I stopped at the wall where we traced our kids’ profile, measuring their heights to document their growth over the years. I took one last picture of the shark mural in my youngest son’s bedroom, grabbed my oldest boy’s high school letterman’s jacket, took a photo of my daughter at Disney World and began our escape.”

Vogrin’s experience was punctuated by a breathless, Armageddon-like trip to and from their house after being surprised by the news that they, too, were threatened by the ever-advancing fire.

The element of surprise is the common thread when it comes to disasters.

It’s why public safety experts continually remind people that things, as opposed to life, can be replaced. They want us to remember that above all when making split-second decisions. They’re right.

But sentimentality is a strong and irrational pull, especially when a crisis makes everything going on around us seem irrational.

So I might take some time in the near future to prepare a short list of things I’d like to grab in the event of an evacuation.

If I’m really on the ball, I might even devise a plan to quickly gather those items should I only have a spare moment.

But that probably won’t happen today or even tomorrow, and maybe not even next week.

It’s an exercise that always seems a bit out of reach because the emotional weight of things tends to change over time.

So, come to think of it, I’ll probably just think on it a bit more some other day and instead enjoy today with the things that aren’t things at all.


Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.