OPINION: A flame apart

House burns months after the Marshall fire


Mars Smith

Two hands reach towards one another, yet don’t touch. Maya VanVleet ’25 experienced two tragic fires so close together in time, but both affected her differently.

I’ve been prone to living in fear my whole life. All of my mini-anxiety attacks over time have added up to an unimaginable amount of self-doubt and pity.
I never thought it would get worse than it already was, but one tiny ember sparked a flame that tore my life apart. Literally.
One little fire burned my life to the ground.
Until awhile ago, my house was covered in black soot.
I often think back to the Marshall Fire last December, and how lucky I felt that my house survived. I can only begin to understand what it might’ve been like for those who lost their homes.
Then this thing happens six months later and I think, “No way, not another fire.”
Despite the fact that 1,084 homes were lost, I can barely relate to anyone at all.
I can’t explain the exact feeling of hearing a deafening explosion echo through my walls this summer. Then, ten seconds later, how I had to run out of the door and across the street.
I can’t explain the horrific sound of my mom’s fearful cries as she yelled at 911 on the phone. Or the same dreaded pleas targeted at my dad as he went to remove the car from our driveway.
I remember the exact moment I realized I was watching my house burn. I was watching real flames dance nonchalantly toward my room and burn down every memory it held.
At that same moment, salty streams of water drenched my face as I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

I’ve never felt more distant than in the past six months.

My feet burned on the asphalt because of my lack of shoes, and I couldn’t text my friends to tell them what happened because I only had the t-shirt and shorts I had worn to sleep the night before.
All I could think about was how it was too early and too hot outside for this. I remember my feet hurt, but never said anything because everyone seemed more freaked out than I was.
I hung out at my friend’s house and insisted on watching The Vampire Diaries. It was a good distraction because I was only focusing on how much I wanted Elena and Damon to get together.
We spent the rest of the day walking to Safeway and eating pizza at my neighbor’s house. We also watched Mean Girls and somewhere in between, I was ready to look at my house.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think it was going to look as terrible as it did, but now I feel sort of stupid because it was burnt. Burnt things look really ugly.
Black charcoal covered the whole face of my house, and broken shards of glass littered the front yard. The smell of the lingering smoke filled my nose while chunks of ash tattooed the bottom of my shoes black. The concrete was stained with shades of gray as burnt leaves fell into the driveway.
My room was trashed and full of ash, all the clothes on the floor were soaked. There was a weird red stain on my bed. The many BTS posters on my wall were all ripped.
It feels like a distant memory trapped in a barely notable dream. It’s not something I deemed to be super real until I drove by my house again a day later.
I was in shock for the rest of the week.
The aftermath has been horrible, too. Every loud sound I hear causes me to jump, even if it’s just the initial sizzle of bacon on a pan.
As you can imagine, smoke haunts me. Everything about smoke haunts me. The smell, the weird haziness it creates, and the idea of what it means for something to be smoking.
My worsening anxiety only skyrocketed after this particular incident. I’ve had more panic attacks in the span of six months than I’d usually have in a whole year.
I’d like to think people would be able to understand how I felt, but it’s just so different from the Marshall Fire.
Similar things happened and are relatable, but the difference is, I’m all alone in this situation. I’m not going through the same thing as the rest of the town.
I feel like everyone forgets.
When I tell people about my house, I imagine they think it burned in the Marshall Fire. The only responses I get are blank stares and the occasional, “Sorry, that really sucks.”
I can’t tell if their responses are genuine, or if they’ve just sat through that same conversation one too many times and don’t want to repeat themselves again.
They never seem to acknowledge the trauma that I went through and survived.
I just wish the attempt was there because right now, I’m still struggling to see their sympathy. I’ve never felt more distant than in the past six months.