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  • Writer's pictureKerri Rae (K-Rae)

If I Don’t Laugh, I’ll Cry :-)

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

St. Patrick’s Day 2019 – One to REMEMBER…

This is a VERY long story but it is my story of what I went through during the fires last weekend. So many have asked and during the thick of things it was hard to keep everyone updated. So here is MY story. I was trying to run the restaurant but more importantly wanted to do everything I could to help. As a result and due to my proximity on the mountain and being in between our Finca and Costa Rica Yoga Spa (CRYS), it was a good location for a meeting point and donations. I had people here constantly from Friday through Monday afternoon so MY experience may be different than that of other neighbors on the hill. I write this because we were all at risk and we all had different experiences, this is mine.

I’ve been through major floods, in two countries, hurricanes, tornadoes, major snowstorms and ice storms. I had a small fire on the side of my property two months ago and that scared me a bit. You start thinking of the “what if’s”. So on Thursday March 14, when word spread that a fire had started at the top of “our Mountain”, Finca Dona Cielo, I was on 24 hour “watch”. Winds were blowing so hard it sounded like a freight train blowing through.

Calls for volunteers to help the Bomberos (Firemen) went out as the fires were spreading fast and furious. Fire had also spread to our neighbors, Costa Rica Yoga Spa. We were all waiting, watching it all unfold on Facebook and hoping the winds would die down. It was a sleepless night for many.

When I woke up Friday morning I learned that the Bomberos had worked straight through the night and were still trying to control so many fires at both locations. They were exhausted, hungry and thirsty. I am no help physically anymore with all these dang injuries I’ve had lately but I can make a mean burrito and other quick and easy items to eat “on the go”. I threw together Chicken burritos, grabbed every large bottled water I had (I keep 8 large bottles in my house and each Cabina has 2 large bottles of water in case of emergencies) and headed up towards the top of the mountain. I found the fire truck in front of my neighbor’s house, ¾ of the way up. All of the firefighters were down in the thick of things so I dropped off the waters and proceeded down the mountain. I saw a volunteer Bombero, Brennan, coming out of the woods, handed off the burritos and headed home. On my way down I saw that fire had burned quite a bit of the mountainside, along the road. My neighbor Tim was keeping watch over his house with sprinklers on and hoses on the fires across the road from his house. Raking and drenching with hoses. It looked to me as though they were keeping it all under control.

We started a neighbor Facebook message group to keep each other informed of what was happening in our different areas of the mountain. Little did we know how much we would use this messaging in the next 4 days. The Bomberos have a Facebook page as well, keeping people updated and asking for help when needed. At approximately 5pm one neighbor sent a message that she heard a loud explosion and was worried it may be a neighbor’s home. Since I am the 3rd to last house at bottom of the mountain, I knew I was safe from the fires, so I decided to drive up and take a look, just for peace of mind. I had NO idea what I was driving into.

As I made my way up the mountain, the entire road, on both sides, were on fire, some flames almost 8’ high. Thick smoke and sparks were blowing across the road. The wind was blowing so hard, it was blowing fire across the road. I kept driving towards the first neighbor’s house. As soon as I arrived I noticed an old abandoned tractor (one of MANY), tires exploded and on fire. This is the explosion my neighbor must have heard. It was just outside the gate to a house, fire on both sides of the road, thick black smoke blowing all around A downed tree on fire across their driveway but otherwise, no other fires on their property, yet. The smoke was so bad; I could no longer see 2 feet in front of me and could not breathe. I decided it was best to turn around and head home. I did not want to get stuck there. Flames engulfing my truck and smoke inhalation were my top concerns. All I could think of was “The Bomberos are busy enough, I do NOT want them to have to come rescue my dumb arsse. J I almost couldn’t turn around. Smoke getting thicker, heat from the fires, visibility was a 2. I was a tad nervous, for sure. I headed down the mountain and for a mile, fire on both sides, smoke so thick I couldn’t see and almost drove off the side of the mountain twice. Pretty scary.

Just the beginning

Our road on fire

Friday up the hill

When I arrived home I checked Facebook for updates. The wind was so bad it was almost impossible to control the fires. More calls for help for the Bomberos. They were essentially going from our mountain to CRYS trying to save houses and businesses.

I was told several times, I’m too far down, and it will never reach me. The fires were the worst halfway up our mountain, at the top by the Zip line and at Costa Rica Yoga Spa.

Saturday the winds were still howling and fires kept popping up. The Bomberos would get one put out and others would start. CRYS was in danger of losing homes and property. My neighbor Lena and I prepared more burritos and my place had now become a drop off point and gathering spot for donations, volunteers, info. My other neighbor Liza’s house had a fire above her, coming close to her house. Lena and I drove around, handing out burritos, fruit and waters. The core group of Bomberos was still fighting the fires, with little or no sleep in almost 3 days. Food and beverage donations were pouring in. People were coming to K-Rae’s asking how they could help. It was heartwarming to see the community pull together.

Our wonderful Bomberos and volunteers

Above Liza and Jairo’s house.

It seemed as though the fires were contained later in the evening on Saturday. People sighed with relief for a moment. Some Bomberos were able to get a few hours of sleep.

Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day. I hadn’t planned anything special (Thankfully). Just a normal day of Fun, food and Irish music. All seemed quiet on the mountain. Customers started showing up for Corned Beef Reuben’s, Irish Car Bombs and typical Irish fun. A group of Canopy workers (love those guys) showed up with machetes etc to cut lines on my upper property deeper in the woods to prevent the fire from spreading to my place. “Precautionary measures”. Irish music playing on the Speakers. Everyone (about 25 people) enjoying the pool, cold beers and friendship. Not surprisingly the majority of my customers were from MA that day, coming to K-Rae’s to celebrate with me.

Calm before the storm… Happy St. Patrick’s Day??

All of a sudden, around 2pm, a few of my customers noticed flames up above and behind the Pub. The area that they were “cutting in” was on fire and flames were moving fast towards the Pub. Another customer noticed fire down below on the side of the mountain next to the outdoor kitchen and beer garden. They grabbed hoses and got to work trying to put it out. Luckily 3 of them were firefighters in MA. Fire was put out and everyone went back to enjoying the day. Shortly after, flames were seen again. The winds were still howling and continued to feed the fires. Every time we thought the fire was contained the wind would blow and spark it up again. This time, the Bomberos were called and asked to get here as soon as possible.

Not long after, the Fire truck and several volunteer vehicles showed up. There had to be 30 people here, some who had never fought a fire but wanted to help in any way they could. They immediately got to assessing the situation and figuring out where to tackle first. Fire was coming from all around the property. There are no fire hydrants here, only 2 fire trucks with water on them and small hoses. I have several water faucets throughout the property with hoses at each one. However, the fire was deep enough into the “jungle” that the hoses do not reach. Everyone started grabbing buckets and using pool water to try to contain the fire. Several volunteers and Bomberos headed deeper in to cut in lines with chainsaws, rakes and shovels. I had customers who wanted to help as well, however since it was St. Patrick’s Day we had been in a celebrating mood and many of the customers, although wanting to help, had had a few beers and it was safer for them to stay away from the fires. I was made to feel as though the fires would never reach my buildings so I did what I always do, take care of the customers, take care of the volunteers and Bomberos, do whatever is needed to keep people from panicking and believe that all will be OK. I was cooking food, gathering buckets or guiding the Bomberos to faucets, equipment, food, and water, whatever they needed.

About an hour after the initial call for help went out it seemed as though the fires were under control. The Volunteers and Bomberos were continuing to douse the fires with water and had kept it from creeping up to the buildings. Then all of a sudden we started to see large pieces of ash flying our way, into the beer garden. Smoke started to get thicker and it looked as if it was getting worse. The customers did not want to leave as they were concerned for me, my business, the volunteers and Bomberos. We agreed to move them to my front porch where it would be safer and away from the smoke and flying ash. Not five minutes later, as we were gathering their things to move, I heard “Run, everyone out! Run, the wind has shifted and the fire is coming fast”! I was in the outdoor kitchen trying to get everything out of the way and I turn towards the jungle and I see flames, 5 feet away, blowing right towards me. My first thought was “Oh shit, How did this happen so fast?” Then “Oh no, there are so many people on that side that need to get out”. Then “OH SHIT, there is a large propane tank 2 feet away from those flames and 3 smaller ones at my feet”. I could only picture the fire hitting that propane tank and it exploding, hitting anyone in its path. I start yelling for someone to grab the propane tank, sounding like a crazy lady. I just kept yelling, “grab the propane tank”. I heard yelling all around me to get out, get out. I grabbed 2 of the propane tanks near me and someone ran in to grab the other one. I started running towards my house and all I could hear was “Kerri get the hell out of here, come with us, get out, get out, GET OUT! ”. I saw my friend crying and yelling to me to PLEASE leave with them and she was NOT going to leave me there”. I was trying not to panic, was thinking of all the people there to help me in harms way and hearing everyone yelling at me to evacuate NOW.

I had packed my truck that day with clothes, valuables, cash I had, a few sentimental items, my passport etc. I pulled out all 4 cat carriers, had them open and ready to load up the cats in case of evacuation. I was told numerous times in the previous 4 days that I was overreacting by taking precautions in case the fire reached me. I didn’t care. After driving up the hill on Friday and seeing how fast it moved and how quickly I had inhaled smoke while in the truck, I packed anyway. I would rather be prepared and have to unpack if it wasn’t necessary to leave, than be caught off guard. I’ve seen too many instances where people say, “the wind shifted and it came out of no where”. So as I was being yelled at to leave, then yelled to asking where more tools, buckets, water lines, hoses may be and showing those things to people, then a few customers asking if they could pay their tabs (yes, they were, God bless ‘em), I was looking for my cats to load up and my keys to my truck. Obviously the cats had hidden with all of the commotion and my keys were not in their normal spot. I was trying not to panic but in the same time, I still had people yelling at me to get out. My favorite “chica” Bombero, Adri, was so sweet, yelling but in a kid way, “Kerri Love we really need you to leave”… I knew she was only trying to help but so many other were yelling at me, I finally freaked and yelled “I’m looking for my f’ing truck keys, shut the F Up. Yup, I had my 5 minutes of panic that I swore I wouldn’t do. I bent over, cried for about 2 minutes, hyperventilating and freaked about the cats and my property, my livelihood, my home and I lost it. I think it lasted 3 minutes. “I don’t got time for dis shit” went through my mind. The Bomberos had managed to get all of the customers and anyone else not vital to being there off the property. The yelling at me stopped and they managed to get the flames to go down and a bit of calm came over everyone. Somewhere in the chaos of running around, I stopped long enough to notice my fellow Spanish class student and friend, Scott, and another guy volunteering to help the Bombero’s, was carrying the large propane tank from the outdoor kitchen to my house, away from the flames. I’m pretty sure I had the look of full relief and Thanking him at the same time. I believe that is when I may have calmed down a bit. He looked at me and said, “You sure know how to throw a St. Patrick’s Day party”. We laughed, and took a minute to look around. People started grabbing hoses and buckets again and it was much quieter.

I NEED a beer! I went into the bar to grab a beer (I’m Irish, it’s what we do, don’t judge J )… Although the doors and windows were open, it was FULL of thick black smoke and flying ashes. The smoke was so thick I could barely find my way from the door to the cooler only 5 feet away. I am a trooper though and managed to get through. Grabbed a beer and went back to fresher air. As I looked around at all of the people looking so tired and covered in smoke, I figured, why not? Maybe someone else needs a beer too. Many of the people helping had NEVER been this close to a fire before and you could see the stress, relief, exhaustion in their faces. So I did what I do best…… “Anyone else need a beer? “ The smoke had cleared from the bar, enough to where I didn’t feel like a dumbarsse for going in there. A few of the VOLUNTEERS accepted and we all sat out front reliving the past 30 minutes. It may seem odd to some people but where I grew up and how I grew up, this is how we come together. It was nice to stop for a few minutes, toast with a beer, and just reflect on how lucky we all are and were to be safe and to have so many people there risking their lives to help us all.

Not long after a call came in from CRYS asking for help. My place was still smoldering and a few smaller fires still burning but it seemed we were in the clear here, for now. Most of the Bomberos and volunteers rushed to CRYS and a few stayed here to keep an eye on things. In the meantime, I am getting messages from my neighbors saying fires were getting worse at their houses. So many fires and so little help with regards to equipment and resources. My neighbor Lena was standing guard with hoses keeping fires from reaching her house. My neighbor Jairo had people helping him try to prevent a fire above their house from reaching them and sent guys to help our newest neighbor Emilie to protect her house in progress. Poor Emilie. What a way to be welcomed to our Finca. She’s a tough chick too though and she was right there with hoses and buckets and the guys trying to save her house. Other neighbors were out of the country and had to keep tabs and hope for the best with their houses. Luckily they had no major damage. Lenore and Annabel, the last house on the hill were manning the Facebook messaging and Annabel sent her drone out often to assess the areas. Keeping us and the folks at CRYS informed as to where the fires were popping up, constantly. Susan brought sandwiches and waters to the Bomberos and checked on us often. Martin showed up to scoop me up from harms way when they heard I was being evacuated. He soon realized that this Irish Scorpio chick from Worcester, Massachusetts wasn’t going anywhere. Gave me a huge hug, asked if I needed anything. Stayed for a bit in case they needed help then moved on to the next person who needed help.

Luckily Peter and Susan/Martin’s houses hadn’t gotten any fire near them, until… It was probably 8pm when the fires at my house seemed to be in control and smoldering. As I was sitting with Ryan Bombard, the fire chief, and 3 of the volunteers, at the top of the steps going down from the beer garden (where the view is best), we looked out over the mountains. Fire going up, almost like a ski trail, on the mountain next to me. Small fires throughout our mountain still burning but too far to get to without a plane. I thought, and actually said out loud, if it wasn’t so devastating it would be beautiful. It was surreal. We all just sat there for a while looking at it all. It had been 4 days of non stop firefighting for most of them and was still burning.

At that moment we noticed a smaller fire to the left of my property had sparked up again. It jumped and started a newer fire where my fire was a few months ago. We also noticed a huge plume of smoke, further down, wind now blowing towards the road. Then a call came in on the radio. Huge fire now across from Peter and Susan/Martins house. We walk down to Susan’s then Peter’s. It is across the street but getting bigger and threat of wind pushing it across road is serious. Go back to my house, a few more guys show up. ½ go to put out the one at my house and start controlled burns to prevent the fire from crossing the road. The other half go to Peter’s house. Using buckets, shovels and hoses they put out the fires threatening Peter’s house and looks like Susan and Martin are safe from fire as well.

Ryan comes back to my house, exhausted. I ask if he needs anything and he says, “Would you mind if I have a cup of coffee”? Would I mind? Inserio? I make a big pot of coffee, we all sit for a bit talking about the past few days and how unbelievable it is that this small VOLUNTEER fire department with old equipment, with no protective gear for most of the people fighting the fires, and no loss of human life or homes or businesses. Unfortunately we did have one Bombero rushed to the hospital in Nicoya for smoke inhalation, but he is OK. It’s just crazy to me that these guys get all of this done, with no hesitation, and NO MONEY.

I was told I would be ok to stay here, as I didn’t want to leave my pets or my property in case another fire sparked up. My windows had all been closed so the smoke wasn’t so bad inside that I couldn’t stay. Lord knows I wouldn’t be sleeping. It was midnight before I said goodbye to the guys, and they were heading to CRYS for another fire.

As I sat there looking at it all I had so many thoughts going through my mind. How much worse it could have been. How lucky we are to have the Bomberos who selflessly put their lives on the line with no hesitation to save our lives and property. How sad it is that I’m sure many wildlife perished in this senseless set of fires. How blessed we are to have so, so many regular, every day people pitch in to help whenever a crisis occurs. There are so many obstacles to living in this country, in this town, that make it hard to want to live here sometimes. Then you see how a community of people drop everything to help people in need, regardless of income level, nationality, political affiliations and you sit back and say…..all of the obstacles seem so much easier to deal with and I’m happy to be here.

Monday Morning things were so much better. Winds were still blowing like crazy, smoke still blowing but it seemed it was all over. I had a previous appointment to bring my truck in for repairs and have it brought for yearly inspection (Reteve’). My friend Louis and Pam picked me up and brought me home and offered to help clean up. Upon arrival, water pipes burned so no water and no power. No water, no power, no cleaning. Appreciate the ride and offer to clean though Louis and Pam. J xoxo By mid- afternoon, Ian and Richard, volunteer Bomberos, came and picked up Water jugs and fruits and other donated items. A Guiones neighbor had dropped of 12 pizzas and a ton of watermelon so they grabbed those for the rest of the crew. It was all coming to an end and things were starting to go back to normal. Let the cleanup begin……. I think an Ice Cold Beer, Some 70’s and 80’s dance tunes CRANKING on the surround sound and a huge snickers bar would do wonders to get that started! OH wait still no water. Cold beer, awesome music and snickers will have to do for today..

Survived another “chapter”. Until the next one…

PURA VIDA HUGE THANK YOU TO EVERY SINGLE PERSON THAT HELPED US ALL WITH THESE MASSIVE FIRES. Large or small, every little bit helps. Even just messaging to ask if everyone is ok means a LOT. So THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

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