Evacuate!


(Based on a true incident)
The word of God …’Twill safely guide us through (Hymns, no. 274).

Mark combed his hair carefully. His baseball heroes seemed to look on with approval from the posters covering his bedroom walls.

“Everyone into the van,” Mom called from downstairs. “We don’t want to be late for church.”

Mark put down his comb and turned to leave. He stopped short. Staring him straight in the eye from the picture on his bedroom door was another of his heroes—Captain Moroni. I almost forgot! he said to himself. He went back and grabbed his scriptures from under a stack of baseball cards.

Brother Barton, Mark’s Primary teacher, was really cool. He’d returned from his mission a year ago and often told them, “Brethren (he always called them brethren), before you know it, you’ll be on your missions. Studying the scriptures is a great way to prepare.” Brother Barton made scripture study fun, and Mark especially loved reading the Book of Mormon.

A brisk hot breeze ruffled his hair as he climbed into the van. As it slowly went down the gravel driveway, Mom observed, “Everything’s so dry.” Through the open window, Mark could hear the tall, straw-like grass rattle nervously in the wind. Even the manzanita bushes and oak trees looked thirsty. In the summer, wildfires were a way of life in their rural area, but this year, after several dry winters, the fire danger was extremely high.

“It looks like there’s a fire over in Acorn Valley,” Dad said. Mark turned and spotted the thin, black feather of smoke.

“The firefighters are well trained,” Mom said confidently. “They’ll have it out before long.”

But by the time they got to the meetinghouse, the smoke plume had grown much wider. Mark became more and more alarmed as he heard bits and pieces of anxious conversations in the foyer:

“This wind is spreading the fire …”

“… having trouble controlling …”

“… alerting crews from all over …”

As Mark stepped into the classroom, Brother Barton smiled at him, and Mark relaxed a little.

After the opening prayer, Brother Barton said, “Let’s turn to 3 Nephi 13:21.” [3 Ne. 13:21] He waited until everyone had found the right place, then read, “‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’”

He closed his scriptures. “After Lehi and his family left their home in Jerusalem, the Lord told Lehi to have his sons return. Why?”

“To get the brass plates,” one of the boys answered.

“Right. The brass plates contained scriptures and their genealogy,” Brother Barton explained. “The plates were a precious treasure to Lehi’s family. They gave up their gold and silver and even risked their lives to get them.” He looked right at Mark as he asked, “Brethren, how about you? What’s important to you?

As Mark thought of his baseball cards and his mitt, Brother Barton continued, “Are the things of the world more important to you than the things of the spirit? Brethren, where is your heart? What is your treasure?”

On the way to sacrament meeting, Mark was still thinking about what his teacher had said. What is my treasure? Then he noticed the concerned faces of the people in the half-full chapel. Tensing up, he remembered the fire and found it very hard to concentrate.

After the sacrament, the bishop was handed a note. “The wind has shifted,” he somberly announced, “and the fire is now threatening Wildwood Acres.” There were a few gasps. Mark knew many of the ward members lived in that community. And it wasn’t far from his own home!

“We’ll dismiss early today, brothers and sisters. For those who need it, an evacuation center will be set up here at the church.”

Evacuate! A couple of weeks ago, Mom had given a family home evening lesson on being prepared for emergencies. Mark thought of the hours he, his dad, and his brothers had spent clearing a thirty-foot strip of weeds from around their house. Would it be enough to save their home if the fire kept spreading?

Mark’s family hurried out to the van. The smoke now billowed like a black thundercloud in the distance. Airplanes heavy with fire retardant roared overhead. Fire engines screamed past them.

On the radio came the report: “The fire has already burned through hundreds of acres, and several homes have been lost.” No one in the van had much to say.

As they turned onto their street, they were stopped by a roadblock. The highway patrol car’s lights were flashing alarmingly. Walking over to the van, a uniformed officer spoke to dad. “This area’s been evacuated, sir.” Mark’s stomach muscles tightened even more. He could hear the wail of sirens echoing through the valley.

“But we live just three houses down,” Dad told him.

The officer hesitated, looked at his watch, and said, “We can give you twenty minutes to get what you can out of your home, but then you’ll have to leave.”

Dad’s face was grim as he drove past the roadblock. “Do you all remember what you were assigned to save in an emergency?” Everyone nodded. “If there’s still time after we get the essential things out, you can each fill a small box with whatever you want to take.”

The moment the van screeched to a stop, everyone dashed for the front door. The smoke-filled air made breathing unpleasant. Just over the hill, flames like the tongues of a dozen dragons licked the horizon.

Working quickly, the family loaded financial papers, family records, journals, and photo albums into the van. They added their 72-hour emergency kit from the house to the one already in the car, sleeping bags, extra changes of clothes, and additional food. Mark carefully wrapped the old family Bible in a towel and placed it in the van, then he grabbed an empty box and sprinted to his room.

What should he take? The words of the scripture kept repeating in his mind: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He quickly stuffed his baseball mitt and three of his best baseball card albums into the box.

Then he remembered Brother Barton’s words, “Are the things of the world more important to you than the things of the spirit?” Fragments of the story of Lehi’s family came to mind. They left their home. They went back for the brass plates. The plates were precious treasure.

“We have to leave right now!” Dad shouted.

As Mark hurried down the stairs, his eyes rested on his scriptures, which he’d left on the hallway table. He quickly picked them up and placed them in the box.

The road was crowded with cars and trucks loaded with furniture and belongings. The traffic slowed when it passed the dramatic sight of walls of fire boiling down the hillside.

Mom softly said, “I’m so grateful that our family is together and safe and that we were able to save our most important things.”

A soothing, peaceful feeling filled Mark’s heart. He glanced down at his scriptures. And I got to save my treasure too. He knew that somehow everything would be all right.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown