Jennifer Montano watches her two kids’ faces as they quietly clamber out of the car in their driveway in Vacaville, Calif. It’s been a week since the children were last home, but where their house once stood, there’s ash and rubble now.
In August, the Montanos’ house was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, one of more than 10,000 structures lost in record-breaking blazes across the West this year.
The children start walking around the pile that remains. Almost nothing is recognizable. The fridge is a charred metal box. Montano pulls up a tangle of wires and realizes it used to be their piano. “Our goal is to make sure they feel this as little as possible,” she says.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Aliyah, uncovers a red and green ceramic mug. “Yay, part of Christmas survived,” she says. It’s an unofficial rule that many fire survivors discover: Usually all you