What to Save From a Fire

Californians told they had minutes to flee had to make fast decisions about what treasures to take. How does one decide?

Jeffrey Lamont Brown for TIME

California fires

Imagine getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night. You have 10 minutes to leave, says the sheriff's deputy, and you don't doubt him. The air is suddenly so turbid that your daughter, who has asthma, is throwing up in the hall bathroom. Ash is gathering like snow on the front steps. You close the door and consider the question that is becoming an existential ritual for hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year: What do I take?

What do I take, after the photo albums, the inhaler and the important papers? Then what?...

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