I’ve tried to write this post numerous times and can’t find a way to start the post. How do you begin to capture the scene of the past week in words?
In the early morning on Monday, October 9, my husband and I were awakened to a frantic phone call from my mother around 2am, who was fleeing her burning street with my father and their dachshund, Pismo. Awakened by the smell of smoke and their fire alarms going off, they could see the home burning across the street from them, embers flying everywhere, and a large orange glow headed their way. At one point Pismo got off of his leash, and luckily they were able to get to him and escape safely to my aunt’s house. My aunt’s neighborhood was quickly evacuated, and my parents fled down to Walnut Creek as my brother (who lives in Colorado), was coming to Walnut Creek for work that day.
The power was off at my house, and as I checked Facebook, I could see a few posts from Facebook friends with frantic “get out now” posts. Outside, all we could see was an orange glow surrounding the neighborhood. The air was filled with smoke and the sounds of sirens, car horns, and explosions. The explosions were from propane tanks from BBQ’s, etc, as the fire burned through numerous neighborhoods in the city.
We packed up valuables, clothes, and computers urgently as we prepared to run for our lives. All of those posts that ask “what book would you grab if you had 5 minutes to run from a fire”? Now I know my response to that question. My answer is: none. No book. It can be replaced. I’d rather grab a photograph or a family heirloom.
As the fire grew closer to us, some neighbors fled, others (us included) stayed. My in-laws evacuated to our house, and we watched the glow get closer and listened to the explosions get louder. For hours. Friends who had fled were stuck on the roads as everything turned into gridlock as the city tried to escape. We feared we would not be able to escape, and as the sun came up we watched as the air turned black with smoke and ash rained down. We had no power, so no access to television, and the only information we could find was through social media (we didn’t even think until later to turn a radio on).
Those first 8 hours or so were absolutely terrifying. Then, as we started hearing about all of the damage, it became even more unreal. Entire city blocks were destroyed. Historic landmarks gone. Neighborhoods leveled. At this point a lot of what was said on social media was speculation – no one could get into any of the affected areas to know for sure what was still standing. My parents assumed their house was destroyed, but they didn’t know for sure. So we tried to find out for them.
My cousin and her husband, who lost the home they were renting, were able to get into the neighborhood before we got there and gave us the bad news. It was gone. Everything gone. The only thing still standing was their fountain. We decided to continue on, as I wanted to see the scene for myself. We drove around barricades, and told law enforcement we were going in – we had to see it. And what we saw looked like a war zone. It looked like a bomb had been dropped on the area, for as far as the eye could see you saw destruction. The pictures don’t even do it justice.
I took several videos, here is a video of us driving down Dennis Lane (which is one border of the Coffey Park area), Coffee Lane, and driving into my parent’s neighborhood.
The next video is a video taken from my parent’s driveway and shows their court where they lived, where I grew up.
The heat coming off the rubble was intense, and it was too hot for us to start to look through anything to see if we could find anything that survived. That was on Monday, and I write this post on Saturday and we have not been allowed back in yet to go through the ashes. They now have all burned areas secured by law enforcement and are enforcing curfews and arresting those caught on site. My parents are still in Walnut Creek, as there are still fires burning up here and new evacuations. Just this morning the streets near me were under a new mandatory evacuation as the winds shifted and the fire headed back towards Santa Rosa. One night this past week we were under a voluntary evacuation and spent the night in a local Walmart parking lot with my in-laws. I barely know what day it is. When we have power, the news is on constantly, and as I sit here and write this post, I can hear the planes flying overhead dropping water and fire retardant over the fire. It’s now been 6 days of this.
Another thing that happened this week was that my 90-year-old grandmother, who gets confused easily, was evacuated from her assisted living facility. We knew she was evacuated, but phones weren’t working, and there was difficulty in finding where she was transferred to. When we finally found out where she was, which was sometime on Tuesday, we learned that after she was transferred to the San Ramon facility, she was found down, and ended up fracturing her hip and needed surgery. So that’s another issue happening this week as well. Really feels like we’ve been hit from all sides.
The outpouring of support and help from fire departments, sheriff, and police departments all across the state and nation has been wonderful. I can’t thank all of the people fighting the fire and helping keep the city streets safe enough! So many different military vehicles, police, sheriff, and fire are around working nonstop. Also working nonstop is PG&E, working to get power restored and making sure gas lines are safe and the burned areas are safe to go back into.
We have had some reports of looting, and reports of people setting fires, but mostly the community has come out strong and supportive. My parents have had good support, and really only had trouble in cancelling AT&T U-Verse (their customer service is the worst! What part of “I had to run for my life while my house was burning down and I didn’t grab my AT&T U-Verse account number” do people not understand??).
I feel so badly for my parents. They had just (last week!!) finished a year-plus long remodel of their home they lived in for 25+ years. My mom, a talented artist, finally had the beautiful art studio of her dreams. We can’t even begin to understand everything that has been lost (family heirlooms, pictures, recipes, etc). Besides my parent’s house, my cousin and her husband lost the home they were renting, and another cousin of mine lost everything he had as well. I work in the medical field, and one of my bosses lost his home, and there are many physicians in the area who have lost everything as well. Besides all of the homes that were lost, many businesses burned down as well. Our favorite restaurant, Sweet-T’s, was destroyed. The damage sustained by Santa Rosa is truly devastating and horrific. It will be a very long rebuilding process, and we already had a massive housing crisis to begin with as prices were ridiculously out of control. Now with thousands of residents needing housing, it becomes an even more dire issue.
Here are some tips I have from what I’ve learned in the past week:
- Keep a pair of tennis shoes by your bed. I’ve always done this, but never had to use them urgently until this week.
- Make sure you have a clear path to your exits before you go to sleep at night. Make sure you can safely get to all doors and exits and that everyone in the house knows how to escape.
- Keep your house clean. You never know when you will have evacuees living in your house.
- Make sure you have several cases of bottled water on hand at all times. We had several areas have a boil water warning, and other areas had “do not drink” warnings.
- Make sure your smoke detectors are up to date and working. Install smoke detectors in every room, which is now a requirement on remodels and new builds in my area, but many older homes don’t have this requirement. I’m convinced that my parent’s remodel and the new smoke detectors helped save their lives.
- Sign up for your local law enforcement text alerts. In Sonoma County, they use Nixle. Check with your local law enforcement to make sure you are signed up for alerts. Many in our area were not signed up for these, and many residents did not have any warning as the fire moved so quickly. I’ve heard that the Tubbs fire moved one football field length every three seconds & I’ve also heard one football field every 16 seconds. I’m not sure which was accurate for that night, but we did have 80 mph winds that made the fire spread faster than your typical wildfire. The fire also jumped over 6 lanes of freeway due to the high winds.
- Keep some cash on you at all times. Many stores & gas stations were down to accepting cash only during the first few days, if they were open at all.
- Make digital copies of old photographs. Save these to the cloud, so even if you lose your computer, you can still access the images.
I’ll make some future posts regarding dealing with FEMA and other things that I learn later on once we figure out what is happening.
Thank you so much for all of the well wishes and prayers! I really appreciate it, and if you are interested, here is a link to a GoFundMe page that my cousin Sarah set up for my parents.
Stay safe out there and read a book for me. It’s hard to focus much on anything right now, but someday I hope to be back to blogging about books and reading.
I wrote this post earlier today, but due to internet issues and power issues was unable to post until now. I can now see blue sky and feel a faint glimmer of hope for the future. Santa Rosa was strong before, and we will be strong after.