I had been working on an article about how to successfully move your business from one County to another, but this has been put on hold due to the fires in the county I moved from (Sonoma) and a fire in the county I moved to (Lake).
Sunday, October 8, 2017, the wind was fierce and concerning. Later that evening as I worked at my computer, an alert came across my phone regarding a fire near Calistoga resulting in road closures to Sonoma County. I became worried because the next day Don would travel from our home in Clearlake Park to the Petaluma Creamery in Petaluma to pick up cheese and then deliver it to various places around Lake County. Since he was already asleep, I left him a note on the kitchen counter, saying he might want to take a different route due to a fire.
After going to bed late on Sunday evening, a popping woke me. Since the wind was blowing harder now, I thought nothing worse had happened than the electricity going out and had quickly fallen back to sleep. At about 2 a.m. Don woke me and said something was going on, the electricity wasn’t working, and that we needed to get out now. At about the same time, a mandatory evacuation order came over his phone with direction to go to a designated shelter. In the dark, we grabbed a few things and tried to capture the cats, but they became agitated and would not let us near them. We had no choice but to leave them behind and hope for the best.
When we stepped outside, the night sky was bright with flames from Sulphur Bank Road in a neighboring village, Clearlake Oaks. Smoke hung heavy, making it difficult to breathe. In what is normally a quiet area, a flurry of activity was taking place: fire trucks with flashing lights were hurrying toward the fire and cars with headlights like fear-stricken eyes were quickly moving the other way down the hill.
As Don and I drove the 20 minutes to the evacuation center, all I could think about was how close the flames appeared to be to our home. I cried because our precious fur babies were still in the house. My worst fear was that, being inside cats, they would not be able to escape if our house caught on fire. If they did escape I hoped they would be able to survive.
When we arrived at the evacuation center, rows of cots with pillows and blankets filled one side of the large building. People milled around in a daze, while other lay on the cots trying to sleep. Being pushed from our home and at the evacuation center was surreal and scary, as if we were living a Stephen King horror novel. When we finally settled in with coffee at one of the tables, we all attempted to smooth over a tough situation with conversation about everyday life sprinkled with our early-morning evacuation experiences.
While still at the evacuation center, I went looking online for information about the Sulphur fire—the devil that had chased us from our home—and read that Santa Rosa was burning up too. I discovered that friends had been evacuated from various parts of the city, and later learned that many had lost their homes. With barely time to get away from approaching flames, our family members lost everything they owned.
While Don and I were blessed enough to stay with a friend, and to have other offers shelter, the evacuation centers quickly filled up. In Lake County, during the two days we were not allowed back home, strangers embraced and shared their stories and tearfully talked about the continuing destruction in Santa Rosa. Community came together in loving and compassionate ways that we often forget about in ordinary life.
The evacuation in Clearlake Park was lifted on Tuesday night of that same week. Because it was dark and the electricity was not yet back on, we returned home on Wednesday morning. I thought coming back would feel a little normal, but it did not. The air smelled burnt and smoke billowed from the sky in the distance. Our cats gazed at us, as if to ask where we’d been for two days. It took several days for me to adjust before realizing we were safe and that the danger of re-evacuation had passed.
Now, two weeks later, the northern California fires- Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma-have all reached almost full containment. In the Lake County fire there were 545 structures destroyed and 43 structures damaged.
In the combined Sonoma County, Napa County, and Mendocino County fires 42 civilians and one private tender operator. Entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa are devastated and people’s lives were turned upside down in a matter of hours. In Santa Rosa alone, approximately 5,300 structures were destroyed. In the combined fires of Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties, about 9,000 structures are demolished.
The aftermath of the devastation is just as staggering as when the fires ravaged through entire communities. Now, some people will stay and rebuild, but others will move on to start new lives elsewhere. In this, my hope is that all paths will lead to a place of healing.