If it’s not one thing, it’s the other. This past winter we were worried about flooding throughout the county, and now a raging urban fire has torn through Santa Rosa and other towns throughout Wine Country.
I am very lucky. My partner and I were in Nevada visiting my brother, and were driving back on the Sunday night all the fires started. Instead of driving straight into it we went to the South Bay, where our three cats were already staying at one of our parents’ house. We didn’t realize what was happening until the next morning.
Then began several days of watching the news, which, honestly… was depressing. I feel for the people who lost their homes, and the people who still don’t know if they have homes or not, and the people whose houses are still standing but they can’t return to them because of evacuation rules. But “breaking news” provided more human interest stories than actual information, and here’s why:
- There wasn’t any. Everything started at night, when they couldn’t start fighting it until dawn. By then there wasn’t anything they could do about containment, all focus was on evacuation and rescue. So there was nothing informative to report.
- No one could really believe what was happening. We get our share of fires here in California, but even we are used to forest fires and wildfires in sparsely populated areas. Even up here where we know that Lake County just a couple hours north has semi-annual fire problems. This was different. This was multiple urban fires throughout four counties (Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake) all at once. I think part of what kept us watching was these sense of, “wait this is actually happening?”
- The news was also meant for people outside of the impacted areas. Because if it doesn’t affect you directly (even elsewhere in the Bay Area where it’s merely super smoky), we want you to know what we’re going through. Local news will broadcast the devastation again and again just to try and convey how real, how devastating this is to the area. Even once they get all the flames out, this will continue to impact our community for months, at least — and we have until then to make sure the outside interest and support will stick past that point.
Honestly, I got more helpful, direct information from Cal Fire’s twitter feed than the local news. (Sorry local news.)
The only other points of reference we had for what was happening near our home were our landlord and a smattering of local friends and coworkers. Our friends are lucky too, because none of them were injured or lost their homes. Some were evacuated, some were on high alert with the possibility, one’s workplace burned down, but overall they are okay.
We happen to be friends with a really cool person who made some of the first moves to set up at evacuation centers and firefighter camps to offer massages, reiki, energy healing, etc. She’s been giving with her whole heart and soul for around eight hours a day ever since her neighborhood was deemed safe (ish, as long as the wind didn’t change, and so on). Firefighters have told her that she and her peers who are pitching in this way are making the experience legendary, because no one has ever done it for them before. (There tends to be a lot of red tape around actually getting into the firefighters’ camp, so she set up right outside one of the entrances and they come to her.) It’s heartwarming to see in her Facebook posts and talk about whenever we see here. We ❤️ you, Rebecca!
On Friday we were able to drive up and check on our place. It’s about twenty minutes from the Fulton Road evacuation line, but perfectly fine, not covered in snow-like drifts of ash as I had half imagined. We harvested tomatoes from the garden and went to a potluck dinner with friends to celebrate being able to get together in all this madness.
On Saturday we gathered up some things to donate. We don’t have a lot of money right now, so it wasn’t a lot. Two cans of tuna, two small containers of gluten free cereal, two cartons of rice milk, a tiny jar of honey, and a packet of hot chocolate mix. Some kitchen things, some clothes we no longer need, some cat toys our girls don’t play with much anymore, and a couple cans of kitten food.
After donating food at Redwood Empire Food Bank, we didn’t know where to go to drop off the other stuff so we visited our friends at Tilted Shed Ciderworks. They were having a benefit for neighbors of theirs who had lost their house, donating 35% of profits for the day to help. They were also handing out fliers for a place just down the street that was accepting donations, which was so helpful because I’d heard that some places had reached capacity for accepting things.
We ended up at what looked like an office building that had been vacant and the owners just decided, hey, let’s open it up and use it as a space to help people out. As we drove out a family was walking out carrying pillows, clothes, and bottled water. The woman I spoke to thanked us profusely for everything we brought — especially the cat supplies, because they had a lot of dog stuff but not a lot/no cat stuff. She asked if we needed anything, if we had been impacted by the fires, and when I said we were okay she offered us bottled water anyway and settled for giving me a hug. (As far as I know, they’re still accepting donations in Windsor.)
It wasn’t much, but it felt so wonderful to be able to help. There are more clothes that we can give away, we just have to dig it out.
On the way back down to the South Bay on Saturday night (since the air quality was okay we decided to bring the cats back up the next day), we were on 101 and drove through some of the area where the fire jumped the freeway. It was shocking. And it was pretty random. There would be one building that was just nothing, just a pile of ash with the remains of a roof collapsed down on top, surrounded by buildings that had been left untouched.
The thing about watching the news was, there was nothing we could do. But it’s empowering in the face of such tragedy to come home and see how much everyone is banding together.