An urgent call from a family friend, informing me that she and her family were fine. I was oblivious to what she was telling me, my mind was trying to fathom why they wouldn't be at that hour of the morning. It all came into razor sharp understanding as soon as I stood on the deck of my home with its nearly unrestricted view of the valley. On a clear day you can see from Healdsburg all the way to Petaluma.
I would have some fantastic pictures to show you if I wasn't so befuddled by what I was seeing, I had reversed the camera on my cell phone...I was in selfie mode and got nothing.
A brief description, I saw fire in five different locations in the hills opposite of me, and as I walked down from the deck to the stone walkway I realized that northern Santa Rosa - was on fire.
It was like something out of a Speilberg movie...something he would have captured about World War II...like maybe the bombing of Dresden. It was horrific and spellbinding at the same time, the small comfort I had was knowing that those close friends were OK. But I know a lot of people, and as I witnessed multiple propane tank explosions rock the valley - I was concerned for all of them.
I've used the following video of the neighborhood that my friends had escaped from, to give you a fairly accurate depiction of what they experienced as they fled for their lives with pretty much just the clothes on their backs.
I spoke with one of my dearest friends just yesterday about her experience getting out...she said the wind alone had nearly knock her down as they made their way to the car.
Like many, I spent the entire morning texting friends, trying to find out if they were OK, comparing what we knew, watching the news, listening to the radio...I was listening to the local KSRO station until they lost their signal due to the fire, things were looking pretty grim. The TV network CBS out of San Francisco was my fall back and they were doing an impressive job of covering it.
At one point...around 4:30AM, a friend I was most worried about managed to text me back, stating he was OK, but watering the roof top of his and a neighbors home. It was a real relief to hear from him as I knew that he was perilously close to multiple fires.
By 6:30, I finally realized what had been wrong with the damn cell phone camera and took the following picture...by this time there was so much smoke I could no longer see the northern part of Santa Rosa.
By 7AM, I was ready for work...I had my doubts that I would be there for long, but since no one had called and it was only 15 minutes away...I went in. I took the following picture just before I went down the driveway...that's not a thunder cloud...that's thick black smoke...the result of over 2000 homes being consumed by 75mph wind blown flames...
The drive to work was crazy, a 15 minute drive turned into a 30 minute drive, fortunately for me people were driving away from where I was trying to get to. As expected...the lot was virtually empty...there were maybe a dozen of us there that morning. One of my co-workers told me he was already aware of at least 2 people in our department having lost their homes, and by that time the staff had called an emergency meeting to declare that we were officially closed for the day. Before leaving, I had learned of 3 other people who'd lost their homes as well.
So I went home, 60 minutes later I called my mother to check on her...she was fine...actually not aware of how bad things were until I called. Fortunately she was well enough away from the fire lines and the prevailing winds. Tuesday morning I got a call that I rather expected...the plant was still going to be closed...so the rest of that day was spent in constant worry...there had been no containment of the fire...smoke had been so thick here in Sonoma County that planes had been routed to other fires with better visibility.
Wednesday I went to work...we had about half our level of workforce on the floor, and made the best of it, shipping what we could and informing customers that we were going to be late on others. I laugh even now as I had one gentleman who voiced his great displeasure at having had his package not ship successfully overnight on the 9th, and having no one at the plant to speak with for the last two days. I apologized, "I am sorry sir, the plant has been closed down for the past 2 days as people have been a little pre-occupied with having lost their homes, or the prospect of still losing their homes. We are at half our usual capacity, but we will ship your order TODAY." There was a notable, pause and an immediate softening of tone on that end as he realized what I was talking about. He thanked me for my assistance, and said that he wished us all the very best of luck.
We were short handed all week in my department, but we managed...it was tough because we knew that we might have to shut down at a moments notice if the winds changed. These fires have virtually terrorized us for a full week now, people were still being evacuated from their homes yesterday morning as the winds from the north east had returned. Here's a picture of the Nuns from my deck Saturday morning...
And here's today's photo...
I think the worst of the fires immediate threat to us in Sonoma County is past.
Lying before us is what will surely be a very hard recovery. Even people who's homes were fully covered for fire damage, can expect to have a very rough year. The people I'm most worried about, are the folks who've lost their rentals apartments, homes, and the places that they worked.
Californians, native or otherwise have often been considered some of the most gracious and friendly folk around, but the reality with regards to the cost of living in this state, and what people are expected to survive on take home pay, makes it an extremely hard place to make a life for oneself. I'm a single man, fortunate that I have not suffered the financial and emotional setback that has hurt so many people this week, and for that I count myself very fortunate.
It's going to be a hard year here in Sonoma County, patience is going to grow short, and tempers are going to flare. I hope we can all survive the recovery we need, my gut tells me it will prove far more challenging than the fires that got us here today.