One Week After the Fire

I love the morning air after a rain. Yes, rain came to Sonoma County.

I haven't had much time to explore our neighborhood since the mandatory evacuation was lifted in Larkfield-Wikiup. Our house survived, as well as those of my neighbors.

What I didn't know was the extent of the damage up the hill to the north-east and south of us. So off we went on foot. A step towards normalcy. A morning walk.

Life was slowly returning in our neighborhood. Cars were parked on the street and people were out with their dogs. All of the houses around us were intact, even those nestled at the base of the hill.

I looked up and saw a stand of Eucalyptus trees on the ridge. "Thank God the flames didn't hit those," I thought. They would have burned like matchsticks. 

Further south, we began to see some damage. The old abandonded golf course was singed. The ground was black and ashen. But four otters had discovered the pond and were playing in it. I found it oddly heartening to see them going about their business in the center of the burn.

Beyond that, there was structural loss. Houses chared to the foundation, sometimes with cars still in the garage. Many people couldn't get their automated doors to open - because the 50 MPH winds had blown the power out - and had to flee on foot or with the help of others. My sister-in-law was rescued by my wife, for that very reason. Her car was trapped.

"She isn't answering the phone," Theresa said to me at 1:30 am that night. "Should I go get her?"

The flames were coming from that direction. 

"Yes, I would go see." I said. "I will continue to pack the Vanagon."

I heard minutes later that Theresa had her sister and the cats safe in the her car, and we were coordinating by cell phone where to rendezvous. Later we learned that you had to remove a pin in order to open the garage door manually. How utterly stupid.

Fortunately, her sister's house survived. But we didn't know until 3 days later.

Our exploration was cut short by a very nice CHP officer who was guarding a neighborhood still closed because of fire damage. He was up here working from San Francisco. Help had come to Sonoma County from every direction.

We talked with him for a while, then headed back toward our house. It was good to see what had survived, and sad to see what did not.

That's the way it's been. Heart warming moments mixed with heartbreak.

We're having Theresa's sister over for dinner tonight. She needs to be around family. My brother in law secured a permit today to sift through the rubble of his home. We will see him again tomorrow. Hopefully they will retrieve a few meaningful items from today's work.

There are so many things in the news that I can do nothing about. But I can address the people standing right in front of me. And of all the lessons that I've learned one week after the fire, that one is the most important.