Stories of the Storm

Tubbs Fire | October 2017
Santa Rosa, California

Delia. Friday, October 13, 2017

I met Delia this morning because of a post she created in Santa Rosa Firestorm Update. She asked if anyone thought creating a page of stories about people in our community and what we have gone through might be good idea. A number of people did including myself, so I volunteered to begin documenting. Delia has been volunteering at the Windsor evacuation center since the fire began. “Everyone was so tired and stressed and cooped up and hunched over their phones, so one day I decided to invite everyone to do a little yoga.

I brought a bunch of mats down and many people participated and stretched and breathed (as best we could with the smoke in the air) and set our intention. I also led a dance session and one little girl was so excited and wanted to make a video and was talking about her dreams and wanting to be a performer and I thought that these experiences needed to be shared. Here is this little girl who has lost her home but she is dreaming about her future. In the wake of all this destruction and loss, what is the future we want to dream? And can we dream it together?”

Jim. Friday, October 13, 2017

I see Jim at the local coffee shack called Cuppa near Pacific Market almost every day. He’s a local, knows a lot of people and is always helping someone out. Before 1am Monday morning he saw the fire and began immediately texting and calling people. He took pictures of the fire and the sky with his phone and repeatedly texted the owners of Cuppa who live on Fountain Grove and friends in Calistoga and everyone else he could think of that was likely in danger with the photos attached until he got a response. Everyone had plenty of time to evacuate. This is what Jim had to say this morning. “These big events are a rarity. Life is made up of small actions of kindness and duty. Every action makes a difference.”

Peyton. Saturday, October 14, 2017

I met Peyton this morning back at Cuppa coffee shack in my neighborhood. I’ve seen her a couple times before but we haven’t spoke. There were a lot of people there this morning thankful for the clearest air we’ve had all week sharing stories with each other in spite of new evacuations nearby in the early AM this morning. After talking with several people and sharing my six month old puppy with them (everyone loves puppy hugs) I turned to the 16 year old girl sitting near me and asked her if she had to evacuate. “I didn’t have to evacuate but I’ve been volunteering all week, ended up the ER because of it though.”

Peyton and several other volunteers were cooking breakfast in the kitchen at the Fairground evacuation center as they have been for several days. “I was slicing zucchini and Guy Fieri came up and I got distracted and very triggered and sliced half my finger off and feinted and hit my head and was in the ER for two hours. My finger is ok for now and I will be back in the kitchen this evening.” I asked her why she used the word “triggered”.

“People felt pushed out of the kitchen. Fieri wanted all the kitchen people to clean up the area and leave for the camera crew. He was telling everyone what to do. We had all been there serving the community since the evacuation began.” I asked her if she had one take away from this experience to share with people, what would it be. “This community has been made so much stronger and people have realized what is valuable and most important to them.”

Carolyn. Sunday, October 15, 2017

I met Carolyn this morning back at Cuppa awaiting my new friend Delia’s arrival to take me to photograph a family in Windsor. Carolyn and her husband and dog were evacuated from their home yesterday along with her mother whose house burned down in Coffey Park. At 2 AM Monday morning, Carolyn received a call from her mother.

A neighbor had woken her and police were there helping folks evacuate. “What should I take?” she asked her daughter. Carolyn told her mother to grab her insulin and the cat and get out immediately. Thankfully she was able to do so and managed to take some paperwork as well. “It’s gonna make going to bed at night a little different then before.”

Mila. Sunday, October 15, 2017

I met Mila at her home in Windsor on October 15th as we were coming into 7 days of the fire. She and her husband were hosts to fourteen evacuated families mostly from the Glenn Ellen and Kenwood areas. People were sleeping all over the place; on the floor, in their cars, and in trailers. They were somehow able to get a hold of porta-potties as the house only has two bathrooms. They also lost power and gas at one point and had to resort to cooking over a fire in the backyard to feed everyone. Mila’s husband and I had a laugh at the irony of having to BBQ while there was nothing but smoke as far as the eye could see.

One child had her birthday that week, so they threw her a party. In the midst of all the disruption and fear, life must go on. I asked how many children were present and Mila said there were more than she could count. So many children, it was a full time effort to keep them occupied and comforted and cared for; they drew, painted, played board games, and watched movies. When asked what was her biggest concern, Mila replied, “Caring for the children. That was the most important thing. They were scared and I was scared for them. I just wanted to make sure they were safe.”

Ricardo. Monday, October 16, 2017
Angir. Monday, October 16, 2017

On Monday, October 16th, Delia and I drove to Bodega Bay to meet with the one family who had evacuated to Mila’s house who had actually lost their home. They were able to get their three daughters out safely, but that was all. When they went back for their paperwork, some clothing and their dog, they were not allowed back in. It was quite an emotional moment, being there, meeting them. The view of the ocean was breathtaking. It was the first breath of fresh air and smoke free sky we had seen for a week. Delia had been fundraising and decided to give the first amount to this family.

Ricardo told us that they were aware of the fire in the middle of the night at their home that they rented in Glenn Ellen, but assumed that it was a distant wild fire and that the fire department would take care of things as they usually do, but stayed up to keep an eye on it. Things escalated very quickly as the dryness of the summer heat waves combined with the most unusual 75mph winds. Within a short period of time, the flames were upon them.

We talked a lot about the impact of this kind of tragedy. The effect on the individual as well as the community and the lasting impact. Ricardo is from Mexico City and was there for the earthquake in 1985. He said that event transformed the city. “It changed the people, opened their hearts.”

He thanked us most sincerely for being present for him and his family. For sharing resources and time with them and for honoring their story. We asked what has been the most profound impact from this terrible loss and he said, “Family. We have a much stronger connection to my wife’s family now. It has repaired our relationship.”

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