One week ago today, I woke up shortly after midnight and smelled smoke. My sleep had been uneasy anyway because of burly gusts of wind that kept buffeting the house, but I was instantly wide awake and out of bed once the smoke began to filter in through the bedroom window, left ajar for fresh air. I went straight to my computer to Google ‘fire Sonoma Valley’ and immediately found images of out-of-control fires burning in Kenwood, in the valley just below us. Pulling on clothes quickly, I began to load my little car with food for the dog, cat, and chickens; I pulled out the box of DVDs that hold the images of our children’s early years on them, and put together a basket of other incidentals I though I might need if we were to be gone for more than a few hours. The wind was still swirling and the air smokey as I made my way back and forth from the house to the barn to load up the car.
This done, I walked from room to room and shot a video of each on my phone — a record of what each looked like, providing a cursory inventory of what each held. Then I stepped outside once again and snapped this, my view from the back steps out towards Frey Canyon, the sky glowing orange directly above the area where the fire was roaring down below.
Once the electricity failed I lit a few candles, unsure of how much longer to sit tight and whether I should call the friends who live next door to wake them. Shortly after 2 a.m. another neighbor drove up the street: he was waking everyone to let them know about the fire. By 3:20 or so, we were all evacuating — our way down off the mountain being limited to a single option. Just as we reached the bottom of the hill, an official call for evacuation in our area was made, and our friends and I decided that we should drive south since there was another fire burning in the northern part of Santa Rosa.
We arrived in Petaluma shortly after 4:00 a.m., me with the company of our dogs, cat, and hens — and we’ve been here since. [Most of us, anyway: thankfully, my niece picked up the chickens and has them with her in Bodega Bay, since the hotel (understandably!) wasn’t willing to let me have them in our room.] My husband, who had been out of town (climbing Mt. Whitney!), joined us Tuesday afternoon.
I’ve consumed more media in the past week than I have in the past year: hard as it was to watch the horrifying images and hear of the devastation, we’ve been hungry for any sliver of hope that our home would survive. We received word late Monday night that there was a “large fire” on our street and went to bed assuming the worst — sleep being elusive as our minds raced through all of the possibilities of what we would find, what we would do. Then, miraculously, one of the local stations was actually reporting from right in front of the house for all of Tuesday morning, which was enormously reassuring. We could see that there were fire crews dedicated to protecting our homes: laying out hoses and monitoring the (thankfully rather tame at that point) flames in Annadel State Park that were within 100 yards or so of the edge of our street. We could continue to hope.
As for now, the dawn of Day Eight, we continue to play the waiting game with as much patience as we can muster. We’re grateful for the tireless efforts of the firefighters, and for the generosity of those around us in offering comfort and feeding our need for hope: the house still stands and we await the lift of the evacuation order with full hearts.