…for some reason on this day, I rose at about 4am and sat with my computer to catch up on games, and recreational reading. I worked at the dining room table for a couple of hours, savoring the quiet of the pre-dawn morning.
At about 6am, the household landline began to ring. (Yes, we still have a landline.) Thinking that it was a prank call, or some marketing nonsense, I simply picked up the phone and hung it up immediately. Right away, there was an urgent knock at the front door.
In a low-grade fit of pique about this intrusion into my morning quiet, I went to the door and flung it open, my irritation published boldly on my face. Two of our neighbors stood there, and although I didn’t know it, things were about to change in my town forever.
The neighbors told me of the fires nearby and let me know that many people were evacuating. Perhaps feeling that they were not getting through to me with the gravity o the situation, they told me repeatedly, “Check your television!”
By this time, Kristen and her mother were awake. I sent them to the family room to monitor the news, and I checked the charge on my phone before hopping in the truck to go see for myself how bad the situation truly was.
Driving over to the nearby hospital where I was told they had already begun to evacuate patients, I stopped right in front of the emergency room. Two security personnel were standing there, looking stunned. In response to my offer to help – they simply told me that everyone had already been evacuated. Even the doctors were headed out.
I drove a few blocks further down, and as I came to the freeway overpass, I saw people parked on the roadway, standing on the tops of their cars and taking pictures. The treeline to the west was framed by an orange glow that was NOT the sunrise.
Looking at it for a moment, I saw a pillar of flames rise above the trees, higher than a 4 story building. The base of those flames came from a spot where I knew there to be a K-Mart, and an inexpensive family Mexican restaurant.
I turned to look back at the hospital to my east. The morning sky was beginning to show a bit of light, but it could not compete with the vivid glow at the top of the tree line. As I watched, another pillar of flames shot up high above those trees.
This was right in my town! These new flames came from (I would learn later) a Hilton hotel atop a small hill. Just across from it was a seniors’ trailer park called ironically (and unfortunately,) Journey’s End.
This was a major fire, and it was not shy about leaving the forest and waltzing right toward Main Street. Okay, we don’t have a Main Street, but we did have a subdevelopment just behind that K-Mart that would be largely eradicated by this fire.
It was the beginning of about a week of uncertainty and worry for almost everyone in Santa Rosa. Most of the town was shut down on Monday and Tuesday of the week as people evacuated, or stayed home to pack things in the event that they had to leave.
Most people in Sonoma and Napa counties (where there was a similarly large and destructive fire) learned about Nixle — a service that sends public service alerts to your phone by text message.
Even now (nearly a month later) there are people who cannot return home, or who don’t know what will be in store for them next. The number of casualties is not completely final, and nearly everyone in Santa Rosa knows someone who lost a home.
It was a sobering time for residents of this Northern California community. But the silver lining is that neighbors came together and showed breathtaking demonstrations of support and consideration. The hashtag #sonomastrong leads to countless stories of compassion, heroism, and hope for a society in which polarization has owned the headlines for a long time.
The crucible known now as the Tubbs fire gave rise to the hope that community and compassion are strong and that together, we WILL survive.