apocalypse santa rosa

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Image: New York Times

I awoke yesterday morning to a text from my boss. “I’m evacuated and Jen, too.” It was 5 a.m. California time.

Whaaa? What was  going on?

I opened my work email to find a message from the Water Agency General Manager, Mike Thompson. “Good morning, everyone. I hope you and your families are safe. As you are aware, there are several devastating fires burning in Sonoma County. I know some of our Water Agency family members have already lost their homes . . .”

Oh my God. I was awake now. I logged onto Facebook where my fears were confirmed: My beloved city of Santa Rosa was on fire. I turned to Google for details. The fire had started in the middle of the night in Calistoga, just a few miles northeast of Santa Rosa. With winds of up to 50 mph that evening, the flames had devoured the hillsides and surged to Santa Rosa where they’d leaped over the highway and consumed neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, restaurants, stores . . . Residents were evacuated in the middle of the night with no idea what was going on and no time to spare.

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Image: L.A. Times

I started texting people. Many of my friends lived in the evacuation zone. It quickly became clear that the devastation was unthinkable. T and S’s house was gone. My boss’s home was gone. B’s home was gone. M’s home was gone. A’s parents’ home was gone. My old athletic club was gone. My favorite restaurants were gone. Hotels were gone. Schools were gone. Monuments were gone.

Everything was gone. The entire northeast part of town had been destroyed within a matter of hours, and the fires were still raging.

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The gatehouse where I used to do yoga, TRX, and other fitness classes.


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A couple surveys the remains of their home. (I’ve decided not to post pics of friends’ homes, as the loss is still too fresh and everyone is still reeling.) (Image: New York Times)


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Fountaingrove Golf Course’s clubhouse

Currently I’m in Tennessee, but right now I can think of little else besides the sweet city by the sea that for the last three years has been my home. I am encouraged by the good stories I’ve heard — the people pulling together to save homes; the doctors who’ve treated victims while their own homes were going up in flames; the Water Agency employees who’ve kept the water running; the man who linked ten hoses together to save the animals at Safari West, a wildlife preserve just outside of town. But it’s hard to imagine what life is going to be like for my dear friends who are suddenly facing so much loss. Fires don’t give their victims any warning. They swoop in and take everything in their path — in this case, more than 100,000 acres (total in Northern California) so far. It’s something you don’t think will happen to you; when it does, there are no words.

Please keep Santa Rosa in your thoughts and prayers.

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Before and after shots of neighboroods near Coffey Park, only a mile or so from my old home.


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Image: New York Times

16 thoughts

    • Thanks, Matt! A lot of my friends have lost their homes — it’s truly devastating. The entire city is in a state of emergency and many people have nowhere to go.

  1. Good grief Jess, it’s one thing after another over there what with the hurricanes and now this. Mother Nature is having a right go at the minute. So sad that your friends have lost everything, the photo’s of the devastation are mind numbing.

    • Thanks, Fraggle. I know, it’s crazy. Natural disasters can happen anywhere, but fires are particularly tough because they give no warning, and California is king of those.

  2. This is a disaster that hits a little too close to me. First, I live in Northern California and have been in many of the places that are on fire this week. And second, the fire in Santa Rosa is just … well, I’ve lived in Sacramento almost my entire life. I consider it to be a good location to avoid natural disasters. No earthquake faults nearby. No hurricanes are going to hit. Yes there is an occasional funnel cloud, but tornadoes rarely touch down. No snow or blizzards. The only real risks are floods and fires. Sacramento is considered the area that is second most prone to a major flood after New Orleans. But I live in an area that is far enough from either of the major rivers that if my house floods, the entire metropolitan area will be under water and I just don’t know how possible that is. As for fires, I’ve always counted on the idea that I live in the middle of suburban Sacramento. I don’t live out in the boonies. Not up in the hills or in the middle of farmland. But the fire in Santa Rosa shakes my confidence in that. Just more than a mile from my home is where farmland starts. A fire out there with the wind blowing in the right direction as hard as it was in Santa Rosa on Sunday and who knows. Maybe it would jump from house to house before our neighborhood could do anything about it. Maybe.

    It’s a frightening possibility and a reminder that no place is really completely safe from these disasters. I can’t imagine what the residents of Santa Rosa are feeling now. Well, yes, I can actually. I feel for them and hope that beautiful part of the world recovers stronger than it was. I wish the best for all those you know who lost their homes.

    • Thank you, Mark. You’re very kind. I’ve been giving my family regular updates as I find them out from friends. This whole thing has frightened me, too, and convinced me that everyone in the state should have a fireproof box for any valuables that couldn’t be replaced, and a plan if they had to get out . . . Because the reality is that, no matter where you live in the state, California is a dangerous place to be this time of year. At the end of every summer the “golden hills” are like kindling — all it takes is one spark . . .

      Not sure when you were last in Santa Rosa, but it’s a funny area. Farmland and vineyards come right up to the city. I didn’t really feel like I was in farmland when I lived there, though. Maybe it was because of all of the traffic . . . :D

  3. My friends in the Caribbean are slogging it out after losing everything. I just went through the weaker part of the hurricanes (comparatively speaking) and it is a mind numbing experience. Then to see this.

    People say that it is just things and you can get things back. It is true. But it is also not easy to put your existence back together when there are no stores, no places to shop, no local employment…nothing!

    Heart breaking.

    • I know, Steve! And the fires keep raging on. More and more evacuations are being ordered. More and more of my friends are losing their homes. And homes can’t be rebuilt overnight. If there was a housing crisis in Santa Rosa before (there was — it is terrible), I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like now.

      So sorry for what you and your friends went through with the hurricanes. I lived through a typhoon or two while I was in Asia. They weren’t nearly as bad as Irma or Harvey, but even then… Mother Nature sure doesn’t mess around.

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