The first inkling I had that anything was awry was my home phone shrilling its way into my dreams at 3:36am on Monday morning. The second was the strong, out-of-place smell of bonfire smoke that immediately accosted my nostrils as I struggled to wake up.
I knew the phone call was bad news—it was the middle of the night after all. I assumed something had happened back home in the U.K.. In my semi-conscious state, I wrestled with whether to bother checking my voicemail, before stumbling into my home office to do so.
Along the way I started to smell smoke, and recalling that the dogs had been restless all night, I started to worry that there was a fire happening on our street, or god forbid, in our house. Neither seemed evident.
I picked up my handset and called in to retrieve the message. (I still don’t know what compelled me to do that.) What I heard was a recording from Monkey’s high school, informing us that due to the numerous fires in the region, school would be canceled the next day. My first affronted thought was: “Did they really have to call in the middle of the night to tell us that?“
Then I guess, I woke up. I turned on the TV and the hell of what has become the last 48 hours began. Thankfully for us, we have been living on the periphery of that hellish inferno, but it has dominated everything.
For those of you not familiar with the geography, Santa Rosa, a city of over 175,000, which has suffered huge, devastating, unfathomable losses, is about 15 miles north from Petaluma where we live. It’s home to Monkey’s new school, and many of his friends. Sonoma and its surrounding gorgeous countryside, is 11 miles east. Napa, 20 miles away.
I stayed awake until about 5.15am watching the news, texting many friends to check on them, posting on Facebook to offer beds, and then decided to try and get some sleep, knowing the day ahead would be long. Waking at 7.02am, Monkey ran into my room to tell me that he was late for school, and I had to break the news to him. His first thought was for his best friend in Santa Rosa (who is safe).
Wide awake, I looked out at the heavy smoke and decided I should go buy masks and water, and probably fill up the car with gas. As I left the house, ash fell onto me and coated the car. At CVS it started to hit me as I saw people who had obviously slept in their cars fleeing from the fires up north.
CVS was out of masks. The gas station was mobbed. I went home. Monkey had packed up food for us, made sandwiches and was getting the dogs’ food together.
20 minutes later, I left home again looking for gas again. A different car. A different gas station. Still mobbed. But I waited in line this time, unsure what the day held for us.
An hour or two later, I saw a friend posting on Facebook that insta-noodles were needed at the Community Center and I took the call seriously. We went to Grocery Outlet and loaded up on noodles, fruit cups and cookies. We headed to the Community Center only to be told no more donations were required.
We turned around and went to the Fairgrounds in Petaluma instead. Donations had only just started to arrive. We learned of more provisions which were required. We went out and did another run for diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products. And then we started to help clear up lunch.
We spotted the livestock which had been rescued: horses, goats, a duck. I offered help, which wasn’t needed at the time, but gave out my phone number.
Later in the day, we returned to the Fairgrounds to try and help, but by then, there was an influx of help. We went back to the Community Center to offer up our names, but again, all bases were covered.
We went home. Dazed. Sad. Having learned of friends who had lost literally everything. Of Monkey’s beloved summer camp which had burned to the ground and lost two horses, but saved many more. Worried about friends who hadn’t evacuated yet. Confounded by the scale of this hell, and yet to see it in person.
Day two and I awoke early, meditated, determined that I really wanted to help the most helpless (the animals) and immediately texted as many people as I could to offer help. The gal I had met managing livestock the day before, told me to come on down. By 7.25am I was ‘mucking out’ 56 rabbits, a dozen quail, a guinea hen, and a tom cat, and watering goats. By 8am I was helping with the horses, cleaning stalls, feeding, watering.
Seeing cars packed to the brim with treasured possessions, brought tears to my eyes. Staying busy and helping, was really the only way to move through the day. Facebook has been a god-send. We’d need something: wheelbarrows, brooms, whatever, I’d post it on Facebook, and within minutes, a friend would respond that they were on their way. The power and love of this local community is overwhelming.
Hours later, I went to check on Quintessa, eager to learn of an evacuation plan, should we need one. We decided to start marking our horses hooves with phone numbers and using paint to on their backs, in the event they had to be turned loose to fight for their survival. That was a sobering exercise. Let’s hope it was for nothing.
Then it was back to the Fairgrounds for end-of-day feedings. I will be there tomorrow at 7am. In the meantime, the evening has been spent trying to process the day, checking on friends and trying to ease my headache, which is no doubt from the smoke. So much for heeding the advice to stay indoors.
With containment still at zero percent, and so much uncertainty ahead of us, it’s hard to sleep well and yet, we need to get some rest. Here are two GoFundMe campaigns that I would love you to support, should you have the means.