Here in the North Bay, we’ve all been hoping against hope that we would somehow emerge this fire season unscathed. In the past few days, with the rapidly expanding Kincade Fire in the north of Sonoma County those hopes were dashed. And today, they were not just dashed, they were blown to smithereens, with an expected “historic wind event” coming in the next 12-24 hours that could spread the fire at unprecedented rates.
You can read about the progression of the fire in the media, so I won’t dwell on those details, but as I write, 90,000 people—NINETY THOUSAND—have been mandated to evacuate their homes in Sonoma County. Just think about that for a second. That is 90,000 people, their pets, livestock and treasured possessions, needing a place to go.
What’s more, almost ONE MILLION people will have their power shut-off around the Bay Area, in an attempt to prevent power lines that may become damaged by the expected high winds, from starting yet more, fast-spreading fires.
It’s been just two years since the fires that took 24 lives in Sonoma County alone, and many of us are experiencing what can only be described as PTSD. I spent this morning out at the barn with our horses, only walking them so as to avoid exposing their lungs to the harmful smoke in the air.
The barn is in a bubble—literally and figuratively. With no cell service, I was disconnected from the outside world for three hours. On returning to Petaluma, I found a new, hellish apocalypse had begun. Two major towns: Healdsburg and Windsor, had been ordered to evacuated by 4pm. I literally burst into tears. The thought of all that was about to unfold was overwhelming, and too much to contemplate.
Since then, tens of thousands of more people have been ordered to leave their homes. Our town, Petaluma, is in semi-darkness with no obvious rhyme or reason. We are lucky enough to have power at home, but 3/4 of a block down the street, one of the main grocery stores in town, Petaluma Market, is a victim of the power shut-off.
At 7pm, I stopped by the market to grab some bread, and the shelves were stripped-down: a combination of shoppers desperate to stock-up, and staff who were having to hastily pack up all the refrigerated and frozen items and put them in cold storage somewhere.
Like everyone else, I stocked up on gas, have 40lbs of ice stored, oh, and I have $40 in cash, so we’ll be fine. Joking aside, I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so debilitated and deeply unnerved, when last time, I leapt into action.
The only answer I can come up with is that in 2017, we had no idea what was coming. No experience to draw on. No sense of how long the disaster would last. Its deep ramifications couldn’t be projected. Our reflexes took us out into the community. We stumbled our way through running livestock shelters. Caring for strangers and putting our lives on hold. It unfolded day by day.
And that’s the difference. This time we know just how disruptive, painful, devastating, life-changing, draining, exhausting, scary, dirty, messy and damaging large fires can be. We know, all too well, what we have to do, to avoid losing what we have to lose.
And that’s why it’s so traumatic. And why the powers that be: PG&E, CalFire, the Sheriff’s department, and the police, are taking no hostages, and in many cases not making friends. Forcing evacuations early and in daylight. Planning buses to move the infirm and those unable to move themselves. Evacuating hospitals so we won’t have to see images of patients on gurneys with raging flames as a backdrop.
It’s a mammoth effort and we can only wish it’s for nothing, because that would be a win. At the same time, can we really live like this year after year? Life as we know it in California has changed irrevocably in the last three to four years. It raises some pretty giant questions… questions that I’m just too tired and stressed to even contemplate right now. Let’s just hope we get through the next 24 hours safely.