#Sonoma Strong -2017

Wind and fire came together in the North Bay area of California for two weeks this last October, igniting a conflagration of fires that consumed lives, acreage, and lifestyles. Reports of 75 MPH winds that ignited electric poles were said to be responsible.

The first inclination of danger occurred in the middle of a Sunday night. Awakening around one am, something unusual for me, I walked outside.. The wind was wild, the air smelled acrid; fire was nearby, yet nothing pointed toward danger at that time. By the next day, there were 15 fires ravaging huge acreage in both Sonoma and Napa Counties, and the air was poisoned by the smoke.

During the two weeks that this catastrophe unfolded, my feelings fluctuated wildly between anxiety and hope. Homes adjacent to me were on requested evacuation; my neighbors and I never were. Yet we all packed our cars with essentials. My car contained mostly provisions for my animals – no family pictures, no devices, and very little clothing. At night, we neighbors planned what we would do if asked. Cell phones were always close. Each morning, the first task was to watch the report of the work of the firefighters and others who were working 24-7 on containment.

A week into the disaster, the orange glow of fire about three miles away was visible at night from my front yard. Fires had joined and large segments of the foothills were engulfed, neighborhoods were gone, vineyards lost, and families disrupted. How had these fires been so widespread and so resilient that they were still devouring the countryside? Yet, I rationalized, it would have to consume a large portion of town to get to me.

I’m one degree separated from many people who had harrowing experiences of the fire, many losing everything except their life and their pets. This is a transformative experience causing everything in my life to be re-evaluated. My emotions fluctuated. I didn’t want to be alone, particularly at night. I felt as if things were beyond my control, yet it became apparent that I could control one thing: my emotions. In what is known as the eye of the storm, calm manifests, while around is a ring where the most severe threat exists. Ultimately, I gave in to the terror and existed within this eye of safety.

Just like, with any tragedy, the world shifts a bit and there’s no going back. A new normal must be established. That new normal must include the experiences, both physical and emotional, that were faced during the disaster. In this crisis, help came from as far away as the east coast, friends rallied, organizations reached out. This new normal cares about people, about community, and will rise to any challenge.