What the 12-day, California wine country experience many of us just had: some were longer with more devastation, some were shorter, with minor problems. Bottom line: ask anyone involved in this perfect, epic fire storm, and they’ll tell you that they’ve been traumatized. This is my own exhausting story. During that time, I didn’t have access to my computer. I wrote in Facebook – hunt and peck – with my iPad. This is how the story unfolded and how we spent the 12 days of uncertainty.

Jose awakened me,”We have to evacuate,” he said, in a calm voice. This was 3:00 a.m.. I asked, “Why?” He had me get up and look outside of our bedroom door (made of glass). The hill above our house was ablaze and it didn’t look like anything was going to survive unless we just got the hell out. I grabbed Buddy the Cat, and we hightailed it down the mountainside, while a fire raged outside of our home, on a higher ridge, and very visible from the town of Geyserville, where we sat for hours in the early morning hours of October 9, 2017.

This image you see is one that Jose took with his phone, while we were waiting for time to move forward, away from 3:00 a.m.. He also took Buddy’s picture (earlier, above) and our shadow one, during our evacuation.

We drove into downtown Geyserville and looked up to the mountains. This is the horror we witnessed, wondering if we’d ever go home again. Will it survive? I thought.

Later in the day, we were invited to stay with our friend Corinne Reichel, located on the east sides of Geyserville. Somehow we thought we’d be able to return and thanked her, but we weren’t ready to be evacuated just yet. (Shock makes you a bit dull in your brain, I’ve learned.)

As the days went by, we had a front row view to our eastern mountain location, below the Pocket Fire. (Still not contained as I write this, and National Guardsmen are still in our neighborhood, on the “ready.”) Everyday, we monitored the mountain ranges. At first, Jose was using a tracking App on his phone. He was able to coordinate where we’re now living and where we were standing. From there, we could use binoculars to see where our house was located. Actually, we didn’t see our house, which is covered in high oaks; but, we were able to see our neighbors and know the oaks above our home.

Once we knew the exact location, we then watched with eyes burning on that reference point. Flames were over one ridge and down the other side of it. We watched just everything, and all I could do – based on not having my computer and a hunt-and-peck iPad – was tell everyone what I was going through day by day, as a diary entitled #MandatoryEvacuation ~ of whatever was happening. It was quite a rattling experience.

So, so happy it’s over, I’ve had two other major traumas in California… Now this one is lingering and needs closure. The outpouring of encouragement, the continued offers for housing, the sharing of love and overwhelming feelings… The following is my diary.

A special kind of disbelief ~A special kind of camaraderie

Day 1 at 2:07 p.m., October 9, 2017,  #MandatoryEvacuation #Geyserville

We’re safe, only took the cat and photography equipment. [I also took about 10 minutes to photograph every square inch of the house. I had thought of doing this just days before, for insurances purposes. I moved swiftly, as if fire was biting at my heels.]

Raging flames behind the house, on a nearby ridge, as we grabbed the cat and off we went into town. It seemed contained enough to return.

We’re okay now [I thought, as I wrote this], and ready to leave if we have to again. Incredibly, CDF planes are flying overhead to dump water. This is supposed to be the first time they are using 747s. They are HUGE, flying over so low! Wild night. Hoping for one less active tonight.

[As it turned out, we couldn’t stay at home and headed back to downtown Geyserville. We took the offer from our friend Corinne Reichel, knocking on her door, feeling bedraggled. She took us in… So kind and loving.]

Day 2 at 12:06 p.m., October 10,  #MandatoryEvacuation #Geyserville

We came home feeling we might be safe. We even went to the lake to take picture, because there’s a massive helicopter in our neighborhood, taking water from the lake. My neighborhood; and course, deer are involved. We’re downwind from this fire now. Check out the size of the helicopters they’ve sent in. We’ve been told by a neighbor to evacuate, again. All is not safe with fires. Grabbing the cat and heading for lower ground for a second time.

Day 3 at 10:12 a.m,  Oct. 11, #MandatoryEvacuation #Geyserville

Yesterday, went to get masks, toxic air.

Drug store didn’t have anymore. Suggested the AUTO PARTS store next door. Well, YEAH. Their masks protect from all kinds of particles/chemicals. Got some. N95, people, N95

News people just said this is the ONLY ONE that WORKS… N95

Geyserville hills to the south of our home, where we live. We’re with a friend for now, as we are under a mandatory evacuation. This is the view from her home. This is headed south, and we are located north of this… Not a present danger, as the winds are blended winding southward. Still feel major angst, too, for those in its path.

Day 4 at 8:12 a.m,  Oct. 12, #MandatoryEvacuation #Geyserville

So, in the “gotta love um” category!

Willamette Valley Fire Department drove 11 hours to get to Geyserville yesterday, to help us out, with about 10 fire trucks. They are based a 10 minute walk from our home… I don’t know how many feet that is, but they’re that close. Remember I said the help we need right now is to have more states send in their Fire people? Yes, my prayers were answered by our Oregon friends. Does it matter that we have two Oregon wine clients, Oak Knoll Winery (Greg Lint) and Aberrant Cellars (Eric Eide). Yes! Today is a GOOD day!

Day 5 at 8:12 a.m,  Oct. 13,  #MandatoryEvacuation #Geyserville

NOTE TO EVACUEES: Food, Water, Clothes, etc. Donations and pickups:

This is where Jose and I were yesterday, picking up food for others. Bill DenBeste is the Best(e). His daughter told me that Bill and wife once had a fire encircle his home, but left it standing, miraculously. So, he has tremendous empathy. (He also told me about all of the charity work that he does, on a daily basis.) Two days ago, they fed 2000 displaced people. Food is being prepared and given out DAILY, since Monday. They have converted their office suite to rooms for donations, clothing, toys, all items. They have a truck coming with 50 pallets of water bottles. One of his friends in Texas sent him a cash donation. This is a very humble man, so loving and giving. Thanks, Bill DenBeste of DenBeste Water Solutions and Carroll Shelby Engine Company, 820 DenBeste Court, Windsor. #Amazing grace…

Jose’s notes continue… Our friend Debbie Shu turned us on to this wonderful home made relief operation happening in Windsor by Bill DenBeste of DenBeste Motor Sports. Bill, his family, and his employees started on Monday to provide free BBQ food to anyone in need. In their offices, they have collected donated items of all types, including clothing, and have them sorted by age and sex. The location is 820 Denbeste Ct, Windsor. Please pass this to anyone who would benefit in the Windsor/Santa Rosa area or consider stopping by to help with donations. True home town heroes!

Day 6 at 1:37 p.m., Oct. 14, #MandatoryEvacuation ~ So, masks…

This company either needs to make smaller ones, or I need to grow a bigger head. That’s the funny person inside of me.

The emotional person: Even though we’re safe and our Pocket Fire is no longer threatening, there’s still no emotional relief. Was just in Big John’s store in Healdsburg, getting more groceries. Met an employee outside, taking a break. Her four children are now waiting to go back to school, but their school burned to the ground. This coming week, administrators are deciding where displaced children will now be going. We both took a deep breath.

Once in the store, Jose had gone to get nuts, and I was looking for BBQ sauce to put into a crock pot for a pulled pork dish… As I was looking at shelves, I just became overwhelmed with emotion, and had to hold back tears, as my lips quivered and my eyes watered. I found my sauce and went looking for something else. As I got to the beginning of a new aisle, a gentleman was ahead of me, just staring, so I stopped and waited until he got his bearings. When he finally realized I was waiting, he apologized for blocking my path. I said, “That’s okay, I know how you feel.” We both smiled at each other knowing all too well what I meant, then went our separate ways. I found Jose…my rock… and continued with our day.

Day 7 at 11:32 p.m., Oct. 15, #MandatoryEvacuation

Can’t wait to see this sign, but alas… I must wait. Good night…

Image 📸: Courtesy of Leah Smith ~ I could have altered the color of this photo, but this is what Lisa Smith got, given our air quality. So it is what it was…

Day 8 at 7:40 a.m., Oct. 16,  #MandatoryEvacuation

I so want to just go home, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Cat is with us, in a lovely home while we wait, had a 1971 Margaux last night with our host Corinne Reichel, then I just saw a video this morning of the base at the Santa Rosa Fair grounds. So many fire trucks, their tents for the duration, just so many crews it was astounding. Sigh, shaking my head, I can’t begin to imagine everyone else’s angst, and their facing another day. I’ll get over it as soon as I get going. God bless all of you, from the fire fighters from all over the US, their families worried about the spouses fighting the fires, their daddies, those without homes in shelters wondering what the hell they’re going to do now, jobs lost, businesses lost, schools lost, pets lost, lives lost. Damn, the list is long. Smoke filled lungs, ravaged neighborhoods. There, another day in paradise altered, I have so much to return to, when I can. I’m over my angst for today, I’m moving on…

Damned mask…

Day 9 at 7:36 a.m., Oct. 17, #MandatoryEvacuation, 

As I listen to my cat’s howling this morning, going stir crazy, having been a shut in since Monday, October 9, I’m helpless, because I, too, am going stir crazy. Still, I can get outside, for some emotional relief, he can’t. This isn’t his neighborhood. This isn’t his air to breathe. Last night, I had a bit of an anxiety attack, when I woke up about 2:00 a.m. When will it end? How horrific these fires have been. There are others facing so much loss, and I’m an emotional basket case? What is wrong with me? I need to find my calm place, get over myself, and get back to yoga…

Day 10 at 8:20 a.m., Oct. 18, No longer a #MandatoryEvacuee,

So thankful for the village that supported us in our crisis. 

So, so many. Now, I want the rains to come, for everyone still not home yet and back to their comfort zones. Corinne Reichel, for hosting us (including “Buddy, the cat”), Terry Mcnulty – whose son Justin was on the front lines dozing the fire breaks, along with all the fire fighters who have come from all over the US to help. Thanks to everyone in our neighborhood, who gave us the first calls to evacuate, before the police even came into our neighborhood, telling us to leave…

Then, hanging with all our neighbors in the early morning, watching the flaming horizon, where our homes were in jeopardy, a common bond of caring for each other. Sarah Stierch and James Gore, who kept everyone informed… For Sarah, it is still minute by minute. For James, it’s once a day with the Geyserville crew. Farmers Insurance was on it, the minute we told them we were in danger. (This is the second time we’ve needed them, the first time was during our home flooding, they are the BEST.)

Thanks to our five fish for surviving for nine days without any food! And to ALL of you, with your daily caring and meditations… It took a village, and now I’m on that end of the process, until this nightmare ends for everyone still involved in these fires. So thankful to be back to the mess we had to leave behind.

Day 11 at Oct. 19, No longer a #MandatoryEvacuee

I awoke in the middle of the night, running from fire in a DREAM.

Fell back to sleep. At 6:15 a.m., I awoke to a dream that had to do with lumber, helping people to rebuild, but couldn’t get into a construction labor union building. I was so confused it awakened me. I wish just awakening from this post event was so simple… just awakening.

MIRACLE of this event, for us personally: Jose’s five fish managed to stay alive for the entire 10 days, with NO feeding!

I expected to come back home to find a toxic fish tank.

They’re Jose’s fish, because I lost all of the fish I had cared for, a year ago, when we moved to this lovely home. It was so traumatizing – after caring for them for about 16-17 years – that I wouldn’t fill the fish tank and start again. Jose still wanted more fish, so he began again. VOILA, they scavenged.

Day 12 at Oct. 20, No longer a #MandatoryEvacuee

Last night it rained. Love the moisture on these doors. The earth outside smells so damp and refreshing. Life begins anew. One comment that I had from my friend Jean Jacote, “Petrichor is the word for the smell that comes in the air after it rains. I am in love with this word.”

I wrote: I love it, too, Jean… #NewToMe “Petrichor is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek πέτρα petra, meaning “stone”, and ἰχώρ īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

I rise from the ashes…

The End