Friday, November 03, 2017

Sudden Changes

I took this photograph on Wednesday, October 4. I was at my semi-annual quilt retreat at Bishop's Ranch, enjoying a lovely early fall day of blue skies and gentle breezes.

Most of you know by now that on Sunday, October 9, crazy winds pushed wildfires through many areas of Sonoma County where I live. This picture, and others from that retreat, remind me of how quickly and unexpectedly things can change.  It's been a difficult time here... devastating for many people  and for the community as a whole. I have 5 friends who lost their homes, and I've not yet encountered anyone who doesn't know someone whose home or business was lost in the fires.

Here's what my friend Pat's house looked like on Sunday.

And here it was -- or wasn't -- on Monday.

Shocking. Kind of brings it home, doesn't it? And then imagine that times about 1000 or more. The city lost 2800 structures.

Miss C and I were very lucky. The air quality throughout the county was horrible for a about 2 weeks, as fires raged and the chemical-laden smoke traveled for miles. People were urged to stay inside with windows closed and air conditioners on to filter incoming air.  On my end of town, a fire just to the north caused concern, and so we eventually evacuated to stay with my sister for 4 nights.  But we had the choice to stay or go, and we were able to listen to fire reports and watch the news for signs that the fire was shifting in our direction.

So, like many other Sonoma County residents, we had the odd experience of deciding what items to take upon leaving the house for safer places. It was a luxury, really -- the friends whose houses burned so suddenly on that Sunday night had no warning at all, and were lucky to get out of their houses with clothes, shoes, wallets and pets.  I thought about what was truly irreplaceable, and loaded my car with family photographs, some quilts, some personal treasures of sentimental value, personal papers, and suitcases for each of us. It was strange, I tell you, and in a weird way I felt like I was saying goodbye to everything I didn't put in the car.

Luckily, we were fine. The fires were controlled and we were able to come back home. I feel so deeply for friends who have no home left to return to -- what an unsettling and upsetting feeling that must be, with so much to sort out. Insurance claims. Buying basic clothing and living supplies. Finding new housing. Deciding whether to rebuild or move.  And that's barely a dent. The community will take years to recover.

  Now, everyone I know is talking about their stories and experiences and lessons. Here are a few that keep coming up:

1.  Make sure you have your important papers in one place where you can grab them if you need to.

2.  Make sure your insurance is up to date, with current values for your home and the contents. If you've bought some valuable jewelry, art work or expensive sewing machines recently, check that they are insured.

3.  Most insurance policies don't cover any cash you have at home, or very much anyway. So if you've got cash socked away as a safety precaution, check to make sure it'd be covered if you had a fire.

4. Check your fire safe rating if you have one. The local Sonoma County Fire update page on Facebook is full of people reporting that their fire safes melted in the fire. I don't know anyone whose fire safe made it through the fire intact.

5.  Scan your important photos and papers and upload them to a cloud storage site. You may never need to retrieve them, but then again, you might.

6. Make sure you have a transistor radio and working batteries. At my house, I lost cell phone service (77 cell towers burned in the fires), cable tv, and internet service. Luckily, my landline was still working.  Still, it felt very strange and scary to be out of  communication and I was grateful for an old clock radio that allowed me to get safety alerts from a local AM station.

7. Go through your house with your cell phone and take photos or video of every room. Open drawers and cupboards and photograph them too. Should you ever have a loss, you'll have something to trigger your memory of contents you might forget.

It's raining as I write this, something we have been waiting for. It feels cleansing and safe. 


  1. Diane, thank you so much for posting this. We met though the Santa Rosa Quilt Guild many moons ago, but I still have a button you gave me that read, I don't lie, I embellish." One of my treasures from that time. I still have one relative and friends who are in Santa Rosa. My cousin is safe and so is their house. I'm still trying to connect with a friend. I hope she's okay. Lives in Sebastapol. I left for Texas in 2007 but California is my heart, born there, lived there until hubby's transfer. Be well, Read your blog and bought the book!

  2. What a beautiful first picture, and so shocking to see it decimated like that. You've provided valuable advie here.

  3. My heart goes out to everyone who lost so very much. Yes, most still have each other and are grateful but that doesn't take away the loss and the stress of rebuilding their lives. Rain is life.