After two perilous weeks with deadly fires here in Sonoma County, we are finally back at work with power, phones and internet! Whew! I would like to thank everyone who sent notes and prayers to our staff. Thankfully, none of our employees lost their homes but it was close. The TUBBS fire came within a mile of my home and the NUNN’s fire came within two miles.

I wrote on my Facebook that we are a city of grief taunted by smoke rolling through the valleys every time the winds shift. More than six thousand structures burned, most residential homes. In fact, our city lost 5% of its total housing capacity the first night of the fire as 85 mile per hour winds drove the TUBB’s fire through much of northern Santa Rosa (Mark West, Fountaingrove, Larkfield, Coffee Park, etc.) The NUNN’s fire devasted much of the Sonoma Valley (Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Sonoma, etc.) Today is yet another high fire danger with predicted 30 mile per hour winds thus we are all on edge. It is difficult to sleep. PTSD? You betcha! We have tens of thousands struggling with it now, myself included.

The conditions have improved dramatically. The fires are mostly contained and smoke is at a minimum. The skies are blue which allows us to see the full extent of the damage. Driving north on Middle Rincon Road here in Santa Rosa, you can see that all the hills to the north are black, as well as areas of Fountaingrove. They are slowly letting families back into their neighborhoods to sift through the ashes and look for lost pets. :::sigh::: The stories are heartbreaking. Most of those who perished were the elderly who either didn’t hear the sirens or couldn’t move quickly enough to escape the flames. Neighbors who banged on doors and rousted people were heroes and some were able to fight flames and save entire streets from devastation.

We still have the National Guard and hundreds of other fire departments at work in our town. When I arrived home, a Montana strike crew drove up and down our street to make sure everything was safe. It was a true pleasure to shake their hands. When I went to the grocery store that night, a crew of 19 firefighters from Oregon came in to grab some snacks. They were covered, head to toe, with ash. Helicopters and fire bombers are still occasionally flying over as they finish up containment of the fires. We had the largest fire fighting plane in the world, a 747, dropping fire retardant in our county, as well as a couple of DC-10’s and dozens of smaller plans and helicopters. At one point, we had five large fires burning in Sonoma County. It was a firestorm of epic proportions.

Many have asked how I am and I’m traumatized. We all are. I had to evacuate and move three people four times in the past two weeks. (Thank God I had healed from my emergency hysterectomy last May!). I had sirens in my ears for about 36 hours, a very persistent ear worm that finally resolved after listening to Bruno Mars over and over and over. We didn’t eat much for the duration but there was a plentiful supply of cookies. Headaches from the smoke were by tough but thankfully my IC didn’t flare at all.

Recovering from a traumatic event like this also takes an emotional toll. I was really proud that I kept my cool for the duration and was able to drive my elderly parents several times under extreme duress. My 95 year old dad didn’t want to leave the house. As a WW2 vet, he wanted to fight any approaching fire. I had to resort to begging him to leave the first time. His answer was that he wouldn’t leave until he saw burning embers at the home. Then came the yelling, which is extremely rare for me but it was necessary. Most of the people who died in the fire were elderly and they simply couldn’t leave quickly enough. My mother is extremely frail and couldn’t outrun a mouse at this point. The second evacuation that occurred at 4am was easier because we had the police in front of our house, with sirens and loud speakers, yelling at everyone to leave immediately. They even banged on doors and went into homes and rousted another elderly couple who was sleeping through it at all.

This was close to my house!

Now most of us have just have random moments when we just cry. For me it was yesterday when I ran to Home Depot and saw the National Guard guarding yet another neighborhood wit their HumVee’s, guns at their waists with huge trucks. Yes, those were needed too because of the pond scum who were trying to loot neighborhoods that were evacuated. They caught one about two blocks from my house. Seriously? I hope the judge throws the book at them.

So thank you to everyone who was patient. I had a TON of messages on our phones but without power we couldn’t access those messages and return those calls. I’m almost through them now.

I would like to thank Heather Brown, our newest ICN Shop employee, who came to work to our warehouse everyday and literally kept the orders going out the door. She, too, had to evacuate but still came to work. AMAZING! Thanks to Janice and Brian Schmidt, my sister and brother in law, who offered us sanctuary for more than a week and took my frantic desperate phone calls as we tried to decide what to do. Angels all! And thanks to the many people who offered us shelter, family members and friends who reached out. I know that you were very scared when you couldn’t reach me. Between the power outages and evacuations, phone availability was virtually nil. Thanks, also, to Kings Nursery who took my monarch butterfly caterpillars when I ran out of food. I couldn’t get back to my house to pick more milkweed. They were wonderful!

I’m thrilled to share that the Safari West animal sanctuary survived literally with the owner and a garden house. 1000 animals, many endangered, were saved! The fire came right up to its property line. The owner, sadly, lost his home. An animal lover, I’m so sorry for those who lost their beloved pets simply because the fire moved so fast they couldn’t find them to carry them to safety. We are, however, having some wonderful survival stories including this family who found their dog Izzy after their home burned!

With gratitude! – Jill O.