Historic Fire Strikes Tragedy In Santa Rosa

By Forrest Hunt

Posted on November 7, 2017 at 9:37 AM

Aerial View of Coffey Park neighborhood by   The New York Times

Aerial View of Coffey Park neighborhood by The New York Times

A fire sparked late on a windy Sunday night in Calistoga, California. It was October 9th, 2017.  Those in the North Bay knew about it but they never thought it would cause the damage that it did. Many woke up in havoc, grabbing what they could and getting out as quickly as they could. Catastrophe kept striking in Sonoma and Napa counties, and I saw the devastation first hand on Monday morning, the next day.     

It was 3 a.m. when my phone started ringing. Good friends of mine were calling to ask if I was okay. In much confusion I asked what was going on. “Santa Rosa is on fire,” said a good friend of mine over the phone. Immediately I got a hold of my parents to make sure they were alright; they had been evacuated. My mom works as an Emergency Medical Technician  and was on duty early that morning and filled me in.

Sixty plus mile per hour wind gusts blew embers from Calistoga all the way to Santa Rosa. The hills were on fire, shopping centers set ablaze, and entire communities were destroyed. This all happened between midnight Sunday and early Monday morning. Up all night, I was glued to the news. I knew my neighborhood was in jeopardy. My family was elsewhere, my mom was working, and friends were scattered across the city because of evacuations in place in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, I’m here in San Rafael at school, helpless to be there to assist.

Due to the smoke in the air classes at Dominican University of California were cancelled so I decided to brave it and go home. Watching the news was terrifying, and so was not knowing if my home had survived. Driving into the city, roads were closed, buildings were smoldering, nobody could breathe. The sun was dark red due to to the smoke. People had to wear goggles and masks to shield themselves from the toxic elements in the air. I finally arrived home. My neighborhood was demolished. It looked like a war zone; as if a bomb went off. People's homes and everything they owned was reduced to a pile of rubble. We turned the corner to go to my house, and I was amazed to see it was still standing. Somehow it had survived the treacherous flames that had burnt my neighbors houses to the ground.

Almost a week later I went back. It was now Saturday and I was barely able to get into my neighborhood, needing special permission from the National Guard soldiers who were now patrolling my barricaded street corner. My house had running water, but no electricity or gas. With PG&E hard at work, the power for my house came back on while I was visiting my parents. They had been, “glorified camping” as my mom called it. We now had electricity. With no gas cold showers were a pain but it could have been much worse.

While sitting in my living room, a Cal Fire crew from Calistoga showed up to refill their water. They went on to tell the story of how they saved my house. The fire hydrant right out front is what made it possible. I am grateful for that little fire hydrant that I ever barely noticed when I parked in front of it every day when I’m home.

It was an emotional afternoon after meeting the firefighters who spared my house,  while the other neighbors only had  a pile of nothing where their homes had been standing for so long. Filled with grief, guilt, and wonder, I’m able to go back to a house which is more than most people can say who resided in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa.

There’s definitely an eerie feeling in the town, and especially in what once was my beautiful neighborhood. As we watch over what has been burnt, we plan to be the anchors of the neighborhood. We won’t leave, and we plan to stay there and help those grow who lost everything.

The New York Times reported that “at least 5,700 buildings were destroyed, including 2,800 in Santa Rosa alone.” The devastation across Napa and Sonoma counties is something that locals won’t get over or be able to grasp for years to come.