I was awakened abruptly last Monday morning by the frantic ringing of my doorbell. It was my friend & neighbor Ivan rousing me to 'answer the bell' so to speak; I could already smell the smoke before he told me there was a raging firestorm just ten miles away. I live in wine country,
Sonoma county where
much of the terrain is heavily wooded canyons, many peppered with residential
neighborhoods; so dealing with a potential wild fire is always in the back of our minds.
Now it was foremost on our minds.
Little did I know that the day I was waking into would see the worst firestorm in
history. Beginning just before on Oct. 8th, fires sprang up in several
different California Sonoma and Napa
county locations. The weather was zero
humidity, no moisture in the air,
with winds gusting 50 to 60 mph. Before
Daybreak there were a total of 14 fires racing primarily north, and
eastward, away from my hillside canyon home...for now.
Wildfires such as this actually create their own weather. As the flames grow higher into the air it creates a vortex, a sort of fire tornado which in turn draws in all the air around it. Add to this devil's mix a 50 mph easterly wind and you get a self feeding, self sustaining firestorm with a halo of burning airborne embers falling to earth setting new fires, which then join with the parent fire. Maybe a case could be made for fire being a kind of life form: It breathes air, consumes food which strengthens it, and it reproduces itself. Fire spirits, Hmmm. More on this in a bit.
You don't have to be a prepper to be ready ahead of time for such natural disasters; all it takes is having been a boy scout, and later a combat veteran, to see the sense in being ready to bug out with a Go-Bag full of emergency survival needs already to load in the car. If you don't have them pre-packed and ready to load in the car, you won't have time when you are watching the flames advance on your home as floating embers ignite your roof.
Watching three hurricanes in a row wreck death and devastation on parts of the country should have motivated a lot of people to prepare, including making detailed evacuation plans for the family. It sure motivated me to drag my go-bags out and double check them in the days before the firestorm.
Brewing up some coffee was the first order of business, and as it was perking away, the second was to check communications status. Had electricity but not much more. No television, no internet, no text. All gone, and with no word on for how long. Time to dig out the hand crank, portable emergency radio. I hooked it up and before long found what I was looking for, all day coverage of the firestorm in my back yard.
"We face the potential for this kind of firestorm every year,
and we've been lucky for a long time. Our luck just ran out."
It's kind of funny, the difference in perspective you have when packing a bug out bag in the calm before the storm; and re-packing it when faced with the possibility of everything you own turned to ash. With no immediate threat to my residence it gave me the luxury of doing a kind of triage on my go bags. There is no way you can take everything which is special to you, so hard choices must be made. Sometimes the practical gives way to the emotional as some things are removed from the bags to make room for something of a more emotional value.
When you walk thru your home with the idea it might all burn you begin to see with new eyes. As long as the wind is our friend and blowing the fire away from us this hopefully becomes just a dress rehearsal this time.
So as I listened to the reports flowing in on the radio, I found I couldn't sit still, I had to be doing something even if it was pacing about trying to think of the next thing I forgot to pack. Hearing odd noises I quickly checked outside to see what was up. It was my 70 year old next door neighbor, up on his roof with a rake and water hose, courting a broken leg if he fell.
It occurred to me I was darting around like a ferret chasing a meal it can't see. I sat and thought about that a moment and then it dawned on me, PTSD awakes from it's slumber, given enough stressors. I'm sitting in a bone dry old house on a wooded hillside in a firestorm, and no information save for the radio which was mostly helpful but not terribly useful. I'm hearing about places I liked going to, burned to the ground, along with area landmarks like the Hilton hotel. Entire subdivisions are going up in flames. People are dying out there in my back yard.
"The World Has Changed"
With no internet access all; transactions were cash only, and the roadways were choked with evacuees and those seeking emergency supplies. I am suddenly feeling pretty smart for having bought two flats of Aquafina bottled water last week. You could say a hurricane inspired me to prepare for a firestorm. My friend Ivan has the day off work due to the firestorm so we spend it pre-loading stuff into the car, just in case. Tomorrow I'm buying a chain saw because no damned down tree is gonna prevent me from bugging out if the need arises. Boy scout, gotta be prepared!
People are calling reports into the radio station all day, one man reporting that eight water trucks showed up, without water in their tanks. Maybe it's a cost effectiveness thing, why haul all that water any farther than you have to? Intended to fill up at a local hydrant?? Another man called in saying there were no Cal-Fire aircraft working in his area. He didn't understand they have to be able to see where to drop their load of fire retardant.
Day 2~October 10
Day two sees the number of uncontrolled fires at 17, with 20 dead and over 1500 structures destroyed. Nobody was prepared for how fast the flames raced over the land, it's like some kind of surrealistic nightmare. I am stressed and frustrated that all data lines are down, except for my wonderful radio. I'm just feeling a need to see this monster on satellite view, so I can properly engage it. I spent several years on radio in
Alaska, so I
know well the idea of words painting pictures, and the scenes coming from my
emergency disaster radio are horrific.
Smoke from the firestorm can be smelled at
Francisco airport 60 miles distant. It covers more than 115 thousand acres of
land, over 65 square miles, in eight counties!
There are now more than 4400 firefighters working over 40 hours straight. Twenty thousand people have been evacuated to shelters, churches & high schools as just dealing with the displaced becomes a storm itself. The early estimate of 180 missing people has now become 660 missing people, a number certain to keep rising. The firestorm remains at zero containment. And it is still growing.
"It looks like a war zone, without the bomb craters"
~TV news reporter
Firemen and first responders are often "lost" and not knowing exactly where they are because all the street signs melted. Steel melts at 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Some cars exploded when their gas tanks ignited, leaving charred upside down slag heaps, each with puddles of melted aluminum beneath them.
Human nature sure comes out fast at times like these, there have been very few incidents of looting so far, but volunteers by the hundreds are calling local officials wanting to help. I've heard of three 'hubs' where volunteers can go to register & then be dispatched somewhere to render aid.
I like that. Shows that hope maybe has a fighting chance after all.
Late afternoon I get the sweet sound of a text notification from my cell phone. Minutes later internet was restored, and an hour later TV service came back. I was quite pleasantly surprised; anticipating a much longer outage lasting several days.
"The firestorm turned our neighborhood into a sea of nothing"
Seeing the images of this monster firestorm came with a case of cognitive dissonance at the sheer size of the thing, and how incredibly fast it was consuming everything in its path. If the recent string of hurricanes was a wake up call, this then was indeed waking up to a nightmare literally on my back door. The same conditions that birthed this inferno exist in the canyon I reside in. It would only take a spark, and I could be among the homeless victims of this wildfire.
Aerial views of the devastation are truly like something from a war zone, specifically
after the bombing. Watching these images
as I fine tuned my evacuation luggage, was just feeding my awakened PTSD; it never really goes away, hibernation is
the best you can hope for. The good part
of it is that the awakening PTSD also
brushes off the skill-set needed to deal with the stressors, and the
emergency. They never go away
either. As I move through the house; I
take the time to bless, thank &
release a lifetime worth of possessions I have managed to hold onto until
now. Some things are more difficult to
let go of than others. There is a reason
they're called possessions.
Day 3~October 11
By Wednesday the 11th, the firestorm is now 22 separate fires and has become twice the size of
and continues to grow, it's appetite unabated. Throughout the devastated area only chimneys
remain standing, like gravestones marking where over 2000 homes died. They say the winds are going to pick up again
tonight. Washington DC
"This is a critical, catastrophic event, and
things will get worse before they get better"
Late in the afternoon authorities announce the mandatory evacuation of Calistoga as the fire marched over the hillside overlooking the tourist town, and the rolling smoke moved into the valley like a massive ghost. A pocket fire sprang up near Geyserville causing even more evacuations, eating still more land.
There are now over 8000 exhausted firemen (Heroes) battling the firestorm and saving lives. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated and there are 3500 homes and businesses burned to the ground. There have been 0ver 50 helicopter rescues, as the state amasses the largest aerial bombing campaign in American history to fight the firestorm. They have 73 helicopters, 30 air tankers; including a DC-10 and a brand new 747 jumbo tanker being used for the first time.
As darkness comes to day three there are 26 known dead, and some 700 missing with over 265 square miles burned; and 80 cell towers destroyed. In their evening press conference authorities stress that people should avoid the evacuated zones or face arrest. They also advise that this emergency event is far from over, saying it could be two weeks or longer to get containment & control over the inferno.
Many years back during the practice burning of an old dilapidated building in Nixa Missouri; one of the firefighters took a snapshot of the blaze and was astounded to clearly see what many say is an Indian chief on horseback. I've been intrigued by such fire images ever since, and was quite surprised to see one show up in the growing collection of images from this firestorm event. Look closely at pictures of raging fires, you may find some yourself.
Day 4~October 12
What caused the firestorm?
What caused the firestorm?
Daybreak on day 4 came after an overnight respite as the winds did not pick up as feared they would. Even though, it continued to consume thru the night while the air armada was grounded. It is now thought that downed power lines and blown transformers started the wildfires around , last Sunday night. There is also some lingering doubt surrounding the strangeness of 14 fires all starting at more or less the same time. Some of course are thinking this is a new kind of terror attack; while others speak in terms of meteorites being the cause. The Realistic Observer Blog has posted that Illegal Mexican marijuana cartels set the fires in retaliation for recent busts. Much of the areas burned are where legal medical marijuana clubs grow their legal pot. As with so many things these days, we may never learn the whole, complete truth.
There were over 1000 people missing, of them 485 have been located alive. So far the firestorm has destroyed 2834 private residences and killed 30 people. Ironically there is a movie due to be released on October 20th called "Only the Brave" which is an action yarn about "Smoke Eaters" otherwise known as firefighters. Not wanting to disrespect the real life heroes fighting this inferno, but maybe they could push back the release date for this whole area, it might be too much too soon for those who have lost homes and entire families. Just sayin, A little compassion goes a long way.
Tonight I am grateful for having a place to live and food to eat, and yet this event has already affected my future. I've been trying to find another place to live, closer to town and wheelchair accessible to things I'm interested in doing for two years now and I've learned one thing for sure and that is the housing market is depressed. There has been a drop-off in new construction. There is a severe shortage of family residential housing and apartments throughout the region; and way too many people looking to buy or rent. Those numbers just got mega-skewed for maybe a decade or more with almost 3000 homes destroyed so far. Not only that, but I can almost feel my rent increasing as I write this. Leverage and taking advantage; purely human traits.
My PTSD is getting a case of disaster fatigue; not sure how much more I can handle. We're 226 days into the disaster called the Trump inauguration, and the hits just keep on coming faster than we can process. Soon psychic numbing sets in with the first symptoms of PTSD, as you become hyper alert to your surroundings, & do threat assessments on every new sound or noise. Welcome to my nightmare.
Whether or not you get help or rescue in the next disaster depends entirely upon whether you voted for Trump. If you voted blue or are a banana republic, know that you'll be on your own once you catch your allotment of paper towels.
Nixle~ Text your zip code to 888-777 to get emergency notifications in your area.
Pack Your Bags
It is always a wise precaution to have a few crucial items kept in the trunk of your car: such as a few gallons of water, some canned food, blankets & clothes etc. and some basic tools. Add a small chain saw if you face the possibility of fallen trees across critical escape roadways. I always keep a tent, rope, duct tape & giant green poly tarp in my trunk as well, because I don't like roughing it. You should already have a Thomas guide book of the entire roadway system in your state or area. If not, perhaps you should consider getting one because knowing where to go and how to get there can literally save your bacon.
Stored somewhere like an entry closet you should also have your "
pre-packed, loaded and ready to go at a moments notice. The question arises, what to include? First &
foremost are all needed medications, reading glasses, money and your important
personal/family papers. Next, backup
important computer files & documents
to a mass storage device like 64GB flash
drive. You will want to pack headlamps, flashlights,
batteries] - candles and perhaps even a small alpine single burner
camp stove for cooking. That's the thing
about mass evacuations; you have no idea where you will end up, or if you'll
ever see your home again, so the ability to cook might be a game changer.
You will want some spare clothing, how much depends on how high maintenance you are I suppose. At some point extra space in your Go Bag becomes very valuable indeed, so you'll know if you packed too many clothes. Ideally you should limit your bug out luggage to what you'd feel comfortable carrying, on foot, over unknown terrain conditions. Assume the worst case scenario, everything less will seem like good luck.
"Chance Favors Only the Prepared Mind"
Next include a decent first aid kit, and a multi-power source emergency radio. Be sure to pack cell phone chargers, and extra batteries or power bank devices. It should be a no-brainer but if you own firearms, pack them as well. Not that you're gonna be going road warrior, you just don't wanna leave them for looters. Plus you may need a little Mad Max now & then. You'll need a supply of breathing respirators: 3M makes their N95 which is rated to defeat the smallest particles of smoke, its the mask you want, period.
People aren't all the same and neither are bug out bags, yours will eventually contain the items you deem crucial to have in a very uncertain future following some unknown disaster. It's a work in progress, start today.
Got children? They each get their own bug out bag as well. A few clothes & a lot of toys/games to hold their attention and give a semblance of normal even in crisis. Fail to do this; and risk being taken to the limits of parental sanity. For child mood emergencies, have a couple of Hershey bars tucked away for emotional bribery. Works every time!
Watch the news footage of any disaster and you'll see literally hundreds of refugees carrying plastic garbage bags and pillow cases holding their worldly possessions. Every one of them thought there would be time to pack. Sometimes...there just isn't.
Officials with Cal-Fire are saying this is nowhere near under control, and that it could be weeks before the fire is out.
Stay Tuned for updates...
© 2017 full re-post with permission only
Day 6 ~ Saturday
When overnight winds picked up early Saturday; a new round of mandatory evacuations was ordered for
county, , and east Sonoma
as fires continued to march east and south.
Hours after sunrise the winds continue to be a problem, even though they
helped dissipate some of the smoke
pollution. Santa Rosa
An additional 20 helicopters have joined the air armada, and over a hundred fire trucks and tankers. over 11000 firefighters are working 24 on/24 off shifts as containment on two of the largest fires is now over 40% on each.
There are over 600 national guardsmen, and an unknown number of prison firefighters adding to the manpower on the ground. Many of these firemen are local to this area, and have lost their own homes while tirelessly working insane hours to save others and their homes from destruction.
The air quality remains listed as unhealthy in most of the affected counties as our evening sunsets take on an eerily beautiful appeal as seen through the haze from the smoke. If you start having slight headaches, wheezing, or heavy coughing; you may need to be using a respirator mask. Long term inhalation of smoke particles can have some bad effects, especially with existing breathing issues.
Imagine that fire took your home and all your possessions. You lost all your ID in the chaos, don't know how to get your mail, or where you're going to sleep tonight. Imagine being in a shelter, not knowing where other family members are. Wondering if you even still have a job to go to. Even worse; all important personal & family papers are now ash. Take all that and multiply it by 6000, the number of people who just lost their entire home.
Over 100,000 people have now been evacuated
as the official death toll reaches 40 today;
Making this the largest and most deadly wildfire in state history.
There are still a few reports of lootings and arrests. When approached while going thru the wreckage of his home, one man drew a pistol. Elsewhere there are many reports in the local news of people encountering angry, belligerent and generally edgy people while gathering food and necessary supplies. We must strive to remember that in times such as these some will bloom while others wither. Not everyone has the coping skills needed for when your whole life just goes up in smoke. A good time to be extra polite to everyone.
Most natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes smack you a good one then it's over. Wildfires are different, and can defy even the most stalwart resistance as they just keep burning everything in their way without a shred of mercy. One couple tried to survive in the middle of a neighbors swimming pool, with the wife dying in her husbands arms, People everywhere are disaster weary after three deadly hurricanes, then the Vegas sniper. Not a good time to be wondering if your neighborhood will be the next to disappear in smoke. The visual scars from this disaster will be with us for quite a while and recovery will be slow, too much so for the majority I suspect. We silently brace ourselves because we know the death count will not stay at just 40 souls lost, not with many hundreds still missing, unaccounted for.
"Santa Rosa Strong"
Driving thru the affected parts of
Rosa it looks to many like an alien landscape, devoid
of the familiar landmarks. Everywhere
from fences to overpass bridges the emotion of the people pours out in handmade
signs of gratitude to the firemen, first responders and Sheriff's
department. We keep hearing that
recovery will take at least ten years. Meanwhile
the fires continue to burn, causing new evacuations on day number nine of the
firestorm. It's not over, not even close.
We got hit hard.
We are down, but not out.
Thursday ~ Day 11
As the setting sun disappears on day eleven of the northern
wildfires, everywhere there is the ominous sense of having turned the corner. The only good news is that it will rain
overnight; between 1/4 and 1/2 inch as a small class one weather event passes
from north to south. This is going to be
a sprinkle, when what we need is a deluge.
It'll be just enough to give us some ash runoff to deal with along with
Currently there remain just 9 large fires which are from 73% to 90% contained. Cal-Fire officials say they expect to have full containment by next Tuesday. That isn't saying the fires will be out by then, just contained. The official death toll stands at 42, with 53 still missing; and 11 heroic firemen injured. Over 7000 structures are gone, 6000 of them were homes, completely destroyed. 15000 are still evacuated.
Today we received much needed help from
as the famous Chief Mountain Hotshots from the Blackfeet Nation arrived
to lend their expertise, as they're considered the marines of firefighting.
As we gradually regain our senses in the aftermath of this firestorm, local people are starting to ask questions about how the fires really started, and a few other things which don't quite add up. At the center of things at the moment, is the confusing mess surrounding the alleged arrest of an arsonist, and two agencies battling it out in public. An undocumented homeless man who is known to local cops was brought in for questioning on a different matter; but isn't a suspect and is not charged with arson. ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) officials immediately released a statement condemning the Sheriffs for endangering the public. The sheriffs of course responded in kind saying something to the effect it was bad form to accuse them of that in the middle of everything going on. Not what we want to see from our state and federal officials!
Then there is the matter of the evacuations that have many in a furor. Some areas have been cleared and re-opened for landowners to return to their home sites; but a great many have not. The number of disgruntled homeless voices grew until the authorities had to hold a press conference; where when asked why they cannot return to their homes, angry citizens were told about a tree that almost injured 3 firemen when it suddenly fell; and the video clip of that was on all three local network TV stations. They are not allowing people back into many areas, and offer only reasons that insult our intelligence.
"We're from the Government, we're here to help you"
Enter FEMA: The folks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are here, going thru the motions of helping people; from a bureaucratic perspective. Mostly what they are doing here is offering (demanding) that
ALL those who lost homes go online and
sign up for FEMA to remove all the toxic
stuff from their property, stressing that civilians are not allowed to do that
dangerous job themselves.
Maybe I've been at this too long, but to me that sounds a whole lot like "you can't go home until FEMA cleans up all the evidence." Once FEMA is finished removing hazardous materials from the scorched neighborhoods the plan is to bulldoze them back to bare earth so the rebuilding can begin. There is a fly in this ointment, and it's the certainty that somebody somewhere has an eye on all that barren smoking real estate in
Sonoma and Napa
Walt Blender-Fire Conspiracy Theories
~Related Augureye Posts~