Thousands suffer after Northern California fires rage. Lives, pets, homes lost.

MNG BILL HUSA - Mandy Feder-Sawyer If ever there was a picture of hellfire, it ravaged Northern California late night on a Sunday – the day of the Lord.

Not one, but two places I called home — engulfed in white-hot, unrelenting heat. The flames took lives, pets, homes and businesses.

I learned of my brother-in-law Adam's house burning to the ground first. He and his dog were spared. In the hours and days that followed there would be more heartbreak, devastation and widespread loss. I paced the floor, being too far to physically help.

I was able to contact a dear friend via social media on Monday afternoon to ask if he was OK. This was his response: "Hey Mandy … Well I was evacuated this morning at 2 o'clock. This is unbelievable, my friend. Between Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino … tens of thousands of lives are going to be uprooted … I just hope no one lost their life. Was pretty scary this morning to hear someone pounding on my front door just before two … opened up the door and it was a police officer saying 'you gotta evacuate' and I asked why and he said, 'Go look up at the top of Atlas Peak and what's coming your way.' That said … houses and its contents are replaceable … I'm not. I'm fine. Big hugs. I love you. –Brad."

Lives were lost, though. I can't write about that yet.

I attempted to check in with as many people as possible, but phone lines were overloaded, cell towers were burning and people were quite literally running for their lives.

Nearly every friend I had made in the last 20 or so years was suffering.

My husband paced the floors with me.

"Should we just get in the car and go?" he asked me. We felt so helpless.

Three family members' homes were confirmed burned before the end of Monday. My father-in-law and aunt were getting ready to evacuate on the south side of Santa Rosa, and my best friends were collecting up irreplaceable mementos – many from their daughter's running days – before brain cancer took her life two years ago.

And then there was more. A new fire creeping up to the home I have owned for about a quarter-century. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter live there.

Phone service was spotty, but my daughter and I identified a list of safe places they could go. She packed important paperwork, some supplies and had the pets ready.

This wasn't our first rodeo.

I have covered many fires during my news career. Watching horses and livestock run for their lives in a day that looked like night is an image that is branded into my brain. The sounds of silence interrupted by cracking, popping and screaming, the smells of wood, chemicals and plastic coupled with black billowing smoke, are the telltale signs that lives are being altered and people are forever changed.

They don't feel safe. They can't sleep. Some of those who lost their homes are the same people that lost homes in fires in the past three years. For some, they lost three homes to fires in three years.

One friend, who is the director of a fire district, was also evacuated. She spent a week of 18-hour days at the station, working and answering phones. When she returned home, her house was standing. Many of her neighbor's homes were lost. When she called me, she did something I had never heard her do before – she cried. Her sister died just three weeks before after a long and arduous battle with cancer.

"I feel so alone," she said. "I need to talk."

We talked for hours. I mostly listened.

Out of the ashes …

PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM CARLO QUIHUIS - Shared on social media: When sh** goes down. We go to what we know. So we put the tent up together. For a crew that is fighting to save what they can of our community. Family gathered around a symbol of our safety and fellowship. Therapy comes in strange forms, but community, activity, and love are rarely bad. Thank you for the healing. Adam didn't have a house to go home to, but he has a lot of friends and family who were happy to help. In turn, he wanted to help others who were displaced by the historically devastating blaze. He contacted CAL FIRE and offered to put up a saddle tent at the evacuation area at the fairgrounds in Ukiah. Fire officials were grateful for the offer, so Adam rounded up about 200 volunteers and got the job done. His twin brother, Jacob, also known in Santa Rosa as "Doctor Jake," assisted other physicians in treating fire victims.

When I was a public information officer for the County of Lake following the devastating Valley Fire a couple of years ago, I ran into my friend Shelly, who had just lost her home.

"Hey, that's a pretty dress, Shelly. Is that new?" I asked.

She laughed wildly and said, "Yep, it's new. Everything I have is new." She said it felt good to laugh because she had shed so many tears.

People do find a way to cope – mostly from joining together and sharing what they have, even when they have nothing left but time. They still have hope. They still have love.

By Mandy Feder-Sawyer
Reporter, Beaverton Valley Times
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By Mandy Feder-Sawyer
Reporter, Beaverton Valley Times
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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