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Unexpected Chaos—Our Evacuation From the Wildfire
On Thursday, 23 October, a major wildfire broke out here in Sonoma County, California, caused by faulty equipment provided by our local power company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Because the Kincaid fire started about 25 miles north of where we live, we thought we were out of the danger zone. I couldn’t imagine that a fire would travel 25 miles without being contained. So we did nothing to prepare for evacuation.
But we were evacuated, and quite unexpectedly. It wasn’t that the fire got any closer, it was that hurricane-force winds were forecast that Saturday night. On the news, fight fighters told us that if the winds came, they would not be able to fight the fire that could result from these winds. The fire was stopped at Highway 101. If the winds blew the fire over the highway, it could spread rapidly all the way to the ocean.
The winds picked up in the evening and along with them, we started to receive evacuation warnings on our cell phones. This was the first we had heard we might be evacuated. It was almost unbelievable because we were so far away.
The power went out at 8:00 pm. We decided we had better get ready to evacuate. Flashlights in our hands, we each packed two bags, not knowing if and when we would return. We had to decide what was most important to bring, where we would go, how we could get money since we had little cash…all in the dark, all not knowing if we had five minutes or an hour or more before we would need to evacuate.
Finally, at 3:30 am, the warning said EVACUATE NOW…
Larry and I immediately went to our car and drove away. The wind was whipping the tree branches around the house. As we drove, we could see ashes blowing in the light of the headlights. Any one of them could have been an ember that could spark a fire.
When we reached the main road, cars were already lined up at a standstill. It took about 90 minutes to creep one mile. At this rate it would take us all day to get to the major highway in order to drive anywhere. Since we knew the back roads, we turned off the main road and took the back road through rural west Sonoma county over to Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific coast. In the dark we drove the familiar curvy roads, occasionally passing cars, watching for fallen branches in the road. As we drove through the tiny towns, we joined other cars traveling in a tight caravan heading south.
By dawn, we reached the marshlands at the town of Bolinas and then navigated the breathtaking cliffs between Stinson Beach and Mill Valley.
Finally, around 8 am we reached our destination in San Francisco.
Fortunately, we had a long-time friend in San Francisco. We didn’t know we were going to be evacuated so we had made no plans. We just texted her, “We’re here, refugees from the fire.” And she said, “Come over.”
We spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with our friend in San Francisco. Thursday morning we drove home. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were spent putting our lives back into place, and now on Monday, I am finally getting back to work.
As difficult as it was to leave our home in the dark with little notice, in the end, we came home to our house just as we left it. We had some new adventures, learned some new things, spent all our time together, and came out stronger and better than before the evacuation. We took time away from our ordinary lives we wouldn’t have taken if we weren’t nudged by the fire.
More posts are coming with stories about our evacuation experience. Read on.