On Saturday, August 15, a dry lightning storm tore through my little mountain community of San Lorenzo Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. By Monday morning, we could smell smoke from the fires that had been sparked by the lightning but didn't think much of it. Fire is a way of life in the forest, and usually, Cal Fire puts them out rather quickly. We learned that there were several fires to the west, east, and north of us that the fire crews were having a hard time getting control of. By Tuesday, four fires merged into one mega-fire, and we were placed under an evacuation warning. I began making lists of things we would need, tasks I needed to do, and plans I needed to make. We lined up housing with a friend, got packing boxes down from the attic, and started talking with neighbors about options and plans. We are blessed to live in a community where we are on a Google email list with all our neighbors on our street.
Wednesday, we saw that the fire was very serious and knew that we would be evacuated. We packed up all the things we couldn't replace. It's very surreal--going through the house, deciding what was important and what was not. I had to pack up things for my kids, bringing some toys, leaving behind others. That was tough. They had to settle with the fact that the vast majority of their possessions would not be going with us, and they might never see them again. My 10 and 11-year-old sons have been troopers through this whole ordeal, but they are definitely sad and scared. My 2-year-old daughter, thankfully, is just fine, considering she has her family and dog surrounding her.
Thursday at 7:30 am we got the evacuation order. We rushed around the house, picking up the last of the odds and ends, connecting the trailer to the truck, emptying out the fridge and freezer onto the driveway, turning off the water and gas at the mains, placing propane and gas tanks at the end of the driveway....and we drove off. We drove through hazy smoke, raining down ash and singed leaves. It was awful.
However, we are blessed with friends who have an upstairs apartment. They have been beyond hospitable, making us truly welcomed guests for as long as we need to be here. So many of our friends and neighbors, on the other hand, are not so blessed. 77,000 people have been evacuated from Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties (this is a 2-county fire). Tens of thousands have been evacuated from Monterey County for a fire down there. This area almost has more evacuees than residents at this point. Right now our house is safe. The fire is moving slowly, and the winds are in our favor. The fire line is 1-2 miles from our house as the crow flies. Some hot spots have flared up closer, but they've gotten them out.
I think the biggest need I keep seeing is medium-term housing. Because so much of our infrastructure has been ruined, even if our homes are standing, we can't go home until it's fixed. Five miles of water main is destroyed in the San Lorenzo Valley. Dozens of transformers and power lines have been burned. It's a mess, and we were told to expect to be evacuated between 4 and 8 weeks. Shelters are a short-term solution, but with COVID, they are really not ideal. Some hotels are offering discounts, but not much. AirBnB has a relief program, but most of their offers have been taken. The American Red Cross has stepped in and begun providing hotels vouchers for evacuees. People can donate to that organization.
If you need assistance in finding local resources, click here: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/find-assistance
If you want to learn how to keep your family and home safe during a wildfire, click here: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html
If you would like to donate to the Red Cross to support people affected by the wildfires and other disasters, click here: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html/
Tracking #: 1-05048060