October 8, 2017 was an ordinary day, lovely weather with a fall breeze. In the afternoon I met with my art group in Santa Rosa. We were aware of the red flag warning, meaning it would get windy later in the day, but nothing was said of it at or after the meeting. We parted at 4 pm. By the next day one of our members no longer had a house - or an art studio with a life-time of collected and made things, plus an extensive art collection. Who knew!
One of the biggest shocks of that night was the destruction of a block of 1,000 homes, a middle class subdivision, nothing special about it, not near the freeway, not overgrown, just a normal neighborhood surrounded by more like them. How do embers travel a mile from a fire, cross a 6 lane highway and do this kind of damage with lightening speed? A fluke is all I can gather, some would say bad luck.
Meanwhile, at my home in Sebastopol ash the size of a credit card fell in my apple orchard. My house is 20 minutes west of Coffey Park, 11 miles from the ocean, the ocean that keeps our air clean. But the following 2 weeks saw no clear skies.
At first we had to stay inside, we took in a family to shelter, we all felt the ash in our lungs, inside or out. Finally, we saw a fiery red orange ball in the sky, faint but hopeful.
Then the work began. For me that meant grabbing my watercolors and sketchbook and heading out with my stool to document the story of destruction and heart break. I sat, hour after hour, on my little folding stool seeing, seeing with my eyes and feeling with my heart the remains of thousands of homes and businesses.
Here is my story in sketches. You are welcome to the images as long as credit is given to me as the artist. You may see your business, your street, or your home in these sketches. I hope, as sketches, they will be a gentle reminder. I’ve seen many people turn from a photo of flames, just too graphic, too much memory of shock, of a night when thousands of people fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs, running through smoke and flames for their lives.
As you view them, please try to imagine me, sitting on my little stool amid the burned out, stinky ash, maybe on a sidewalk, maybe in the abandoned street, sometimes in my car if the smell was overwhelming or the area too dangerous to be sitting in.
At the one year anniversary I sketched at every firestorm related event and recorded what I saw and felt. These were not celebrations for there was nothing at all to celebrated at the time.
Our community is recovering as some new houses are being built and some businesses are re-opening. However, there are many, if not most, lots left vacant and most of these are a very sad story the owners are still experiencing. For many there is no new home now - or ever. The cost of building has risen from $300 a square foot to about $600 a square foot. There are new building regulations and restrictions.
My artist friend, the one at the meeting who lost her home is still living in a hotel. It is unclear whether or not their property will ever have a new home built on it for a myriad of reasons. Meanwhile, a new home in town has been purchased, one can only live in a hotel so long…..