A lonely scorched survivor

A lonely scorched survivor

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ground Zero At The Napa Valley Wildfires


I yelled at my wife Helga, “Let’s get out of here!”  A wildfire was unfurling on Atlas Peak, several hundred yards above our house. 


Sunday, October 8, 2017, was the last day of the Safeway Open golf tournament at the Silverado Resort in Napa CA. Unlike last year’s gray and rainy week, we were blessed with warm and sunny weather. Sunday afternoon was particularly windy. Both my wife Helga and I had volunteered to help—I verified admission tickets to the Corporate Hospitality suites, and Helga was on the course supplying shot link yardages to the TV commentators.

At the end of the Open (about 5:30 pm) we were exhausted and elected not to attend the free food, wine, and music event that the officials provided for all volunteers (over 1000+).  A relaxing “Cocktail Hour” and simply prepared food at home seemed the better alternative.

At about 10:30pm our lights and TV went out.  We groped in the dark for candles and iPhones (mainly for the flashlight function).  Minutes later the TV and lights came back on, at which time we noted exceptionally loud winds roaring through our back yard.  It was quite windy earlier in the day, so we thought nothing of it. The lights continued to flicker until our 11:00 pm bedtime. Then we both sensed the unmistakable stench of smoke.

We stepped into our back yard. There were fierce, acrid, smoke-filled winds battering our patio umbrellas.  A glance up at the horizon revealed an orange sky above Atlas Peak behind the Silverado Resort.  (Our home is in the Silverado Springs development, just around the corner from the Resort.)   

I drove to the entrance of The Springs, and noticed many vehicles streaming down Hillcrest Dr. from the Highlands, an area above and behind The Resort. Another glance up Hillcrest confirmed it: a billowing, orange killer was working its way down the hill toward us.  I yelled at Helga, “Let’s get out of here!”  Back at the house, we quickly put on some street clothes, grabbed our meds and toiletries and started looking for a safer place to spend the night. (The Resort and nearby residential communities were completely evacuated by 1:00am.) 
During the next five days (two in a hotel and three with close friends) we overdosed on information provided by the following: San Francisco TV stations, Nextdoor.com, Nixle.com, the Springs HOA, as well as emails, texts and phone calls from friends and relatives.  My mind was spinning, and I began to intermittently fantasize what our lives would be like if our recently renovated home was destroyed.  The ceilings above our bed provided no clarity at 3am.  

The TV stations provided immediate coverage; ground and air photos were eye-popping.  Billowing, dark plumes of smoke expanded, as the voracious orange flames took their toll on the dry vegetation.  Unfortunately, none of those images informed us to what extent the Resort and the Springs were damaged (if at all), and whether or not there were any casualties.  

Our next source of information was Nextdoor.com, a social network for communities and neighborhoods. It is a loose blend of Facebook and Craigslist. Postings soon confirmed that the evacuation was casualty-free, but it also noted that much of area above and near the Resort was devastated.  But there were still no specific postings about our neighborhood or many of the other residential areas.

From Nextdoor, we learned about Nixle.com which provides information via email and texts from police, fire department, and other government agencies providing emergency public services. We glutted on information regarding which roads were closed and which areas were under advisory or mandatory evacuation.

Eventually, from the above information services we determined that the Springs was not severely damaged. Meanwhile, the Police were admitting quick, escorted (one at a time) emergency access by car to retrieve medications and clothing. If not an emergency, a multi-mile, unescorted round trip by foot was permitted. More information was posted to Nextdoor by many of those people as to which areas were burned out and which were not.  Finally, a clearer picture was forming.

Texts and emails from Nixle advised that the evacuation order for the Resort was lifted, and we would be permitted to enter our home on Friday the 13th.  Friday the 13th no less! Our home and the entire Springs community was definitely blessed; ash and other debris were the only visual evidence of what deadly forces passed by us. Several of our friends who lived in other areas were, unfortunately, not so lucky. Their homes were destroyed. A damage report, by area, posted on Nixle indicated that at least 134 homes and condos were lost. 

When we entered our home, it smelled of smoke.  Electricity was functioning, but gas was still disconnected. Hot water was unavailable, the furnace was not functioning, and even though we spent the evenings and mornings clothed like skiers, we were home!!  On Sunday the 15th PGE connected the gas.  I took a photo of the workman and posted it on Instagram and Twitter, and told him Hollywood would be after him. We exchanged a high-five and he went to the next house.