What We Lost In The Fire


A little over a year ago, I woke up to the scent of smoke. My daughter was only six weeks old and wasn't gaining weight like she should, so my husband and I had been taking turns with her all night. As I started down the hallway, bedraggled and confused, wiping the sleep from my eyes, I noticed the scent of smoke. At first, I thought that my new neighbors had turned into jerks. We'd had neighbors in the past who thought smoking in their townhouse was A-OK. But, as I descended the stairs into the living room, my husband told me the news. Fire.

We tuned into the live feed from the local news and stayed glued to it all day. We covered door and window gaps with towels and ran the air conditioner to keep the air inside safe for our infant daughter. We looked outside to see brownish grey smoke so thick, the Mayacamas Mountains that usually comprised our view were completely gone. I was constantly immersed in Twitter looking for info on the Lakeville Fire just down the road, with very little success. There was fire to the north, just a few miles south, and just over the hill to the east.

As the day progressed, we learned that our friends who lived over the hill had been evacuated during the night to a shelter at the local high school in Sonoma. We were relieved that they were okay, but as the fire closed in on Sonoma, that relief wasn't the comfort it should have been. More were evacuated as the day wore on, some fleeing to the coast, others to the homes of friends or family,

We waited. We worried. We filled our gas tanks. We texted friends to check-in or offer a bed. We watched several of our neighbors flee with cars packed to the brim. We formulated a plan. I still recall feeling like I was in a horrible dream as my husband and I discussed our evacuation plan. He would take our daughter with him. We would drive towards the coast separately and then south to Berkeley where a friend's guest room was waiting for us.

News and rumors kept pouring in. If the fire reached Fremont Drive, there would be no defense. Nicholson Ranch was gone. Stornetta Dairy was obliterated. Gundlach-Bunschu, destroyed. The Robert Fergueson Observatory, where I attended lectures, gone. And on, and on, and on. Thankfully, the fire didn't reach Fremont Drive. Nicholson Ranch wasn't totally destroyed and Gundlach-Bunschu lost the family home, but the business remained in-tact. Stornetta Dairy was burned to the ground. The observatory had damage, but would see another day.

At last, we got the news that the Lakeville fire had stopped advancing a few miles away. We were going to be okay. The empty townhouses around us began to fill with evacuees. But fires still raged everywhere in Sonoma County. The first place that had felt like home since leaving our hometowns years ago, was being violently reduced to cinders.

A friend of mine was in Spain watching as the fire that had ripped down the mountain into her neighborhood, carried by a torrent of wind, obliterated every house in her neighborhood. Every single house ... but hers. She is actually why I am writing about this. Her name is Lisa Mattson and she is the author of The Exes In My Glass, a terrific story of love, wine, and lessons.

When Lisa and her husband returned home from Spain, they found their garage had burned, as had everything around the house. But, thanks to the Santa Rosa Fire Department, their home was still standing. They were probably the two luckiest people in Santa Rosa at that moment and they know it.

In the year since the fires raged, you can't go anywhere in Sonoma County without hearing stories of survival, recovery, and hardship. I remember standing in line at a fabric store last December in Rohnert Park when a customer and clerk, perfect strangers, began crying and hugging one another one the counter over their losses. The receptionist at my physical therapist confided to me her stress at trying to give her children Christmas when they had lost everything when they fled Coffey Park in the middle of the night.

I didn't lose a damn thing, but I can't drive past the fire damage or think about the fires without losing it. The homemade signs that stood on Sonoma Plaza after the town was rescued by fire fighters are still too much to even think about. Being so far away from Sonoma County now, during fire season brings an odd mix of relief and helplessness as part of me wishes I could stand with people there through this stressful period. So, when Lisa emailed me asking if I could help her do something for the survivors of last years fires, I knew it was the least I cold do.

Lisa is donating 100% of the proceeds of her book The Exes In My Glass to Sonoma Family Meal, an incredible organization that was born to feed first responders and evacuees. Nowadays, Sonoma Family Meal is feeding families who are still struggling to recover. Lisa's book is a lot of fun and I absolutely recommend it. And, with Christmas coming, it will make a spectacular gift for friends or family, while also giving nourishment to many people who are trying to rebuild lives so cruelly taken from them.

Click here for more info on Lisa's book as well as a link to buy her book.

MEET ERIN

I have been immersed in the magazine world since 2009, getting my start as the Food Editor for the...

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