I’m not sure how many of you have heard about the Tubbs Fire in Northern California this past month? The fire started Sunday October 8 during the evening and raged out of control for days. There were fires all throughout Sonoma and Napa County. According to the Press Democrat, the local Santa Rosa paper, as of Oct 18, “103,285 acres throughout Napa and Sonoma counties [have burned]and the death toll had reached 42 people.”
I know natural disasters happen all over the world, every day, but this one hit home for me, literally. I was born and raised in Santa Rosa. I want to preface this by saying that my family and most of my friends have since moved away. I lived in two different neighborhoods from the ages of 6 to 17. Within one evening, both of those neighborhoods burned to the ground. By “burned to the ground,” I literally mean ashes, war-zone-type ashes. Within days, it was confirmed that part of my high school as well as my elementary school had burned. Silly things like the 7-11 where I went to for Slurpees before attending after-school sports burned down. I haven’t lived there in nearly 20 years, but as the first videos of the fires hit the Internet, I was left with shock and tears of sadness. My whole childhood was spent in that town and now, in moments, it no longer existed.
The first week of the fire, I found myself numb. I would wake up wondering if it was a bad dream, or if the fires were the new reality. I couldn’t imagine what the families must be going through. I found out that the house I grew up in had recently sold to a new owner; I wondered if the new owners had already moved in. I wondered how the previous owners felt. Were they relieved it wasn’t them or did they feel some sort of guilt for escaping the fires? And then the personal questions came. Should I be so emotional about watching the houses burn? Do I have some sort of claim, even though it’s not really my house anymore? And then I realized I could never take my youngest child to see where I had grown up. As that thought lingered, it made me think about existing. If the houses and my schools didn’t exist, did my childhood exist? How would my memories still exist in an area that didn’t exist anymore?
With only pictures left of my homes and my childhood, there’s a sense of mourning for that city. There is a sadness that I can’t express for the destruction of the beauty of the area. There have since been reconnections with long-lost friends from high school as we reached out to see who still lived there, and whose families were affected. There were sighs of relief as we realized many of us had moved away and so had our families, and there were moments of fear for those still there and awaiting evacuation.
As I surfed the Internet, one shocking photo was of some wooden box-looking things that I later realized were wood shells with metal grids on them, used for sifting through the ashes to find personal belongings. One picture I saw was of a friend’s parent’s home. It was an image of the dirt on the ground and about 12 metal-looking containers. When I asked what the containers were, I was told it was all they could find in the debris. It was all that was left of their belongings.
The devastation is immense and the sadness is overwhelming but then there are posts on Instagram as the town rallies together to support each other, saying, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.” And so I’m left to wonder how these fires will change all of us. How will the victims pick up their lives from the ashes? What is God calling them to in this? I will await the glory stories. I will await the exciting news as lives are impacted for the better. I will wait for the smoke to clear and sift through the ashes inside my own soul and my own memories.
I know that God will bring miracles from these ashes. I know he will bring comfort in the midst of tragedy. I just wonder what all that will look like.
Have you had similar situations in your lives? How did you start to put the pieces back together?
Copyright 2017 Courtney Vallejo