Saturday, September 2, 2017

It's a Crazy World

This post is originally from October 2017 but I moved it down a slot so that other sailing/chartering posts would float to the top.......  sv

What a strange week it has been.  As many of you know, Connie and I travel to California most Octobers to enjoy the warm weather and help out with the harvest.  I guess now I should say we travel to California for the fire season and participate in evacuations.

Last Sunday night the wind picked up and by midnight was blowing 40 mph, knocking down tree limbs and rattling the roof with acorns and pine cones.  A ladder fell over, lawn chairs went sailing, and roofing paper started to tear off our structure.  We had to secure doors and windows in the middle of the night.  We went outside to see the deer out in front of our building in the only clear area, munching on a feast of downed acorns.  Sleep was illusive.
Fires down the valley

Monday we found out from neighbors that the windstorm extended south all the way to the Bay area.  Downed power lines sparked fires all down the valley.  It has been a strange year, climate wise, in California.  They had lots of rain early in the season that brought a bumper crop of grasses.  Now these grasses are tinder dry after months without rain and are prime for burning.  About mid-day our friend returned from a reconnoiter across the hills with the news that a fire had started in the valley below and was burning out of control and in our direction.  We quickly put together we we needed to camp out for the night (and some beers) and headed down the mountain. 

Once on the valley floor we could see the smoke in the distance.  Following that smoke, we found the fire and cautiously approached.  Connie wanted to go away from the fire.  Her son Ezrah wanted to get closer.  We compromised.  We sat on a back road watching a line of flame running up hill north of town.  Our place was to the east so we breathed a sigh of relief.

Now that we knew where the fire was headed we felt we could go back up the hill. We did so, made our report, had dinner, and went to bed.

Tuesday was smokey and we spent the day monitoring the situation and trying to get a little work done.  The wind had turned southerly and evidently had driven the fire north. All afternoon we cold hear and see big planes overhead headed to the fire to "bomb" them with fire retardants.

Wednesday was still smokey.  By mid afternoon a neighbor came by and after a quick reconnoiter on the overlook above the property it was decided that we'd evacuate again as the fire was marching up the hill towards our area.  The three of us, Connie, Ezrah, and Scott, loaded up the truck again and drove down the hill.  On the way out we could see huge plumes of smoke and flame just below us in the foothills. At the bottom of the hill we joined a mass of cars and trucks and lots of folks who'd been flushed out of their remote properties by the smoke. Strange it was to stand on a dirt road with all those folks staring off to the north where huge plumes of smoke rolled into the sky.  Reluctantly we drove south out of the valley to the nearby town of Ukiah, emergency crews passing us going north to fight the fire.

In town, we filled the truck with gas then tried to find a hotel room.  Everything was booked.  We found the Red Cross shelter at the local high school and decided that was our best bet.  By then it was night so we settled into the school gymnasium.  Connie and I placed two cots together and covered them with blankets we'd brought.  Ezrah made his bed in the back of the pickup truck.  We had spaghetti for dinner along with the other refugees and later sat in the truck drinking wine and listening to the radio for fire updates.

Imagine a gymnasium full of people sleeping, or trying to sleep, on cots. Snoring. Coughing. Crying. Some of the people there were young trimmers run out of their temporary jobs by the fire. Others had fled their homes before they were consumed by fire.  Many sad people.  It was heartbreaking.

The Red Cross volunteers were so kind and had lots of information for us about where the fires were and what roads were closed.  It turns out that just after we made our exit from the valley the main road was closed to incoming traffic and a mandatory evacuation was in progress.  We got out just in time.  As we listened to the radio of a press conference at the local command center I was impressed with the professionalism of each presenter.  Each person made their agency report briefly,  thoroughly, and calmly.   Support was available for everyone.  Shelters for humans and animals were available.  Text, email, and phone alerts were in place.  Help poured in from all over the state and the country.

It struck me that this is how government is supposed to work.  This was so NOT like what we see on the national scene.  Nobody was tooting their own horn.  No criticism, no raised voices, no negativity.

Monkey in a diving bell
The next morning after breakfast at the shelter we packed our things up and headed south down highway 101.  In the car, we finally contacted our friend in the hills and he told us how just before nightfall a slew of big planes brought in a huge dump of fire retardant and stopped the advance of the fire up the hill toward his property.  Later, he watched the fire retreat to the south as the wind changed with the evening.

We drove through areas near Calistoga where fields and building on both sides of the highway were burned to the ground.  We saw blackened property in Santa Rosa and live fires to the east being doused by helicopters hauling huge bags of water.  It was smoky all the way south into the Bay area where we see many people wearing masks as they walk the streets.

Now we are stuck in a loop where we check the California Fire website and see that our entry road back up to the farm is still closed, then we wait for the next report.  Today Connie and I took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the waterfront in San Francisco and had a nice walk around in the crowds of tourists to see the sights and hear the sounds.  Bombarded with sounds and smells, it was quite overwhelming.  In a few hours we'd had enough of the big city and took transit back across the bay.

After the stress of living with the fire, and the stress of fleeing south, and the onslaught of all this city culture we are all three on edge.  Tempers are quick to flare.  I, myself, feel tired and want to just sit in the sun somewhere and think about nothing.  The good thing is that we found a soft place to land.  Connie found old friends just south of Oakland CA who has taken us in.  Alicia and Darin are providing us with needed distractions in their safe and comfortable home.

Tomorrow we'll check the road closures again.  If we can't get back to the farm we just might have to give it all up and drive back to Olympia, two weeks before planned.  Fires are burning all across California and in other states as well.  These California fires are more intense and more widespread than ever before.  While we'd considered buying some property in northern California, these fires have convinced us to stick with a wetter climate in Oregon or Washington.  Honestly, with all these extreme weather related events,I think it's time to figure out where the safest place is for us to be and to start moving towards creating a secure homestead for us and our loved ones.  Seriously, we're looking toward digging in (like with land... dirt) and find a land based property that will give us shelter in the unforgiving future that is our new reality.
Connie at Fisherman's Wharf



  1. Thinking about you everyday! Glad to hear you're all safe. Yes, come back! It's cool and damp.

  2. Dear Scott,
    So glad to hear that you are all okay, and grateful for this beautifully written letter.
    You paint the picture of your experience so vividly I can almost smell the smoke. I am so sorry for the impact this must be having on your plans, and for all those who have lost their homes.
    All the best,