A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Bear Cubs outfielder and pitcher Alex Leopard strikes out the side to close out the 21-9 victory against College of Marin on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023 in Santa Rosa.
Bear Cubs Spotlight: Alex Leopard
Oliver Kindt, Sports Reporter • February 26, 2024
An additional four to six-week delay faces students who have already submitted their FAFSA for 2024-2025 academic year.
FAFSA Updates Result in More Delays
Amy Moore, Reporter • February 14, 2024

The fire guided me through the dark

Co-Editor-in-Chief+James+Wyatt+shoots+footage+of+the+devastation+from+a+fallen+shopping+center+in+Fountaingrove+as+the+ashes+still+smoldered+on+Oct.+10.
Albert Gregory
Co-Editor-in-Chief James Wyatt shoots footage of the devastation from a fallen shopping center in Fountaingrove as the ashes still smoldered on Oct. 10.

I was depressed with my life before the wildfires reduced a vast majority of Santa Rosa to scorched earth.

I questioned whether studying journalism was the right career path for me. My parents are both public servants, and it felt like anything less than heroism or helping the community wouldn’t suffice for a rewarding career.

When I was young, the courage of their work defined them as heroes. Helping people during their darkest times seemed like the most rewarding feeling to me, and I felt pressured to find a career resembling that.

As I grew older I found aspects of valor in journalism, but doubted its importance compared to first responders.

The question of journalism’s impact rattled through my head.

Hours before the fire, my depression reached a tipping point. I sat in my car, emotional and lost, trying to escape from everything I felt. However, my sister wouldn’t let me.

I put my life on hold because I lacked selfconfidence. I let fear limit my emotional capacity to accept the changes that needed to be made in my life.

My sister calmed me down. She asked what my plan was moving forward and helped me put my life in a perspective. I had no answers, but she told me that tomorrow is a new day.

At 12:53 a.m. I received a call. It woke me up, but I didn’t answer. Then a text came in from someone else that read: “Wikiup is on fire, are you ok?” I looked out my window and saw the orange glow of the flames heading over the hill towards my house.

The worries and depression I felt hours before suddenly became inconsequential. I sprang into action, woke up my family, drove closer to the fire and saw the flames creep over the hills. I reported to the neighbors who were standing outside, questioning what to do.

Propane tanks were exploding only a mile from my home. It really was time to evacuate. My family and I grabbed the dogs, our photos, my mom’s jewelry and a small bag of clothes. We situated ourselves for the night in Healdsburg.

All I could think about was the fire and how it was encroaching on my home. Little did I know my childhood home in Coffey Park was burning down and thousands were suffering.

Following the devastation, I knew it was my chance, as well as my responsibility, to provide pertinent news to my community. I was the source to report on the wildfires’ destruction and to inform people of the truth. In one night a firestorm devoured my city and provided me the opportunity to see how truly important the news is. Suddenly, being a journalist began to have real purpose for me, and it slowly pulled me out of the depression.

The Tubbs fire torched my childhood home to nothing but a graveyard of houses marked with chimney headstones. The sites of my daily commute to Santa Rosa now resemble a ravaged war zone.

For 15 years, I’ve driven past the same landmarks nearly everyday. Fountaingrove, once a developed housing area is now rubble and ash. The mountainside that used to light up with houses at night has returned to an unrecognizable state of darkness.

I became familiar with the desolation and destruction I saw in Coffey Park and Fountaingrove while photographing for the Oak Leaf. I’m reminded of what could happen to me and my family.

It drove me to know more about the fire. The more information I gathered, the more I could relay to the ones I loved. I began to attend the daily press conferences and ask questions to our local authorities battling the wildfires.

After two weeks of covering wildfires, I’m exhausted, yet I no longer feel depressed. I no longer question journalism’s impact on society. When the wildfires burned down my city, it instilled in me a new passion for my life to build upon in the future.

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About the Contributors
James Wyatt, Staff Writer
Albert Gregory, Managing Editor

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