After the fire


Lenita Marie Johnson, Staff Writer

For more than a month my life has been consumed by the Tubbs Fire here in California, Wine Country. The initial shock and fear were poignant and soon morphed into disbelief and horror. Many people I know locally shared these same feelings based on this unbelievable experience.

I was one of many forced to evacuate leaving my home in Santa Rosa for shelter near then coast. I stayed with a friend, and felt safe for several days. Watching the news was not an option. I already knew what the reporters and newscasters were saying about the calamity. I didn’t need to watch it on live television. It was challenging not to give in and fall victim to fear.

I was concerned for my friends, classmates and neighbors. This developed into wondering how those I didn’t know in my community were faring. I made a few calls to dear friends and was relieved that everyone I contacted answered their phones. Even those who had lost their homes, like Larkfield residents Kirk and Pat Veale, who I am very close to. I informed my family in Chicago, Florida and along the East Coast that I was doing OK on a regular basis.

In the days afterward, I felt shell-shocked. Sleeping at night was challenging, even though I knew I was safe to some degree. The news reported the fires were raging, and I was worried that the fire was at Howarth Park and Spring Lake, minutes from where I live. There was a brief respite when it rained one day.

Yet that wasn’t enough. So much damage had already been done throughout the area. Homes were destroyed, lives lost. My feelings wavered from knowing I was OK to absolute dread of what may have happened to my home. Eventually I knew it was time to return to Santa Rosa. Little did I know what I was about to encounter.

Restaurants, stores and places I knew well were devastated and burnt to the ground. I felt a degree of safety  when I went to my church and was surrounded by my community—people I’ve grown close to. While my Pastor and his family were safe, some in the congregation had lost their homes, including my friend Chavette, the church secretary.

One of my dear friends – who is like a sister to me – suggested we eventually go to areas where the fire had been contained. What was she thinking? How could we step into that space, literally, and come out OK? I decided to swallow my trepidation and go with her.

It began to feel eerie, like an episode of the Outer Limits or a really scary horror movie. I was so grateful that one of the homes we witnessed wasn’t mine. It seemed selfish, yet there was such relief when we arrived at my home.I feel sorrow for those who lost homes they had worked so hard to obtain. I had to come to grips with the fact that the business people I know will move on, as will our community.

One day at a time.