The news media, we might agree, can blow things out of proportion. And sometimes the opposite is true; the press can struggle to convey the true scope and scale of a catastrophe.
This is a case of the latter. What the firestorms that struck in the darkness late Sunday night and early Monday have inflicted so far is war-like, so vastly devastating that it’s beyond comprehension.
Like you, I’ve seen the photos and videos and read and heard the descriptions and interviews. As harrowing as they are, it was ghastlier and more overwhelming to see some of the ravaged areas of Santa Rosa on a drive with a Sonoma County deputy sheriff, Ken Konopa.
IT’S THE PEOPLE who come to mind when you stand before what days ago were the bustling Estancia Apartments near the damaged Cardinal Newman High School, the Pacific Heights neighborhood just northeast of the damaged Burbank Center, the expansive Coffey Park and Fountaingrove neighborhoods and the Journey’s End mobile home park 101 that survived a similar wildfire in 1964 but not this one.
At all these places, one residence after another, block after block, lay incinerated. Trees and other vegetation were flash-killed, the skeletons of cars were baked clean.
On Tuesday, a few of the people who’d fled the inferno were back at the remains of their homes, absorbing the reality or sifting for something treasured. Everyone else was gone, to shelters or the homes of relatives or friends, who knows where.
THEIR LIVES, and the lives of the thousands of others who’ve lost homes in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and other counties suddenly are in extreme chaos. Just the basics of what weighs on them is daunting: Where will they live? How will they afford this disaster? Can they rebuild? Should they?
Gaze at a neighborhood laid to waste and the mind races to imagine who lived there and what each of them lost and what personal and family crises each deals with above and beyond the obvious.
This community of ours has grandly and valiantly reached out to help everyone who ran as the flames bore down on them and everyone who evacuated and may or may not know if their homes survived.
We need to resolve to hang in for the long haul, and to give all that we can. Emergency shelter and food, clothing, medical and veterinary care and such are essential today, but soon at least some of the people who lived in neighborhoods that look now to have witnessed the apocalypse will need long-term housing, financial assistance and all sorts of serious help to lift their lives from the ashes.
I VISITED, on that heartbreaking tour, entire neighborhoods that I can only hope to live long enough to see restored. As Deputy Konopa and I went, police-radio traffic about new evacuations and spot fires reminded us that this disaster isn’t yet over.
We drove by Cloverleaf Ranch, the horseback camp and stables I wrote about less than a month ago as the DeGrange family celebrated the ranch’s 70th anniversary. We saw that it’s in ruins.
In the past I’ve remarked on occasion that certain troubling events weren’t as bad as they seemed in the media. The reality of these fires, I would say from the stunned and suffering city of Santa Rosa, is worse.