A blaring loudspeaker roused Blanca Muñoz from bed at 2 a.m. Monday as a violent firestorm raced toward her Coffey Park neighborhood.
A police officer was ordering residents to flee — a command Muñoz did not immediately recognize because she doesn’t speak English.
Eventually, the scent of smoke reached her home, sending her into a panic. She rushed to wake her mother and son. In the next room, her sister and brother-in-law, who own the three-bedroom home, grabbed their baby and headed for the door.
“We didn’t know what to do,” said her mother, Joaquina Muñoz, 67. “We just walked around in circles not knowing what to grab.”
Sitting in the middle of Sebastopol’s Analy High School gymnasium Tuesday, one of three dozen emergency shelters in churches, high schools, fairgrounds and community centers spread throughout the county, the women talked about losing their home and belongings in the fire. Blanca Muñoz remained stoic, but her mother was upset and defeated.
“I haven’t slept in two nights,” Joaquina Muñoz said in Spanish, crying. “It’s the stress.”
Blanca Muñoz said it was difficult to explain to her 6-year-old son why they had to sleep in the shelter, which officials planned to shut down before lunchtime today, transferring evacuees to Santa Rosa. Muñoz said she and her family will move temporarily into a church.
The Muñoz family members were among the thousands seeking refuge in one of Sonoma County’s 36 open shelters Tuesday, where residents found sanctuary from the fires.
Tuesday evening, county officials said about 3,850 people were housed in shelters, but they expected that number to rise from several recent fire-related evacuations. The shelters have a combined capacity of more than 6,800 people, officials said.
Supervisor James Gore, whose north county district has been heavily impacted by the Tubbs and Pocket fires, visited multiple shelters Tuesday. In a late afternoon interview at the Finley Community Center on West College Avenue in Santa Rosa, Gore said he was “amazingly impressed” by the deployment of resources and how residents were coping.
One of Gore’s starkest observations extended beyond supplies or food.
“You can tell that people are not in a position where they can even wrap their heads around what is going on or how their life is going to be,” he said. “A lot of the conversations are just wanting more information.”
The Finley center had registered 250 people by late afternoon, according to shelter manager Roy Pitts of the American Red Cross. He did not know the maximum capacity, but said there was room for more.
Among those sheltered there were James and Denise Cannam, a couple who for the last several weeks had stayed at a Motel 6 on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa.
Sitting in a courtyard at the center with their 6-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, Grace, by their side, the Cannams described a frenzied evacuation from their motel room around 2:45 a.m. Monday. Denise Cannam, 59, said she awoke to the flashing lights and “blaring screeching” of a fire alarm, apparently triggered by heavy smoke from flames approaching Santa Rosa.
“I had a heart attack a year ago, and I thought I was going to have another one,” she recalled. “It scared the hell out of me.”
Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees
Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.
The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.
There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.