By day three of the Santa Rosa firestorm, the chaos, the frustration and the shortage of so many things was starting to take its toll. Many are tired of staying in shelters or on the couches of friends. Others are tired of being evacuated, some for the third or fourth time. Still others are just tired of the shortages, particularly of information.
For Dr. John Mackey, a Kaiser psychiatrist in Santa Rosa, Wednesday was another day of not knowing if he had a home.
“We thought for sure the first night that it was gone,” said Mackey, who lives off Bennett Ridge with his wife and three boys. But a neighbor reported to him on Tuesday that his house was still standing. Then the winds flared up, and the fire started to work its way back. As of Wednesday, it was unclear whether his residence had made it through the night.
“We still don’t know,” he said. “We can’t see it.” His area as well as the rest of Bennett Valley had been evacuated. And he found himself staying with friends in Santa Rosa, the third time he and his family had been relocated in three days. But he was keeping things in perspective. “It’s a hard time for so many people,” he said. “We are just grateful to have what we have right now.”
The Mackeys’ journey has been the story for many of us — moments of joy and hope interrupted by strong gusts of reality.
As the winds picked up on Wednesday, so did the evacuations — some advisory, some mandatory — in Bennett Valley, Geyserville, Oakmont and in pockets of Sonoma Valley. By late afternoon, a massive pillar of smoke could be seen from a slope above Annadel Heights, marking what appeared to be either a new fire or a new finger from the Nuns fire. It could be seen all the way downtown and caused some alarm, until it was reported to be part of a firing operation to slow the spread of the Bennett Valley fire. Either way, it was another reminder that this nightmare is far from over.
There has been little middle ground with this firestorm. I was reminded of this as I toured the moonscape devastation of Fountaingrove and Skyfarm on Wednesday. The contrasts could not be greater. Either trees were green or they were burned to the core. Either cars were scorched to their rims or they were on the curb ready for sale. Either people had a home or they did not. There was little in between.
On one stretch of Skyfarm Drive, all that remained of a multi-story house was a steel spiral staircase leading to nowhere and a sky-blue patio fountain. The house to the south was equally in shambles with the scarred hulls of two cars in the driveway. The same could be said of all the other houses along the ridge looking out over Fountaingrove Golf Course. But to the north was a two-story house that looked ready for a real estate magazine. No debris. No scars. Not a singe mark on the compost bin still upright on the back lawn. Bizarre.
Sanjay Dhar, a noted heart surgeon at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and Mona Dhar understand the terrible randomness of this fire all too well. They experienced the short end of its selective fury late Sunday after Mona returned from closing her restaurant, Pamposh Restaurant in Mission Plaza in Rincon Valley, for the night. She smelled smoke and began trying to figure out where it was coming from.