A second trip through hell for Santa Rosa’s 2017 Coffey Park Tubbs fire survivors
One slender upside of having lost their homes two years ago is that, this time around, Tubbs fire survivors have the drill down.
When they got the mandatory order around 4:30 Sunday morning to evacuate their home in Coffey Park, Jeff and Stephanie Okrepkie took it in stride, almost. By now, they knew what to do next.
That was not the case early in the morning of October 9, 2017. “Our neighbor was yelling ‘Get out! The fire’s coming!’” he recalled. “We turned the corner, there was the fire, and that was all the warning we got.”
Since the Kincade fire erupted Wednesday night, Okrepkie, former president of the Santa Rosa neighborhood support group Coffey Strong, has manned an impromptu “command center” from his sofa, monitoring the National Weather Service, wind speeds, live cameras, Tweetdeck and a dozen tabs on his laptop. Inundating himself with information, he said, “Is a way for me to cope.”
While Okrepkie acknowledged he’s not in control of the situation, it gives him some measure of comfort to at least “have a grasp of the situation. I know what the realities are.”
Like Okrepkie, Tricia Woods lost her Coffey Park home two years ago. Unlike him, she stayed put when she heard the two-tone evacuation siren in Sunday’s pre-dawn hours.
“Right now I have a clear view of the fire incidents, and where the smoke is coming from,” said Woods at 10 a.m. Sunday, from the Hopper Avenue house to which she returned in May. “I’m plenty far away, and if I need to evacuate, I will,” she added, noting that her three children are safe in San Carlos, with their father.
Woods said she had no intention of putting firefighters at risk. “Their job is to fight the fire and if it’s coming this direction, and I will be gone long before they get here,” she said.
Both Woods and Okrepkie found it therapeutic to counsel, advise and reassure this week’s evacuees. On Twitter, @JeffOkrepkie has been a clearinghouse of advice and information on do’s and don’ts and helpful follows.
Triggered, like many fire survivors, by the proximity of the Kincade fire, Woods had moments earlier this week where she had to sit down “and just remember to breathe,” she said. The founder of Wine Wednesday, a weekly Coffey Park convocation, she called an audible Thursday, decreeing that there would be an emergency Wine Wednesday on Friday. And so it came to pass.
“We called it Wine With Friends on Friday,” Woods said.
As the flames have pressed closer, she has been stronger, more resolute. It’s helped her to reach out to friends in Healdsburg and Windsor and talk them through the evacuation process.
One woman phoned from her Lytton Springs Road home and told her, “I’m packed, the car’s backed into the driveway. Now what?”
After determining that the fire was at a safe distance, Woods told her friend to return to the house to collect Christmas ornaments, mementos, “things that aren’t life or death, but you’d be devastated to lose them.”
And while you’re doing that, she said, videotape every room, every drawer, every closet and cabinet. So when the insurance adjuster asks for a list of contents, “you just show ‘em the video.”
More surprising than her decision to evacuate in her own good time was Woods’ attitude toward her 5-month-old house, which she has no intention of trying to save with a garden hose, should it come to that.
“I’m not that attached to it,” she said of her casa. “I know how to build it, and I know where to find the stuff to put inside of it.”
After her home burned down in October 2017, Woods heard from a number of well-meaning people that what they’d lost was “just stuff.”
In reality, Woods said, “there were a lifetime’s worth of memories in that house.”
“This house is just stuff. As long as my kids and pets are out, I could walk away in the drop of a hat and not worry about a damn thing here,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Ausmurph88.