Kincade fire victims come back to homes damaged and destroyed
It was Monday afternoon and Meghan Dixon was “Monday morning quarterbacking,” as she put it. Standing on the baked hardpan of what once had been the front yard of her house near Healdsburg, gazing at the ash-covered remains of most of her earthly possessions, she engaged in a bit of second-guessing.
If she had it to do over again, said Dixon, a dispatcher at the Santa Rosa Police Department, she might grab two boxes of “memorabilia — some things from when I was younger.”
Working the graveyard shift on the morning of Oct. 9, 2017, Dixon was inundated with panicked calls from people in the path of the Tubbs fire, asking what they should do.
“Our phones were so inundated,” she recalled, “you couldn’t stay on the line. You basically had to just give ’em instruction and a small pep talk and hope they were able to heed your advice.”
Now, 25 months later, she said, “I’m the one standing in line, asking for services at the community center.”
The Tubbs fire took 22 l ives in Sonoma County and destroyed 5,400 homes. While it burned a larger area, the Kincade fire took a lighter toll: 174 homes, and no lives lost. This has been rightfully celebrated as a testament to improved preparation, and the skill and valor of first responders.
But those improved statistics are cold comfort to folks who returned to destroyed homes.
45 minutes to leave
On Oct. 24, with the Kincade blaze advancing down the western flanks of the Mayacamas Mountains, Dixon was given 45 minutes to take whatever she could rescue from her two-story rental house in Alexander Valley, just south of the Soda Rock Winery on Highway 128.
She took clothes, valuables, documents and some personal items — like a sleeping bag — that struck her, afterward, as odd. “It’s kind of a random thought process that you go through,” Dixon said.
On this golden afternoon two days after residents were allowed to return to the burn zone, Dixon thought about the contents of those boxes: ceramic figurines, Christmas ornaments, other mementos.
After evacuating that Thursday, then working a graveyard shift, she headed north to her brother’s place in Chico with her parents, who live in Occidental. They piled back into the car Saturday night — having learned west county was being evacuated — and headed back to Occidental to retrieve belongings.
They arrived around 10:30 p.m. With nowhere else to go, after helping her folks pack their cars, Dixon reported to work with her sleeping bag and Mr. Thumper, a 4-H rabbit owned by her niece, Maysen, who lives in Geyserville.
Around 3:30 Sunday morning, she got the news that her house was gone.
A dispatcher for 15 years, Dixon has learned to “compartmentalize” her emotions, she said. She kept a stiff upper lip, in the minutes after getting the awful news about her house. “And then I went for a walk.”
Her sorrow comes in waves, she said. Disaster survivors putting on a brave face sometimes describe lost possessions as “just stuff.”
Based on her work with many Tubbs fire survivors, Santa Rosa marriage and family therapist Doreen Van Leeuwen said losing a home and its contents, “is deeply impactful in many different ways, especially when it comes to things that can’t be replaced.”