Readers offer stories, lessons from firestorm

Volunteer Jasmine Flores sorts through thousands of donated items for fire evacuees at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)


An unsung hero

EDITOR: My son, Lauren Goodman, lost his home early Monday. He lived on a hillside on the property of Paradise Ridge Winery in a refurbished 150-year-old farmhouse.

After awakening when his 6-week-old son awoke to nurse, and, smelling smoke, he went outside to investigate and saw evidence of the advancing Tubbs fire just beginning to curl over the ridgetop. By the time he had collected belongings and evacuated his family, flames engulfed the winery. He packed his family into one of their two cars with instructions to meet him at his mom’s home five miles away.

But he didn’t stop there. He ran 100 yards to the home of a woman living a bit higher on the property. It was 2 a.m. The lights were out, but her car was in front. He banged on the door. His sleepy neighbor refused to open. He yelled and pointed, and threatened to break the glass, and finally she responded. Yanking her out of the cottage, he showed her the flaming ridgetop, and got her, after collecting a few belongings, into her car and on her way. He then raced to his vehicle and started the winding mile down the hillside.

As he approached Redwood Avenue near Cardinal Newman High School, he suddenly realized he’d failed to check on another neighbor, a 91-year-old non-driving friend farther down the ridge. With flames visible and howling 50 mph whipping winds, he turned around.

Repeating the process, he banged on her door. Flames were now visible coming down the slope toward their homes. He awoke his elderly friend, and she quickly gathered a few things, but refused to come until she had collected her three dogs. They were “un-cooperative,” he said.

As the flames approached, and with embers in the air, he finally carried his neighbor out of her house and into the car. With flames less than 100 yards away, they drove down the road.

Lauren is one of the unsung heroes of this tragedy. He has lost the home where both of his sons were born, the only home they have known.

This is but one of the tales of feats that will emerge form the ashes of one of nature’s terrible tragedies.



Slept past evacuation

EDITOR: The power went out about 10:30 p.m. I figured that was my sign to go to bed. Sometime during the night, I woke up to a loud noise outside. I fell back asleep.

The next morning, Monday, I woke up at 7 a.m. and noticed that the power was still off. I went outside to get the paper. But no paper. Strange.

Then I looked across the street and couldn’t believe my eyes. The historic oak tree on the corner had been split in two —and most of the tree was on the ground. What a tragedy. It was a magnificent tree and must have been a couple hundred years old. The noise I heard in the middle of the night must have been the tree.

After breakfast, I decided to go play some pickleball. When I got to the courts, they were empty, and there were no cars in the normally busy parking lot. I heard a squawk from an emergency vehicle, then a loud speaker from a police car. “Emergency. This is a mandatory evacuation. You must leave. Right now.”

It took me a moment to process this new information. Then I looked to the northwest. What I had assumed was a normal morning fog was really a dark cloud of smoke coming from the direction of northeast Santa Rosa.

Thousands of acres had already been consumed by the fires.

I ended up at the emergency shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

All in all, I could not have been more impressed by the overall organization and the services provided by the emergency shelter. I asked about the sleeping arrangements. A volunteer informed me that they were trying to reserve the cots inside the building for the elderly and persons who did not have a car. Anyone with a car was being asked to sleep in the car because of the limited space for the 1,000 or so persons at the shelter.

That night I received a blanket and a pillow and headed for my car. It was a little cramped but not bad — for a car.


Santa Rosa

Children on duty

EDITOR: We, here in Petaluma, are out of harm’s way, but we are close enough to see, smell, feel and taste the air and ash. And everywhere we turn there are souls whose homes have burned, loved ones injured, lost or dead, and nearby shelters are at full capacity.

Two of my sons, both local police officers, were on duty before and during the fires and engaged in life-saving priorities such as door-to-door knocks, banging, using sirens and megaphones, and even running into burning homes in hopes of awakening and evacuating as many families and persons as possible. Sadly, we are now learning that even these extreme measures couldn’t save those now being reported among the dead or the missing.

As with all deputies and officers in the county (and many more brought in from surrounding counties), both have been working grueling, extended hours. Both have thought they may not live through a few moments of raging fire encounters while engaged in rescue efforts.

Soon after the breakout of the fires late Sunday night, my youngest son, Westin, rushed to the house where he rented a room in the Brush Creek area in Santa Rosa and was just in time to get a few of his valuables out and roust the owners, who would have surely perished had he not raced back in his police vehicle. As with so many of the neighbors, they had no idea of the impending catastrophe. They were fortunate to get out with only minutes to spare before their property was decimated. That neighborhood was one of the many in the area that literally is no more.

Our Petaluma home has since been refuge to two families (seven people and three dogs) displaced during the first night, and it continues to shelter my oldest son, Dane, and his wife, Melody, as their Santa Rosa neighborhood is one of those under strict evacuation orders. This scenario is typical of thousands playing out around the county.

Having three sons engaged in the life-saving services (fire, rescue and law-enforcement), gives me a renewed sense of respect and admiration for all those engaged in saving lives and property. I am so proud to be associated with the quality of young men and women who are so willing to put their lives on the line to serve and save others. Bless them, pray for their renewed strength and safety, and give them a wave next time you see them pass by. We don’t have better friends, or heroes, for that matter.



Bringing out the best

EDITOR: This was an equal opportunity fire, which torched wealthy homes in Fountaingrove, low-income folks in trailer parks and middle class folks in Coffey Park. It didn’t ask who you voted for in the last election and certainly didn’t care what religion you practice. Funny how Mother Nature treats everyone the same, because we are all the same to her.

All natural forces are color-blind and are equal opportunity destroyers when they are unleashed. And it is most interesting that when we witness her awesome display of unstoppable power, our natural forces of goodness, light and love emerge from that deep place within us that states the truth, “We are all in this together, and we will get through this together.”

I woke up Monday morning to the shocking news of entire neighborhoods being destroyed in Santa Rosa in the middle of the night. I promptly went down to the Sebastopol Community Center figuring they would need help setting up to receive people as an evacuation center. When I got there at 8 a.m., it was already full of people, and the emergency response team was fully staffed and functioning with hot coffee, water, breakfast food, cots, porta-potties and volunteers everywhere. Already empathy had been invoked and people showed up ready to help. And, just like Mother Nature, no one asked about a person’s politics, religion, race and immigration status. Volunteers were proud and happy to give assistance to folks they had never met.

Hurray for all of us displaying our love so freely and bravely. I think of those who shielded loved ones in the Las Vegas shooting; I cheer for those who ran knocking on doors through burning embers to awaken their neighbors; I marvel at the immediate and generous support from folks who may not have a lot to offer but still offer everything they can to help. Dear friends and neighbors, we are all kind loving people when it comes down to it, and we are all in this together. Thank you all for taking action based on your finest natural qualities of goodness, light and love. We WILL get through this together.