The Santa Clara University women’s soccer team was flying south late the night of Oct. 8 after a game with Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, when sophomore striker Maddy Gonzalez saw the fires from 35,000 feet in the air.
“It was like a horror film,” she said. “I didn’t know it was Santa Rosa.”
She also didn’t know it was her home.
Gonzalez, the three-time All-Empire Player of the Year in soccer while playing for Maria Carrillo, was more than halfway through her sophomore season with the Broncos. She had scored five goals in 15 games and the Broncos were 8-6-1 overall and 3-1 in the West Coast Conference.
When the plane landed, Gonzalez’s phone rang. It was Maddy’s mom, Sally.
“My mom calls me, ‘Hey we are being evacuated. Do you want anything from your room?” Gonzalez said.
She doesn’t remember feeling anything urgent. She told her mom to grab a small plaque with the allegorical poem about Jesus and footprints in the sand that her grandmother had given her.
“Everything else will be fine,” she thought.
But things in Santa Rosa were increasingly chaotic.
Sally Gonzalez had arranged a meeting spot on Old Redwood Highway with Maddy’s younger sister, Kitana, who was a senior on the Maria Carrillo soccer team. Kitana Gonzalez had been out of the house when the fires started and when she tried to return, emergency crews turned her back.
Sally Gonzalez grabbed a few things from around the house: Kitana’s homework, Maddy’s plaque and some dirty clothes. She headed for the door.
“The minute I unlocked our latch, the door blew back into the wall,” Sally Gonzalez said.
The wind was howling. She thought it was snowing.
“But it was ashes,” she said.
Sally Gonzalez drove west to meet Kitana. Maddy and Kitana’s dad, Rudy Gonzalez, headed south on Cross Creek Road and turned left on Thomas Lake Harris Drive before heading east over Fountaingrove Parkway. When he hit the peak he looked back.
“You could see all the mountain coming,” he said. “By then it looked so bad I thought there is no chance my house is going to survive.”
After Sally Gonzalez reunited with Kitana, she called Maddy in Santa Clara to tell her what she knew in her gut: Everything was gone. The Gonzalez’s home on Linda Lane off Riebli Road burned down in the wildfires that killed 24 people and destroyed 5,334 homes in Sonoma County.
“I pretty much lost it,” Maddy remembered.
It’s been one year since Gonzalez got that call from her mom, telling her that everything she had grown up with was gone. Middle school yearbooks, soccer trophies, her favorite Christmas sweater, all gone. Even a year later, it’s still happening – that realization that something you thought you’d have forever is no longer.
“Sometimes I still dream about it,” she said. “Everything was in that room: My teenage years, my childhood years, pictures in there. What’s going through my head is I’m never going to see my baby pictures again.”
But from the moment that Sally and Rudy Gonzalez realized their family home was gone, they urged Maddy to stay in Santa Clara. They almost forbade her from coming north. She was in the middle of her sophomore season and was a crucial piece of the Broncos’ starting 11.