By Lloyd and Lesley Kahn
Saturday morning October 14th
We went to bed last Sunday night with no inkling of what was happening. About 3 AM, a fierce wind started blowing and we smelled smoke. At daybreak we learned that it came from fires some 60 miles away, mostly in neighboring Sonoma county. It’s been a grim week.
Everyone seems to know people or have relatives that have lost their homes. My brother was luckier than most with his farm in the Napa Valley: he lost a barn, tractor, Toyota Tacoma, and an accessory building, but his house was OK. He has 2,000 olive trees and they were not burned, but he’s not sure if they’ll be ruined by the smoke. It was his biggest crop ever.
Local radio stations have devoted large parts of their programs to the catastrophe; this morning there are 21 separate fires. There’s speculation they could have been started by 50 mile per hour northeastern winds knocking trees down onto power lines, exacerbated by a long drought, which weakened trees, followed by a wet year, a lot of vegetation and dry hot weather in recent months. The winds catapult embers along, and fires are said to outrun humans.
Refugees have flooded south. Many of them await news anxiously to see if their homes have been destroyed. This weekend looks ominous. Sunrise was a deep red this morning. We can smell smoke inside our house, and it’s coming from 60 miles away. The sky this morning looks like a science fiction movie of the apocalypse.
Fire and earthquakes have always been part of the California cycle. It’s the other side of our paradise of warm weather and fertile soil. In the old days, fires happened regularly, burning out underbrush periodically. The Native Americans incorporated it into their cycle, sometimes setting fires to clear brush so grass would grow and attract animals to hunt and to clear land for planting. These days we’re so good at preventing (most) fires that forests become tinder boxes of fuel.
While big storms can be tracked and predicted, fires strike with no warning—no time to plan, to get ready. Saving lives is of utmost importance, but homes, records, papers, and belongings will have to be resurrected or replaced in months and years to come.
Having worked for over 40 years in helping people build their own homes, our thoughts are with all those who will have to start rebuilding their lives. I wish there were some way we could communicate our experience in building small, simple homes to those who will be rebuilding. For those who do not have adequate insurance, it seems especially important to consider the advantages of scaling back and simplifying.
The effort of first responders continues to be truly inspirational. Even those who have themselves lost everything are participating in fighting to save the homes and lives of neighbors. Aid is being rushed in and will be needed for some time to come
Evacuees have been pouring into the small towns of West Marin. Local homeowners have taken people in, made soup, donated clothing and are helping in many ways. It’s heartening to see such actions.
The people will survive and new homes will rise out of the ashes.