Mary Jane Stevens concludes Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror during the Atlas Firestorm.
…continued from March 27th—
After hours waiting with a huge knot in my stomach, I heard from Bob. Away from the fire, off the hill and heading towards town he was relieved to be a survivor, not a victim. He said he was exhausted, coming down after a night fueled by adrenaline. Never have I been happier or more relieved to hear his voice. I felt as if I’d been holding my breath for hours. Finally I could breathe.
I told him to drive over to Carolyn’s house where, assuming a positive outcome, she had waited up for him. He could stay as long as he needed. He headed west, dodging burning debris and skirting around roadblocks. As he drove he told me what he had just lived through. I wished I could be there to hug him and tell him how glad I was that he was alive, unhurt.
After talking to Bob, Casey was the first person I called, happy to tell him his dad was okay. He was ecstatic to hear the news. He was not so thrilled, to hear that it was almost a certainty that our house would not make it through the fire. My next call was to Carolyn to let her know Bob was safe and on his way. I left a message for Kelly.
When Kelly turned on her phone Monday morning, she was bombarded with voicemails and texts containing grisly details about the fire and concern for her family, including some from me. Horrified and in tears, she called me immediately. She hadn’t listened to the message I left with the good news about the man she calls “Her cute little Daddy.” When I told her Bob had escaped, unscathed from the fire and was okay she cried tears of joy. After a moment she said “Oh no, does this mean your house is going to burn again? I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry for you guys.”
Later when I spoke to Casey I asked if he envisioned Bob’s body burned in the vineyard as I had. Just as I thought, he told me that was exactly what he had imagined. As a firefighter Casey’s seen the horror of being trapped by fire. Although he hasn’t spoken to me about how those things have affected him, I know he has hardened his heart so he can live with what he sees on the job. When he thought his dad might die in the fire his heart was anything but hard. I know neither of us has ever been afraid for a loved one as we were for Bob the night of the fire. We both teared up, relieved that Bob had been saved as the fire raged on.
Once the L.A. Fires were contained a strike force was formed to help with the Napa fire. Casey volunteered to be part of it but was not allowed to join. He was terribly disappointed. Determined to help us, he was able to contact a Captain friend, part of the strike force, on his way to Napa. He gave him our address and asked him to try to be assigned to fight the fire still burning there. Ultimately, he and his contingency from L.A. worked for several days, never taking a break, defending our home and our neighbors’.
I heard from a neighbor that one day, fourteen fire engines, one for every still intact home, several bulldozers and helicopters were trying to control the stubborn blaze. Boeing seven-forty-sevens were dumping water and retardant on the fire. Hot shots were digging fire lines as was a corps of bulldozers. I heard that Battalion Chief Garrett said, “They were going to put the nail in the coffin of the fire in Soda Canyon that day.” I prayed they would.
We got little specific information applying to Soda Canyon. I tried to manage my expectations by telling myself our home must have burned, surviving the inferno seemed impossible, but not knowing was driving me crazy. When I couldn’t stand it anymore began calling people who might have news. I phoned a neighbor who was in Reno. She picked up saying “Your home is still standing Mary Jane! My son didn’t evacuate and is staying at our house. He got word to me earlier today and our homes are okay.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. I burst into tears, delighted. The following day I received a photo of our unscathed home sent by a firefighter who’d been camping nightly in our driveway putting out stray embers. Seeing with my own eyes my home safe and sound was unmistakable proof.
We later heard that, initially, the command center wasn’t planning to send resources up Soda Canyon until Casey’s friend asked to be assigned to that specific location. It seems they were stretched so thin they only wanted to send firefighters to areas they were sure could be saved and ours was not on that list. Under those circumstances, why they allowed those men to work the fire by our home remains a mystery.
For many days the Atlas fire and others spawned by that blaze wreaked havoc across Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, people died and many lives are shattered.
Not one of the homes in Foss Valley at the top of Soda Canyon Road, including ours, was lost, thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, hotshots from around the country, fire-retardant and water dropping seven-forty-sevens and helicopters. I will be forever grateful to everyone who had a part in saving my husband and my home. I owe them so much. I’m blessed for such a positive outcome when so many are still suffering from terrible losses.
Many people assumed our home burned, and when I tell them it’s still standing they are as incredulous as I am. How did we ever get so lucky?
One explanation: it’s a miracle.