Tag Archives: Napa fires

Part 3 It’s a Miracle

Mary Jane Stevens concludes Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror during the Atlas Firestorm.

…continued from March 27th—

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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’.

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climatechangenews.com

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.”

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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.

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Rameses B- Bandcamp

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Battle Lines

Author Nathaniel “Bob” Winters observes details of the battle to put out October’s fires.

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newsteller.org

Battle Lines

by Nathaniel R. (Bob) Winters

10/16/17   Yesterday my wife and I drove up the Napa Valley headed back to St Helena after a five- day evacuation from smoke and fire. On arriving at Oakville, we discovered the fire was burning over the ridge-tops and raging down the mountains towards our home.

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fireaviation.com

Through our windshield, we could see two choppers  filling up water into huge buckets then dumping it onto the flames. Two large fixed wing aircraft were also attacking with retardant.

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fireaviation.com

The battle goes on. The winds have calmed down and the “powers that be” believe we are safe. I hope they are right.

This morning I masked up and took Rue for a walk, watching the two choppers continue the fight. I flashed back to other another battle line in Nam.

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thoughtco.com

But luckier than in Nam,  the weather men are forecasting rain Thursday, the first winter wet-down after our usual summer drought.

It  appears some prayers are about to be answered. “They” say there are no atheists in foxholes…. This “not quite kosher” guy is not so sure about prayer, but it couldn’t hurt!

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Fire Season, Students

Thicker Than Smoke

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westernfarmpress.com

Thicker than Smoke

by Nathaniel Robert Winters

This morning as Rue and I walked the mile-long trail through vineyards from the library to the bone dry Napa River, I realized just how lucky we were. Smokey haze had been replaced with clean air for the first time since the Sunday night our fiery ordeal started. Overnight, light, moist ocean breezes blew the evil air out of the valley.  Puffy cumulus clouds dotted the blue, sunshiny sky. Up north over Mount St. Helena, darker stratus clouds promised rain. Our little town of St. Helena appears to have been spared.

 

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visitcalifornia.com

In the midst of all the devastation, I want to share two happy stories. Last Tuesday my wife Colleen, our friend Mary, Rue and I evacuated to San Francisco. We stopped for lunch on Clement Street, still weighing our options as to which family or friends to impose ourselves upon. After eating, while Colleen and Mary still conversed, I took Rue outside and came upon a couple smooching.

images-7I asked, “Excuse me, do you two know each other?”

The lady laughingly said, “Yeah… I think so.”

That started a conversation where I explained that we had come down from the fire. They left wishing me luck. A few minutes later the woman came back and gave me her number and invited us to stay at their unoccupied apartment in Berkeley. While I told her we had other options, I was taken aback by their generosity. “Thank you so much,” was all I could say.

Last night we went out for dinner at Market in downtown St. Helena. In the back a large group of tables was filled with a group of firefighters from San Diego the restaurant had been feeding all week. This was their last night after ten days of twelve-hour shifts. As they stood to leave, after taking pictures, the patrons and staff gave the first responders a standing ovation. They and the other firefighters had saved our town.

On our way out, I noticed a sign on the window that said,  “The love is thicker than the smoke.”

Indeed.

 

10/22/17     Nathaniel Robert Winters

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From Hell

Prolific Napa Valley novelist, poet and memoirist, Nathaniel R. Bob Winters,  shares his impressions from the night of fire. Bob’s second book of poetry, Another Revolution, is now available.

 

From Hell

Nathaniel R. Bob Winters

Flames surround us

here in Saint Helena

north in Calistoga and over

the redwood pass in Santa Rosa

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Flames surrounds us

south in the vineyard hills above Napa

southwest in the Valley of the Moon

smoke is suffocating thick as syrup

 

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Flames surround us

the land I love my Eden is on fire

Should we stay or should we go?

Electric power, phones, internet is out

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Flames from hell surrounds us

We pack one car—leave the other

What to take–what to leave?

Whatever—we flee to San Francisco

 

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Flames over Napa Valley October 9, 2017   Photo by Cathy Carsell katiyakarma@yahoo.com

Thanks to all the photographers who documented the devastation and the outpouring of love  and helping hands.    ~AM

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