At 9 p.m. on Oct. 8, many California wine country residents headed to bed, unaware of the uncontrollable and raging fires that had that would soon threaten their homes. Hours later, many of them were pulled out of their beds by firefighters and family members to evacuate the area. As of now, more than 20,000 residents from multiple towns throughout Northern California have been evacuated.
Among them was Margaret Fotinos, manager of Fotinos Vineyard, who packed up what few belongings she could and piled her family in the car before evacuating her house in Sonoma Valley at 4 a.m. on Oct. 9.
According to Fotinos, she heard the wind howling loudly all night but never expected there to be such consequences for the wind. At 3:30 a.m., she heard pounding at her door and found her mother, who had been evacuated from her home on North Castle Road a few minutes earlier. She pulled her daughter and several of her friends out of their beds and proceeded to the meeting point where she found many of her fellow Sonoma residents, all in a state of panic.
“There was a lot of confusion about what was happening in Sonoma,” Fotinos said. “We were informed that there was a fire in Santa Rosa and in the Carneros Region. I knew that the strong winds could push the fire over the hill and towards Sonoma, so I made the call to evacuate because I knew that the fire could come over the hill.”
Fotinos drove back to her house, packed up whatever she could and left before the fires could trap her and her family in Sonoma. As she and her family drove towards Petaluma, they witnessed one of the many fires beside the road on the Sonoma Raceway.
“I was afraid the firemen would turn us back around, but I kept going because I had all these kids with me and I wanted to get them home safe to their families,” Fotinos said.
Her daughter, Maria Morearty, describes the sight of the fires as a terrifying experience, and one she won’t easily forget.
“The entire hill to our left was engulfed in flames and it was slowly creeping towards us,” Morearty said. Minutes after we drove past the fire, we heard on the radio that the highway had been closed. If we had been there a few minutes later we would have been trapped by the fires.”
Morearty explains that the sky was bright red, almost as if the sun was rising all across the horizon. She describes the air smelling like she was standing right next to a campfire and that as her family drove through Corte Madera, the smoke continued to thicken and it became increasingly harder to breathe even from inside the car.
“It wasn’t just the evacuation that was hard, but not knowing what would happen to our house and our vineyard, both of which were just blocks away from the fires,” Morearty said.
Another Northern California resident, junior Liesl Shoenstein, has also felt the “ripple effect” of the devastating fires from her home in San Anselmo. Shoenstein currently attends Drake High School and has been kept from going to school due to the unhealthy air quality and the lack of teachers. Several teachers are confined to their homes to take care of their children whose schools have burnt down or no longer have a home to return to.
“Lately everyone has been having feelings of disbelief and terror,” Shoenstein said, “Everyone has been telling us to be prepared to pack up and leave.”
Over the course of less than a week, Shoenstein’s environment has changed drastically due to the hundreds of fires currently raging throughout nearby towns.
“There is smoke hanging in the air and piles of ashes all over the ground and on top of cars,” she said.
Shoenstein adds that walking to school one day, a car drove by, sending ash flying through the air and going in her eyes, temporarily blinding her for a few minutes. The aftermath of the fires has clearly been devastating to thousands of people across Northern California.
However, all throughout Northern California, people are working to repair the immense damage done caused by the fires. Shoenstein explains that many of her fellow students are currently housing people who have lost their homes.
Fotinos also describes the incredible resilience of the people of Sonoma and other affected regions and the kindness community members are extending to each other.
“I have no doubt that everyone will bounce back from this horrible incident,” Fotinos said. “There will be challenges ahead, but we will come back from this.”