After the Fires in California_We need you

Before the fires. Lush green mosses and ferns cover the trees during the rainy season in Sugarloaf State Park, California, which lies at the top of the Nunn’s Canyon area off Highway 12 in Sonoma, heart of the Nunn’s Canyon fire that also took out a lot of Glen Ellen. I wonder what it looks like now…

It raged, hot and infernal, consuming everything in its path, this fire-

In just moments, all was gone – houses, cars, memorabilia, furniture, cars, keepsakes, the stuff of lives lived, for so many. Most escaped with their lives, some with barely the skin on their backs. Now, they need everything – from underwear to shoes, hair combs to shampoo, to roofs over their heads, to food in their stomachs. Please do what you can to help via any one of the relief funds out there. Sonoma and Napa county residents thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support. Here’s one link to a fire relief fund from my local credit union – it will help all four counties, because even Mendocino and Lake County were affected by fires that fateful weekend. 

The land looks like a war zone in places, houses reduced to rubble and ashes. Along Highway 12, about 13 wineries were affected, some completely destroyed, others in limbo as they can’t get to their last tons of grapes on their vines due to closures. It’s truly a mess, and it’s a domino effect. Two large hotels burned, about 13 wineries along Highway 12 into Sonoma were affected in various degrees, and all those employees lose their jobs temporarily, and many of them lost their homes at the same time, a double whammy! 

But in talking with so many supportive friends, I realized that the media coverage may have you all thinking that everything burned to a crisp. Not true! Not ALL of Sonoma or Napa or the town of Santa Rosa burned to the ground. So much is still standing, still functional, and we need to get the word out that we are all open for business. Please spread the word. We need your help. Come visit us, visit all the areas that didn’t burn, visit our coastlines, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, drink our wine.  And don’t feel guilty about spending your vacation days in a luxury hotel or campsite (!) when so many are dealing with such losses. We need your money, to put it bluntly. And the counties will rebuild. Resilience is a wonderful thing. 

On the side of Nature, the hillsides and forests that burned are dull and scorched, the understory consumed in the flames. This in the end is a good thing, to clear out some of the ‘fuel’ that controls fires. And our native oaks and bay trees were designed to withstand heat/scorching, so all are not lost; and in a short time, with our winter rains, our hillsides will ‘green up’ again, the wildflowers will burst forth to show us that Nature is healing, and if enough rain, we may even have a bumper year for wildflowers, ironically, in burned and disturbed areas.  The trees will send out new shoots, the pine cones that needed fire have distributed their seeds, and the scars of fire will be covered in green mosses in the forests. In time, those that lost much will heal, and renew, too, but it will take longer than a season, I’m afraid. 

There were mixed messages during how it all began, at first, but it appears that with 10% or less humidity during a hot dry spell, small fires broke out here and there during that fateful Saturday afternoon, and stiff winds just whipped them up into bigger fires until power transformers were exploding on poles and adding to the fires. My partner saw flashes all over the hillside in the near distance Saturday evening, and thought it was dry lightning at first but later learned it was likely the transformers exploding on burning power poles. Locals escaping the firestorm said it was like ‘mortar fire’ the way the transformers were popping. yikes!

I was in Slovenia about to lead my photo tour, and I was stunned beyond belief with the breaking news via texts from my partner. I was helpless, as were friends from my area that were with me on the tour; we couldn’t go home, that wouldn’t help, but nor did we feel right having fun and being creative at first, with so much hanging in the unknown. And then we felt guilty – when we learned that our homes were spared. It’s normal to feel that way, but what an emotional milkshake it was for us the first few days. Returning last Thursday evening, to rain, the air was thick with an acrid smell, like a wet old campfire, but oh how welcome that rain was! And it put us on top of getting the fires under control, which are now mostly 90% and higher contained. finally. Now, let’s hope for more rain to keep our land moist and soggy and protected.

The blog picture below is of a vineyard below Nunn’s Canyon road east of Santa Rosa. I don’t know exactly what it looks like now, but I do know areas along Highway 12 did not fare well, especially the town of Glen Ellen. But even businesses that were spared in Glen Ellen are again opening for business! There was no pattern to this fire, as sustained winds of 35-50mph with gusts to 78 mph in some areas scattered the embers in many directions almost simultaneously, as if a dragon breathed across the land while swaying it’s head back and forth. Unfathomable.

And as I sat here at home this past weekend, sifting through the news bits and pictures, trying to get my head around it all, I found that I couldn’t. I missed all the terror, the uncertainty of potential evacuation, the panic of those who had to flee, and I will never really know how it all felt. While I’m grateful to be spared all that anguish, my heart aches for all of those that went through this in some way or another.

 

Area along Highway 12 near Nunn’s Canyon

 

Links for good facts about the fires: Press Democrat and a map showing the burned areas. 

Thanks for reading,

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Brenda Tharp
Brenda is an award-winning photographer, author, keynote speaker, workshop instructor and tour leader. Her acclaimed books include Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography, and Extraordinary Everyday Photography.
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This entry was posted in Brenda Tharp's Photo Blog, events, general photography, Landscape Photography, Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Liz Lawson October 26, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Very nicely said Brenda. I remember the green scene on the top very well, and hope we get the rains this winter to put the green back in the places that were turned to shades of grey.

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