171104A_NorCal Fires_Johann and Gloria_Heinzl-35.jpg

Gloria and Johan Heinzl lived in a custom home they built in the hills above Riebli Road.

Gloria Heinzl: After midnight we got a robo-call that said, "There is a fire in the Petrified Forest, Friend’s Valley area." I listened to it, but I ignored it, because that’s a ways off from here, quite a ways. Then, within a half hour, the next call came with a very urgent message, saying "You have to evacuate now." I don’t even understand how this works, but this was on our landline. It came through loud and clear. By that time there were beams being shined all over. You could tell there was something going on outside.

We were headed to the same hotel where [our neighbors] were, The Sandman on Cleveland, and it took forever to get checked in because it was chaos there. They weren’t used to that kind of a rush. When we finally did get a hotel room, got upstairs, put our few things down, we get a phone call that said, "Evacuate now." The Kohl's department store down the street was allegedly on fire. We didn’t know what was going on, except there was smoke; there was fire somewhere nearby. We had no idea that the fire had jumped all six lanes of the freeway and was burning on that side. So we packed our stuff, got out of there, and got on the freeway heading south because we didn’t know where to go at that point.

“We were in a bubble the first few days. We did not know exactly the scale of what had happened, nor were we able to absorb it.”
— Gloria Heinzl

We got this phone call from BMW that said, "Are you guys alright? There’s a fire down where you are.” I said, "Yeah, we’re here...we’re fine as far as we could be fine" and then hang up the phone. Then it dawned on us that the BMW i3 we had left behind triggered the alarm and it was the final scream of the car. The fire must have arrived at [our home] at that point.

Initially, all I could think about were very mundane things that I didn’t have anymore. Like a Patagonia vest that I had just gotten, and had never worn. You start thinking about totally insignificant things because there's no way to wrap your head around the scale of what has happened. And what made it hard for me personally was I was going through daily radiation treatments for cancer through that whole time. The combination was just huge.

[When we returned to the remains of the house], on top of the fireplace mantle was a small teacup. A friend of ours had sent us two teacups that she had gotten in Japan, beautiful, handmade. And one of the teacups was intact. Right there on the mantle.