171031_NorCal Fires Patrick Brady-22.jpg

Writer Patrick Brady publishes the cycling blog Red Kite Prayer and lives in Montgomery Village.

We decided to evacuate around 1:30 am when we could tell the fire was moving south, down Fountaingrove. I began taking important items down to our cars: computers and hard drives, clothes, important documents. Each time I came down from the apartment with a load of stuff, I would look up at Fountaingrove and my view was like stop-motion animation; there’s a line of orange, then the line of orange was here, and then it was here, and then it was here. The smoke was backlit, so I couldn’t really see the flames. We got everybody downstairs to the cars and a lot of times our four-year old goes to mom for comfort. He kind of flipped out when he saw the fire—and she went to comfort him. He stiff-armed her, pushed her away, and came over and clamped onto my leg. That’s how frightened he was.

I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was surreal, like a police state, because the stop lights weren’t working. There were saw horses set up in intersections with stop signs put on them so we wouldn’t just drive into each other. There were accidents everywhere, regardless.

“If you’d asked me how strongly I felt about Sonoma County, I’d have told you this place feels like home in a way no place else on earth has. But this crisis has made me more fiercely loyal to this place than I was before.”

In the days that followed, I had trouble maintaining a train of thought, even just thinking clearly.

When I started hearing the planes come in, I’d hear people cheer. There were enough people outside that when a tanker flew over, we could hear other people in the yards nearby [go], “Yay! Yay!” It didn’t matter where I was, I could hear the cheers.

On Thursday night, three days after the fires began, news reports said that the Tubbs fire might merge with the Nuns fire, which was burning through Trione-Annadel State Park. A line drawn from Nuns to Tubbs passed over my home. We’d evacuated already, but we had only taken what we considered necessities. Because my home was outside the mandatory evacuation zones, I was able to return with a few friends that evening to get a final load of stuff: artwork, signed books, another suitcase of clothing, and, because I’m a cyclist, a few bikes, including two for my sons. All the while ash was falling like snow. I’d chosen my home for its proximity to the park and now my riding refuge seemed likely to bring its demise. When I locked the door I told myself that whatever was left I could live without. The next morning, I was amazed to learn it was still there.