Tubb’s fire October 9, 2017
BOOM BOOM BOOM! BANG BANG BANG!
What the heck? What is going on? I wake up frantically. My dog is running down the stairs barking.
We had lost power twice tonight, once with a pop, and by all measures it is still out now. It’s pitch black except for a weird noticeable glow. I’ve only been asleep an hour and now this.
I run downstairs and there are lights on in my driveway. What is happening?
I open the door and 2 people with flashlights jump out running at me frantically. I slam the door shut and yell “I don’t know you. Get back. Get back!”. I think I am about to be robbed during a blackout.
“There are 3 fires surrounding us! Get out of here now!” , they holler as they get back into their car and speed off. I look up and realize that the weird glow is red. That it is fire. These are my angels. They have come down and woken me to a hell storm. Saving my life in the process.
And they are gone. Like that. Knock. Knock. Run. Yell. Leave. I assume they are at the next house.
Man what the heck is going on. How is it time for an evacuation?
It was a day like most. In-laws were over. We went walking in Spring Lake Park, soon to be surrounded by fires, had lunch, and a mid-afternoon tea with friends. We played and laughed. Usual Sunday afternoon shenanigans with a toddler.
The only unusual thing was the wind. Around 6 pm having dinner with my wife and son outside I noticed that the wind was stronger then usual, and going the wrong way.
There is usually a gust from West to East. It comes from the ocean, up over the mountain, through the valley, and into our yard.
Today it was coming from East to West. Strange to say the least, and strong.
Still I paid it little attention. We had not even lived in our house a year and continued to learn of it’s ins and outs.
We went to bed or tried to go to bed.
The wind was ferocious. As I lay in my second floor bedroom I felt the house shake and the windows creak. I could not sleep and was up intermittently checking windows, doors, and other creaking items. It was a strange night to say the least.
Later I would hear that the wind was on average 50 mph and went up to 70 mph at some point. These winds helped spark and spread the fire across the country side that led to so much devastation. (Later I would read that these winds occur rarely and called El Diablo in Northern California. They truly were the devil).
I am still lying awake in bed. I have been here for an hour and a half already. The power is out and that loud pop had been weird. So I get up and walk around the house.
I look outside and furniture is flying everywhere. I start bringing things inside. Umbrellas, couch cushions, car toys, bubble machines, workers gloves…everything.
The wind is nuts. This is nuts. I have lived here a year and never felt these kind of gusts. I look over to the side of my house and notice an absence.
My 30 foot tree is gone. The trunk broke in half and now the tree is in my neighbors yard. I climb the fence and peak over with a flashlight.
Good, no damage done to their furniture or house. Still what a pain. I will need to call an arborist in the morning to cut this thing down.
As I am standing there I realize that the rest of the tree is swaying and that I should go back inside. It really does not seem safe to be outside tonight. The winds may lift me away.
1 AM…I finally get some sleep
Finally, 1 am rolls around. I am able to put my head down out of exhaustion. The wind is till raging, but I tell myself the house will hold.
As someone who has lived through tornadoes in Nashville, hurricane level winds in Memphis back in 2003, and seen the destruction of hurricanes in New Orleans I know what winds can do…but still I tell myself it will be okay.
As I lay my head down, I look out my window and see a glow. I think it is pretty and snap this picture to share with my wife in the morning. I have no clue that it is an omen of what to do. Finally I get some rest. My eyes close and I fall asleep.
2 AM…the knock and evacuation
Exhausted and with only 1 hour of sleep I hear a thump thump thump. Then another thump thump thump. My angels have arrived.
Time to get out. I am frantic at this point. The most frantic I have been.
3 fires! Surrounding us! What does that mean? How much time do we have?
Who the heck knows and I am not waiting to find out.
Still no power. Time to mobilize.
I panic. I truly panic. Here I am, a Cardiologist, used to high stress situations, and all I can think of is yelling at my wife. No cool, calm, and collected demeanor here.
Running upstairs I scream, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”
“We gotta go! There is fire all around us! We gotta go!”
She gets up and grabs our son.
I run to the closet and put on jeans, no belt. Grab my glasses and head to the garage.
Power is out.
Manually open the door and move our car out.
Put son in car. Put dog in car.
There is a red glow all around us. 360 degrees of red. Very eerie. Very strange.
In and out
I run back into garage and grab a bucket of camping gear to get a lantern. This bucket of arguably useless stuff (in relation to passports, birth certificates, checks etc.) is the only thing that makes it to the car.
My wife grabs the lantern and runs back into the house. She grabs clothes for my son and a pair of underwear and a bra. Toothbrushes.
She comes back.
I run in. Close the garage door. Run inside. Grab our wallets, 1 pair of underwear, and dog food. I run back into the car.
Time to go. Things that are left that I wish we had taken include wedding bands, passports, birth certificates, checks, and computers.
We had a vital document fire safe right there by the camping gear, yet in my frantic exit it was left.
(To be fair, I still think I made the right choice. I had no clue where the fire was or how fast it would spread. I just wanted us to be safe).
On the way out we call both our adjacent neighbors and convince them to leave. A friend happens to text us to come over. Their father just left his house with fires raging 100 feet away.
They provide shelter that night. We have a destination and head that way.
(Ed. while we made phone calls, many others stayed until the last minute knocking on doors to ensure everyone knew. There is a story of a retired police officer who was sawing down a tree in the road so individuals could safely leave. Our realtor spent 45 minutes making sure others were awake that by the time they left they didn’t have time to grab anything. The fire was too close. Talk about heroism.)
This is crazy. There is zero visibility due to smoke. The mountain is glowing red and embers are flying all around us.
Power is out and the street lights non-functioning. The only colors are the red glow of the hills, the lights of the cars, and the colored lights of emergency vehicles. All of this is skewed by the smoke.
People are leaving. None of us know if we are driving into fire or safety.
We go, drive, hope. We make it to the interstate. Numerous roads are closed along the way. Down 101 we head to our friends.
On the way there is a car on the side of the road that is flaming. The hood is on fire. The tires are on fire. The flames seem 10 feet high.
I feel like I am watching a Terminator movie.
Smoke, soot, red embers, and now a car on fire.
The interstate is strangely empty despite the evacuations. We drive and finally pull off onto our neighbors exits. People seem to be going the opposite direction from us, but we just continue on our path. In my mind I wonder if I should be following everyone else.
We finally make it to our friends. Relative safety. No immediate evacuation, though the fire is close.
We sit around a table and have a drink. We are not out of the woods yet.
For the next 2 hours we listen to fire reports and make sure we don’t have to leave. We have 3 kids running around and playing. 2 kids upstairs sleeping. None of the adults are sleeping.
6 am rolls around and the sunrise is amazing. A beautiful red glow among an otherwise smokey morning.
We stay for lunch and allow our son to sleep in and then play. His life was just turned upside down and he has no clue. We then drive through the thick smoke to my sister-in-laws where we will be staying for the near future.
News of the devastation comes in. By all accounts our home is burned to the ground but I have no actual visual confirmation. That will come the next day.
The planning begins for the next stage of our lives…We have our lives and our neighbors. We lost our possessions, but that is the way it goes.
We are lucky. We made it out alive. At the time of writing this post, 15 people died and countless others are missing from the Tubb’s Fire and the other Sonoma and Napa County fires.
If you include the other 2 fires raging in Northern California, this has been the worst fire in modern history (worse than the 1991 fires).
We left with ourselves and I am grateful we are safe…but we left a lot of important documents, clothes, etc. behind. I want to take a minute to discuss the importance of an evacuation bag.
This is different than a emergency kit. We had one of those. It had food, water purification tablets, a radio, etc. in it. If we needed to live for a while without electricity or water this kit was available. I did not grab it and it burned to the ground.
What I am talking about is a “get the hell out of dodge right now” bag. Something that is in an accessible location (like the garage) that you know to grab in case you have to evacuate immediately like we did.
What should be in the evacuation bag?
Here is what I recommend from what I wish we had:
- A checkbook.
- We left all of ours at home making some things difficult the following day. As a digital bank user, I do not have a local bank to count on when all of this happened for checks, debit cards, etc.
- Spare credit card if you have one.
- A lot of us credit card churn and thus have a credit card or two lying around. Put one in your bag.
- Basic toiletries for your family.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste. Deodorant. Spare prescription glasses if you have them. Floss. A few pairs of contacts or even a box.
- Socks and underwear.
- A few t-shirts and a pair of shorts, jeans, and a fleece or coat. Kids clothes.
- For the young ones. Consider putting a stuffed animal (maybe a duplicate of their favorite stuffed bear) and a blanket in there.
- A back up of your computer.
- I had not been backing my computer to the cloud and had used an external hard drive. Since I left my computer and hard drive at home, all of those documents are now gone. Consider backing things up in the cloud. That way it is always available in case of a fire.
- A fireproof safe.
- I updated this on 10/16/17. It looks like my safe did not tolerate the intense heat and all of my vital documents are gone. Beyond a fireproof safe, consider a safe deposit box at the bank. You can place the rarely used documents there such as birth certificates and social security cards.
- The safe should have vital documents including passports, birth certificates, house deed, and car titles. Pretty much anything of legal importance or personal importance to you. It should be small and easily picked up to put in the car. Ironically, I had a safe like this and it was in the garage by my camping equipment. I completely forgot to grab it and am just hoping that the safe is still there and not melted when we finally make it back.
- I also had a jewelry safe in my room. This safe was screwed into the wall. Unfortunately I had my passport, checkbooks, and birth certificates in this safe and they may not have survived. I will know more once we can get back up.
- Here is an Amazon link to buy one. I get paid a little bit if you do purchase it from Amazon today.
- Dog/Cat food and their collars.
- We grabbed dog food and a leash but we forgot the collar with vaccination tags. No big deal today, but if our dog needed boarding it may be an issue.
Other recommendations from the comments of our readers:
- Backing up your important photos and files on a Cloud. I am using the Google eco-system but Apple also has a good system.
- A first aide kit
- Consider leaving vital documents in a bank safe. These may include birth certificates, car and home titles, etc.
- A video of your entire house for the insurance company.
- A list of emergency numbers including family, friends, banks, and schools.
- Cell phone and computer charger
- List of items to bring
- From Dr. Sam in the comments section. These are items for physicians evacuating to a hospital to further help care for people that he compiled.
- Bubbles to blow in the wind/card game?
- Canned soup and beans
- Can opener
- Sazon spice for beans
- Paper plates/bowl/disposable silverware
- Dried fruit
- Small cooler apples/carrots/potato peeler
- Water supply
- Life straw
- bathroom bag
- Sleeping bag
- Cash in a money belt
- Life vest
- Laptop/phone/cords/surge protector/battery for phone
- Door wedge (to close door in room while sleeping incase of looters, etc.)
If you are truly sentimental, then consider keeping your pictures and photo albums in a bin in the garage. That way they are available if you want to look through them, but also easily put in the car in times of an evacuation.
Also, please learn how to open a garage door manually. It is relatively easy to do but not something you want to figure out in the middle of an evacuation. There is a story of a woman having trouble getting her garage door open. Luckily a good samaritan stopped and helped.
Finally, remember that everything but your lives are replaceable. It is inconvenient I left many things at home, but we can find this stuff over time. I can get a new passport, new checks, new underwear, etc. Just be safe and get out. Remember, the purpose of an evacuation bag is so that you can still get out quick while having the vital items.
Any of you have experience evacuating? Any other recommendations?
Finally…I must thank my online blogging community
There are many things that make a community. Often we think of our family, neighborhood, or schools as those communities. In the era of the internet, online communities are also very real. Over the last year I have talked to many great bloggers and made some wonderful relationships. While I have not physically met any of them, I do consider them friends.
When the fires hit, they did what they do best. They got together and began writing and sharing to spread the importance of emergency preparedness. Here are some of the articles they have written thus far:
- Anchor: DadsDollarsDebt – Tubb’s Fire – A Sudden Evacuation
- Anchor Two: Chief Mom Officer – Going Beyond The Emergency Fund-A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community
- 1: OthalaFehu – Cool As A Cucumber
- 2: The Retirement Manifesto – Am I A Prepper?
- 3: Mrs. Retire to Roots – In Case Of Emergency Follow The Plan
- 4: The Lady In Black – Emergency Preparedness
- 5: The Green Swan – Preparing For The Worst
- 6: Minafi – Minimal Hurricane Preparation
- 7: A Gai Shan Life – Earthquake and disaster preparedness
- 8: The Financial Journeyman – Emergency Preparation: Be Proactive
- 9: John And Jane Doe – Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?
- 10: Adventure Rich – Emergency Preparation Up North
- 11: Money Beagle – How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
- 12: Crispy Doc – Fighting Fire With FI/RE
- 13: She Picks Up Pennies – How Can A Planner Be Unprepared?
- 14: Chronicles Of A Father-Getting Ready for a Natural Disaster
- 15: Rogue Dad MD- Disrupting the Equilibrium
- 16: Unique Gifter-10 Ways To Help Disaster Victims
- 17: SomeRandomGuyOnline-Friday Blog Roundup – Emergency Preparedness Edition
- 18: 99 to 1 Percent: 15 Frugal Ways To Prepare For An Emergency
- 19: I Dream Of FIRE – Your house is burning and you can only save 10 things – what do you choose?
- 20: Full Time Finance – Emergency Preparedness in Place
- 21: Thinking of some day – Are you prepared for when an emergency occurs?
- 22: My Money Wizard – Are you mentally (and Financially) prepared to loose everything?
Also published on Medium.