‘Evacuate immediately’: Fleeing the North Bay fires

(And what you can do to help the victims of the fires)
The Nuns Fire photographed by a resident of the Oakmont community (four miles north of Kenwood) while being evacuated. Photo: Cyndi Mathews

We’ve been living in Kenwood in Sonoma County (10 miles north of Sonoma and 10 miles south of Santa Rosa) since selling our place in San Francisco in January. Sunday evening, Oct. 8, when we were enjoying dinner with my wife’s cousin and niece, Misty and Mariah from Colorado, the winds began to pick up. By 10 p.m. they were furious with gusts that would later be classified as hurricane force. Leaves and branches littered the yard. “It’s always windy like this in Colorado,” Misty said, which tempered our concern somewhat. Nonetheless, I battened down the hatches and went to bed, while the ladies caught up.

Around 12:30 a.m., I was awakened by the wind noise and excited shouting from neighbors. Half asleep, I assumed they were inspecting the wind damage and yelling to be heard above the noise. Then Misty and Mariah burst in: “Cousin,” Misty said, “we need to leave. There was pounding on the door. There is a fire.”

Outside the black sky was glowing bright orange to the north. The power was out, but we grabbed flashlights to track down the pup, Walden, and felines, Blossom and Greta. Previously, Greta had announced her concern with wide eyes and one long mournful-sounding meow while the ladies were still visiting. Animals do have a keen sixth sense. On the way to the car, I grabbed some bottled water, my briefcase (with Mariah’s help; wallet and computer but no phone), Lynette grabbed the Chardonnay, and Misty (we would later discover) a bottle of scotch. …

As we left, the police were streaming through the neighborhood with flashing lights and loudspeakers: “Evacuate now! Get out immediately! Take Highway 12 toward Sonoma.”

The ride out was surreal — like being in a disaster movie. As we dodged downed trees, the fires were all around us on both sides of the road and the Mayacamas mountain ridges were ablaze in the distance. The news videos of sparks and flames crossing the roads accurately captured what we drove through.

We thought best to leave the county entirely, and we continued to pass more fires on Highway 12 blazing on the hills near Sears Point. We stayed the rest of the night (Monday morning) at the Novato Marriott Courtyard. At noon, when we checked out, the lobby was filled with evacuees sleeping in the lobby. We then drove to Tiburon to stay with a good friend from college, George, who opened his home to all seven of us — four big people and our much-loved pets. He said, simply, “You have a home for as long as you need it.”

For 10 days, we were glued to the news, watching the devastation develop while more and more areas in Napa and Sonoma kept burning and spreading with wind shifts. Mandatory and volunteer evacuations continued. Monday through Thursday, reports indicated the areas burned were the equivalent in size to the cities of San Jose and San Francisco, 255 square miles, and only 3 percent contained. We were nervous we wouldn’t have a home to return to, although online fire maps and social media indicated we were safe.

These kinds of stressful conditions have a subtle, but profound psychological effect — at least on me. I have a new appreciation for the concept of post-traumatic stress. I was not able to think clearly during the evacuation. All I could think of was to be sure we got out safely with the animals. I had a fully packed bag in our other car with clothes and essentials because I was planning to travel the next day, but I never thought to take less than a minute to grab it. During the evacuation ride through the melee on Highway 12, curiously, I was not afraid, just in awe. In spite of everything on fire right up to the pavement on each side of the road, I never felt we were in imminent danger, and I did not think anything was going to happen to us.

The two days immediately following the evacuation, we did everything we could to try to live normally. I facilitated three previously scheduled senior manager/leadership seminars. In all sessions, we discussed the impact of the fire disaster on each of us and on friends and family who had lost homes. One of the feelings others described, and I felt, is one of being numb. While I was able to compartmentalize and facilitate the seminars, driving back and forth, and sitting down writing about the experience, I felt odd. My brain felt a little off. It gave me a tiny glimpse and appreciation for what our brave soldiers and others experience with PTSD.

Two big lessons: One, be prepared. Always have an emergency kit ready with food, valuables, passport, cash, and whatever else you depend on for modern life (phones, computers, hard drives, etc.). You may not be able to gather these items in the heat of a disaster. Two, remember what’s important: people and pets. If the home and possessions burn the ground, well, it’s just stuff.


“This too, shall pass …” the Persian adage reminds us. It speaks to the incredible resilience of us humans. In this disaster, communities came together. Shelters housed thousands. People took ice chests of water to the areas hardest hit, provided food for the first responders, and so much more. It’s all about the value of “community.” We all pull together when need be.

In the meantime, fall has arrived in the wine country. The mighty vineyards that sustain us and many times acted as a fire break, have turned yellow. The trees have turned red and gold, birds and crickets chirp, seemingly unaware of the nearby destruction, while chainsaws clear debris and helicopters continuously cross into the areas still burning. #SonomaStrong

Ken Majer is a management consultant and author who focuses on core values to improve personal lives and corporate productivity. He works across industries with a specialty in the wine industry. E-mail: [email protected]


What you can do to help the victims of the fires


By Lynette Majer

Due to the overwhelming outpouring of support from the community, many current supply and volunteer needs have been met, yet much assistance will be needed with recovery efforts going forward. It is strongly recommended to either phone or visit the organizations’ websites, where needs are updated daily.


North Bay Fire Relief: (; donate directly through Redwood Credit Union.

Redwood Empire Food Bank: (; in constant need of financial donations.

La Luz Center: (; supporting Sonoma Valley’s Latino population with unemployment and individual assistance, hot meals, and basic items for displaced families. The Latino population is a vital cog in the wheel of the wine industry and are among the worst affected by the fires.

Latino Community Foundation: (; working to support families and farmworker communities, and are coordinating regional resources for immediate and long-term needs.

Tipping Point Emergency Relief Fund: (; all donations will support low-income, vulnerable communities impacted by the fire, including vineyard workers, immigrants, displaced young people, and students.

Red Cross: (; text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation; visit website to donate more.

United Way: (; all donations made via their website will be directed to fire relief and recovery efforts.


SF Fights Fire: (; organized by San Francisco’s restaurants and food purveyors to cook, deliver meals, and help with logistics.

Off the Grid: (; supporting Mendocino County-based businesses Pilon Kitchen and The Food Depot, as well as the Bay Area’s Fat Boys in providing meals to displaced individuals at the Mendocino College Local Assistance Center.

Fire Relief Napa and Sonoma Counties: (; set up by Charles Communications Associates, which has identified a group of shelters that need goods (that will be purchased by donations), and which it will deliver.

Napa and Sonoma County Fire Relief: (; set up by Napa vineyard/winery owner Jake Kloberdanz, funds raised will be spread evenly to Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority, Napa County Fire Department, Lake County Fire and Rescue, Santa Rosa Fire Department, and The Redwood Credit Union–North Bay Fire Recovery Fund.

Tubbs Fire Victims (Santa Rosa Community): (; organized by the city of Santa Rosa to assist in recovery by those affected.

#BayAreaUnite for California Fire Relief: (; set up by Bay Area Sports Teams (San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, San Jose Earthquakes, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Raiders, San Jose Sharks and the Golden State Warriors), who have collectively committed $450,000 to support these fire disaster relief efforts. All funds donated will support the American Red Cross to help those affected by the California wildfires.


Crossing the Jordan: (707-938-9388,; accepting food, clothing, and monetary donations.


Redwood Empire Food Bank: (707-523-7900,; nonperishable food (no glass).
Petaluma Salvation Army: (707-769-0716,; nonperishable food items. Ready-to-eat, easy-to-open foods are appreciated as many shelters do not have kitchens for heating food.


Many of the volunteer shifts are full; monitor daily for openings.

Several of the organizations listed also need supplies, and all will accept monetary donations.

Volunteer Center of Sonoma County: (707-573-3399,; lists volunteer opportunities across agencies.

SF Fights Fire: (; organized by San Francisco’s restaurants and food purveyors to cook, deliver meals, and help with logistics.

Epicenter Sports & Entertainment Center: (; volunteer to sort and distribute donations and financial donations for youth sports and employee relief for fire victims.

Copia: (; sign up to deliver food and supplies where needed.

Sonoma County Recovers: (; designed to facilitate recovery by sending supplies or lending a hand.

Red Cross: (; sign up to volunteer where needed.

Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership: (; overseeing donations that serve multiple agencies and volunteers.


Petaluma People Services Center: ([email protected]); contact if you are interested in sharing your home.


Hopalong and Second Chance Animal Rescue: (; [email protected]); needs volunteers, supplies, fosters, and monetary donations.

Goatlandia Animal Sanctuary: (; coordinating with other sanctuaries and rescue facilities to help provide feed, corrals, fencing, water buckets, leads, medical supplies, etc., to the thousands of displaced animals all over Northern California.

Rescued horses are led from fire-ravaged area by firefighters. Photo:

Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue: (707-992-0274,; needs monetary donations due to diverted resources to help with displaced animals and livestock.


Russian River Brewery and Bear Republic Brewing Co.: (; 100 percent of the proceeds of the beer from both breweries under the Sonoma Pride label are donated to wildfire victims. Visit website for additional ways to donate, including winning a line cut for the release of Pliny the Younger in 2018.


Buy products from Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties: San Francisco wine (and beer) drinkers, unite. We know you’re already buying your wine and beer from these counties, but ask your friends and family across the nation to do the same. Commit to do all your holiday shopping with gifts from these areas, rich with artists and artisans. The counties need your dollars to help in the lengthy recovery efforts.

Visit the wine country: Roads are open to all counties. Wineries, restaurants, hoteliers, and merchants want to get back to normal business. Show your support by planning a weekend getaway, or even a day trip soon. They all look forward to seeing you —  their livelihood depends on it. Follow @SonomaStrong, @NapaStrong, and @WineCountryStrong for updates.

E-mail: [email protected]

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