Fires burning throughout Northern California since Sunday night have killed at least 21 people and destroyed more than 3,500 structures, with more deaths and damage expected to come.

Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes with little time to grab more than the essentials.

Don Millerick, 71, stands in front of the remains of his home near Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, California.
Don Millerick, 71, stands in front of the remains of his home near Coffey Park in Santa Rosa. (Sukey Lewis/KQED)

Don Millerick, 71, stood over the remains of his home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa. He lived there for 41 years and raised his three children in the house.

“I’m going to miss my old car there,” he said. “That was the car I drove to high school, and I’ve had it all these years. It was a 1935 Ford three-window coupe, and it’s a reasonably rare car. Not overly rare, but it’s worth a few dollars. So I’m going to miss that. Just little personal things actually more than anything. And I’m going to miss having a place to come home after work more than anything.”

Millerick said he’s still deciding whether he will rebuild or move on.

“Been here a long time, and it’s home, you know,” he said.

Linda Jacobson, a 70-year-old resident of Santa Rosa, lost her home and her two cats when the fast-moving Tubbs fire jumped the freeway and burned through this residential neighborhood.
Linda Jacobson, a 70-year-old resident of Santa Rosa, lost her home and her two cats when the fast-moving Tubbs Fire jumped the freeway and burned through this residential neighborhood. (Sukey Lewis/KQED)

Linda Jacobson, a 70-year-old resident of Santa Rosa, lost her home of 40 years when the fast-moving fire jumped the freeway. She evacuated about 1:30 a.m. Monday with nothing but her shoes, her socks, a pair of pants and a sweatshirt.

“You just want to grade it, take it all down and start all over again, I guess,” Jacobson said. “But I lived here a long time, and I’m almost too old to start over again. I don’t want to do that.”

She says she misses most her two cats, Roxy and Buzz.

“I didn’t take them,” she said with tears in her eyes. She didn’t think the fire would really reach her and burn her home to the ground.

Kayla Swaim, 27, and Juan Ferrell, 27, look for mementos in the remains of their home in Santa Rosa.
Kayla Swaim, 27, and Juan Ferrel, 27, look for mementos in the remains of their home in Santa Rosa. (Sukey Lewis/KQED)

Kayla Swaim, 27, has lived in her mother’s house in the Coffey Park neighborhood since she was born. Until it burned to the ground. She stood over the ruined remains of her home holding a small bell that she found in the ashes. It used to hang in the front room of the house.

“It was supposed to bring peace and love and positive energy,” she said, “and I found it in all the dirt and I said, ‘I’m going to take that.’ ”

All of her favorite possessions were in the home, she said.

“This is the only place in the world that I felt safe,” Swaim said of her home. “With all the chaos going on around the world I knew that I can come home, and I would be safe in my little bubble with my dogs and my boyfriend. I miss waking up in the morning and opening the shutters and having the sunshine through and watering all my plants.”

She said it was a beautiful place.

43-year-old Santa Rosa native Richard Kevin Weeks stands in his driveway after the Tubbs fire burned down his home.
Santa Rosa native Richard Kevin Weeks, 43, stands in his driveway after the Tubbs Fire burned down his home. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Richard Kevin Weeks also returned to the Coffey Park neighborhood to find his home had burned to the ground.

“There’s nothing. Everything that I had was inside there,” Weeks said. “I’m still in shock. I told someone today I’ll eventually give a good cry for an hour when it really kind of sinks in.”

When the Tubbs Fire started on Sunday night, devastating Santa Rosa, Weeks was at home asleep. Around 1:30 a.m., his sister called to tell him he needed to evacuate. He looked out his window and saw embers flying across the street, so he put on his contact lenses and jumped in his car to flee the approaching flames.

“It was complete chaos getting out of here,” he said. “It took 45 minutes just to go a block. You couldn’t see. Visibility was down to zero. I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big fire. I just grabbed the car I had and drove out of here.”

Although he lost all his belongings, Weeks said he considers himself lucky to have friends and family nearby who have supported him by donating clothes and other supplies. He plans to rebuild his home, even if it takes a few years to do so.

Santa Rosa Fire Survivor: ‘The Only Place in the World That I Felt Safe’ 12 October,2017Sukey Lewis

Author

Sukey Lewis

Sukey Lewis is a journalist and radio producer with KQED News reporting on criminal justice. In addition to her work at KQED, Sukey has freelanced for Latino U.S.A., Snap Judgment and the Center For Investigative Reporting’s radio show Reveal.

Sukey received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.

You can email Sukey at slewis@kqed.org or find her on Twitter at @SukeyLewis.

Author

Sheraz Sadiq

Sheraz Sadiq is an Emmy Award-winning producer at San Francisco PBS affiliate KQED. In 2012, he received the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award for a story he produced about the seismic retrofit of the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system which serves the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to producing television content for KQED Science, he has also created online features and written news articles on scientific subjects ranging from astronomy to synthetic biology.

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