Close to Home: A Santa Rosa fire survivor’s message for Lahaina

Offering advice and compassion for people who lost homes, belongings, loved ones and security.|

LORI NORCIA

LORI NORCIA IS A RESIDENT OF SANTA ROSA.

August 14, 2023, 12:09AM

Updated 6 hours ago

I know the people that I really want to read this won’t be able to yet. They will be sitting in shock and silence combating thoughts of what was and what will be. What is left? How do we start over? Can we be grateful to be alive while mourning those who were lost? How can I begin to replace the memories of love and safety I once felt for me and my community?

And this is the best-case scenario.

Others will be looking for pets, relatives and friends, wondering if they escaped the heat and smoke. They will sift through the images in their mind trying to put two and two together. They will combine images of the red-hued skies and smoke-filled streets with the last time they saw their neighbor. They will remember the sounds of the soothing crackling of the fire in between the burst of propane tanks. The future won’t be a tiny seed in their thoughts yet.

Those who evacuated with you and those who live in your community won’t be asking, “How are you?” because they’ll know. You’ll see it on each other’s faces. Your faces are familiar to us too. And even though lives, memories and a sense of safety will have been lost, a tear won’t be shed until later. You are in survival mode. And you’re not sure if you’ll survive.

It’s been six years since we lost everything in the Tubbs Fire. We lived in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, when wildfires took hundreds of homes, businesses and lives in their path. My husband, young kids and my dad, who was visiting at the time, evacuated to the sound of bullhorns from the front yard. They were given minutes to leave, watching the “red snow,” as my kids described it, singe the grass as they pulled out of the driveway. And as I write this, the tears are falling, but these tears are not just for us, they are for you too. These are the tears that you can’t shed just yet. We are with you during this strange and sad time.

There is a lot I could say about what it looks like six years down the road, but that’s where our stories may diverge. I could tell you that my family still learns things about what we were thinking on that horrible night. Sharing thoughts in our heads that couldn’t find their way out until now. I could tell you that my dad still finds it hard to visit for fear of another fire. I could tell you that the shock and sadness will give way to anger.

But I could also tell you that it does get better. You will get through this. Whether you decide to delicately sift through ashes for remnant valuables or whether you decide to offer it all up as a sacrifice, eventually you’ll leave it behind. You’ll leave the shock, sadness and anger behind too.

Eventually, you’ll embrace a new timeline: before the fire and after the fire, always having to remember where you were and if you currently own something. You’ll still picture the object in your mind, swearing to yourself you know that you have it somewhere, only to remember you had it before the fire. And, eventually, things will feel more “normal.”

Until then, remember to let people take care of you. Loved ones and strangers alike will want to help you. Let them. There will be time to return the favor in the future. I promise. Let them do things for you that just a few days ago seemed easy to you. Let us put our arms around you. Let us send you light and love. Let friends of friends comfort you and take care of your family by offering basic goods, funds, clothes, food, etc. Let us take care of you while you heal your community. We will be here patiently loving you, waiting for you, too, to rise out of the ashes.

Lori Norcia, a resident of Santa Rosa, lost a home in Coffey Park to the Tubbs Fire in 2017.

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