Fleeing the fire, catching the flu

We drove for seven days across the country from Pennsylvania to San Francisco back in September, to change our lives once again. Our cat, Bjorn wailed and cried the entire time. Yes, he was medicated, but he fought through it, and eventually, I cried. Our other cat, Amira, was a saint the entire time (she insisted I mention this.)

After our arrival on October 3rd, a series of events occurred that started the move off with a bang. 

The first was the Kincade Fire*, up in Sonoma County. We went there the weekend of the 26th, shortly after it had started. But the fire wasn’t close yet to where we were going in Santa Rosa. We stayed with our good friends Scott and Caroline, and Scott just happens to work in the wine industry (score!) so how could we not?

We drank our way through the afternoon, played Bocce ball with Rosé in hand at aptly named Hook & Ladder Winery and later, enjoyed a lovely dinner. All the while we monitored the “Wildfires” app on our phones- since moving here, we’ve also had to install the “Quakefeed” app for earthquakes- to see how far it had spread. It was advancing closer to us by the hour.

Although happily lubricated by wine, I was freaking out. The little fire icons on the app map were shifting towards our friend’s apartment. Brian assured me that as soon as we were in any imminent danger, we would leave. 

Back at their apartment, I kept checking the app-the fire was getting closer. It hadn’t jumped the freeway yet, and we were still in the clear as far as the news reports said, so I gave up the obsession and went to bed.

At 4 a.m., Brian woke me up to tell me we were evacuating. My first evacuation. I jumped up, got dressed, brushed my teeth (the hygienist in me cannot help myself) and was ready to go in minutes. 

Naturally, our friends had to come with us. We were living in temporary housing (Brian’s job provided for our move) and thankfully, it was a two-bedroom apartment. They had been through evacuations before, yet, I was shocked at how calm they were packing everything up what they could into duffel bags and suitcases. Neighbors outside the windows were also calmly loading up their cars with personal possessions and supplies. I couldn’t imagine choosing what to take, and knowing that what was left behind might never be seen again. 

They told us to go on ahead, and I was scared to leave them. But, these are well-traveled people who always seem able to roll with the punches, pros at tough situations thrown at them. Caroline made sure to grab Paco, her stuffed donkey from New Mexico. He & Bjorn later became fast friends. 

I was so scared as we drove down the 101, conjuring up images in my mind of the coverage of the Camp Fire, as towers of flames engulfed the roads and thick smoke choked the air. PG & E had mandatory power outages and driving through Marin County in the virtual dark was spooky. I swear I held my breath until we crossed over the Golden Gate bridge and into the city.

Safely back in our new home, we anxiously waited for Scott and Caroline to arrive. They did, an hour later, bags in tow. We were so relieved. 

For four days, Caroline and I were glued to the local news and the fire app, while Brian and Scott went to work. Every day, we worried that the fires would cross the freeway, and it continued to creep down towards their town. At night we went out to eat, or ordered in. And of course, drank wine to easy anxiety.

Caroline and I were in the Embarcadero Center when we got the news it was safe for them to go home. We were sitting next to each other on a bench, looking at the fire app and it popped up. No damage to their town, their apartment and zero deaths. We both cried a little.

They packed up their bags, we all hugged, and they went on their way back to their unharmed apartment. But, they forgot something- they left their virus behind. Which brings me to the second event. They both had been sick for some time before they came to stay and had it throughout, but it had appeared to just be a cold with a cough. I was not the least bit concerned about catching it. At that point, I had not been sick for 5 years. No flu, no colds, nothing. I considered myself bulletproof. Turns out, I am not.

I got sick-really sick, for an entire month. The first month, living in California, with perfect blue skies and warm temperatures, I was splayed out on the couch coughing violently and feeling awful. I had to look for jobs online and practice my interviewing skills while being sick. I couldn’t believe it. 

For a month. The first month, living in California, with perfect blue skies and warm temperatures, I was splayed out on the couch coughing violently and feeling awful. I had to look for jobs online and practice my interviewing skills while being sick. I couldn’t believe it. 

A fire, an evacuation and the flu, all within the first month of our move. There were also 8 earthquakes, but I didn’t feel any of them. Brian was awake for one small one and woke me up to tell me about it. But, there were still more events to come. This was just the beginning of how our new life out West would form and shape. 

*The Kincade Fire burned 77,758 acres, and actively burned for 13 days. 60 structures were damaged, 374 destroyed, 4 injuries and 0 deaths. 

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