October 16, 2017 started out just like any other day…

Fear of Fires 🔥

My worst fear of living in the Santa Cruz Mountains was what would I do if I needed to evacuate? What would I need? What can I not live without? How would I go about executing this plan of mine? Especially since I do work from home – with my jewelry business. So, I started getting my evacuation plan together and granted, looking back now, it wasn’t the best plan. I also never did a “fire drill,” so I wouldn’t even know if it would have worked or if the stuff would have fit in my vehicle.

There have been other fires near this area – always occurring during the day. Some were close, some farther away. But they were always put out. Most fires in this area are vegetation fires caused by illegal burning of rubbish, not putting out campfires properly, or scared about growing marijuana (before it became legal in California.)

My “Evacuation Plan”

I had a huge selection of music and a vast number of DVDs. I started taking these out of their cases and putting them into a carrying case with a handle so when a fire struck, I could quickly grab them. For my jewelry, I’d just dump this into pillow cases as the beads were already in individual bags and marked, so was my jewelry inventory. I would also grab my photo albums, laptop, kindle, etc.

Again, not the best laid plans. Notice that there is no mention of important documents? No mention of clothes? No mention of medications? That’s because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even think or research what to do in case of an evacuation. 🙁 And again, like I mentioned above, I never did a fire drill.

A Friend In Need

So, before I tell you about the fire – I need to mention about Dick. He was my friend from two decades ago. He needed a place to crash for a few nights. Unfortunately, those few nights turned into weeks, which turned into months. He wasn’t paying rent. He wasn’t helping around the house. He was taking up space. I was getting ready to kick him out… and he came up with a sob story of how he couldn’t end up homeless. He couldn’t be on the streets. So, we devised a plan where he would get a job (with my help,) and he would start paying half the rent.) Ha ha – joke is on me – he paid for one month even though he lived uninvited for 4 and 1/2 months! 😡

Packing Up To Move

Prior to the fire, I had started packing up my stuff to eventually move as my landlord/lady said that if Dick continued to live with me, rent would increase to $1600/month, but I was the only one paying rent.

I had packed some items and had them in storage, but a lot weren’t in boxes. Instead of bringing the boxes to the storage facility, Dick said it’d be better if I brought the items home with me to pack: clothes, jewelry and supplies/tools, shoes/boots, and paintings – some by my brother. So, silly me, did just that.

October 16, 2017

The white dot is where the fire started; the red flag is where my house was.

The distance between the white dot and the red flag in a straight line is one kilometer or about 0.6 miles… all uphill and all forest. In a fire, this means, lots of fuel for the fire to burn steadily and at increasingly alarming speeds.

Felipe sitting on the old wood burning stove, on the deck.

Before picking up Dick from work, I had been calling for my cat, Felipe, but he had caught a squirrel earlier on in the day. And I think he might have eaten it. I hate having my cats outdoors, and Felipe was the only cat allowed outside during the daylight hours because he’d annoy the other cats with his antics. You see, he was younger than my three other cats by several years.

Dick and I managed to get home at about 10:00PM. I continued to call for Felipe, who normally comes to his name. There’s only been one time that he stayed out until just after midnight before coming inside the house.

So, Dick and I, we’re on the deck, smoking our cigarettes, when I received a text from my neighbor, letting me know that there was a fire.

Fire Below Deck

That little orange spot is the fire…

This isn’t the greatest picture, but that little spark in the darkness is the fire, about a mile away as the crow flies.

We had about 30 minutes to evacuate. I gathered my three other cats: No Mar, Blur, and Aby, and then attended to my three dogs: Lance, Gwenyth, and Halo. I continued calling for Felipe. Crying and screaming his name.I grabbed my laptop, iphone, my CPAP equipment, pet food, and my pets’ and my medications.

And then we left, literally, with the clothes on our backs. I still remember what I was wearing – turquoise capris, a blue ombré tank top, and my Keen sandals.

We were just about to leave when my landlord drove up to tell us we had to go right now. (But he would end up staying at his house for another 4 1/2 hours to fight the fire.)

As we drove down the mountain, there were embers floating in the night sky. I drove down the back way as there was no way to drive the normal route due to the fire.

RV Living

I drove all of us to my friends’ house. They set us up in their RV. It was cramped with all of the cat carriers, but it was somewhere to stay. Unbeknownst to me until about three days later, Dick had rented a room in a nearby town. He moved in there sooner than he expected as he just kept complaining over and over about the RV.

I remember that first night. I was absolutely freezing. My toes were so cold. Dick had managed to bring his suitcase, duffel bag, and his backpack with all of his belongings and two pairs of shoes. I asked to borrow some socks, but he said he didn’t want to loan me any as I’d get them dirty. 😮 Then he remembered that he had packed the warm socks I had bought for him when he couldn’t afford anything and said I could have those. Wow.

In the collage above: Lance and Halo are on the bed, No Mar is laying on top of a cushion that’s atop the two cat carriers underneath for Miss Blur and Abygayle, who are scaredy-cats by nature. Gwenyth, my 17 year old Miniature Pinscher is in the dog crate, also underneath the cushion.

Text I received from my neighbor up the road

October 17, 2017 – Road Blocks

In the morning, we drove up Bear Creek Road to see if we could go back home and call for Felipe. There was a road block, actually there were several of them… but we couldn’t even make it through the first one. The fire was still raging out of control.

Red Cross Evacuation Center

I drove us to the evacuation center, mostly to see if my kitty, Felipe had been found. We were greeted by the staff and were given care packages, water, fruit, and some snacks. The staff had me fill out a form that would supposedly help with dealing with this situation, but no one ever called me or offered any type of support.

Care Package

The care package included a tiny Bible, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and some mints. I was grateful, but Dick complained that he was a Jehovah witness and the Bible wouldn’t help him. He also said the toothpaste wasn’t his brand. I listened in disbelief whilst he told his story about losing his stuff in a move from Florida to California because he procrastinated. Seriously?! So many people were just evacuated, and all he could think about was this?

As we left Red Cross, Dick was upset because we didn’t get the $25 vouchers. He yelled at me that if I didn’t drive straight to my friends’ house, we could have gone to the other evacuation center and received our vouchers. I told him, as we were constantly bickering, that he could go live in his new place. I did what I thought was best for all of us. I didn’t know about an evacuation center at the time we first evacuated.

Trying To Find Felipe

I had been waiting to hear if we could go back to our homes, but the fire was anything but contained.

Every day, I drove up Bear Creek Road, in hopes to be able to look for my kitty, Felipe. And every day, I had to turn around and drive back.

I drove to the SPCA, contacted several local veterinary hospitals, and shared my Lost Kitty poster everywhere I could think of.

October 18, 2017 – Finding Out About My House

I received the above texts from my landlord of 13 years. Very matter of fact, no emotion whatsoever, and this is how I find out that the longest home I’ve ever known was destroyed. Everything that I could have taken, but left, hoping beyond hope that my house would somehow survive. I lost it. My world turned upside down.

If my house wasn’t there any more, how was Felipe going to find his way home? 😭

Felipe with a real mouse

BCN – Boulder Creek Neighbors

A Facebook group unlike any other

BCN is unlike any group I know. It’s a place where most of the people in Boulder Creek go to find updates about anything in our little town of 4000 peeps. News, road conditions, help, etc. I reached out to Kevin, the admin, and let him know what was going on…

I posted about my home being destroyed in the #BearFire. The residents (members) came together for me, and had me start a list of everything I may need for my new home.

I’m still floored to this day for the abundance of love I received from my townsfolk. They rallied together and helped me out with clothes, kitchen items, dog and cat stuff, donations to name but a few.

Summit Veterinary Hospital boarded and vaccinated my dogs and cats for free. This is when whatever pets of mine weren’t microchipped were injected with the microchip. All of my cats, except Felipe. (Bless their hearts too!) Capitola Groomingdales also boarded my pets for free when I moved into my Dad’s house for the next two weeks after living in the RV.

Sifting Through The Ashes

Kitchen and upstairs bathroom on top of lower bathroom
Bedroom on top of living room/dining area
Deck area

On October 26, 10 days after the fire started, I was finally able to drive through the road blocks.

My friend, Callalily came up with me to look for Felipe. My landlord’s house and my neighbor’s house up the road were both intact. Seeing the finality of what once was my home was surreal. C and I looked for awhile, but there was no sign of Felipe, or any wildlife. No sounds of birds chirping, nothing. The smell of smoke was awful.

Every day, I did the same thing – I called for Felipe, driving through the area. And I sifted through ashes. I even bought a bunch of shallow buckets for water and food. I put these in different areas within a 15-20 mile radius.

In The News

The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a story on me, but the lady who interviewed me told me that she would put Felipe’s picture in the paper. She never did this, and she also got my business name wrong, and never mentioned anything about my words on Jesus or God. She used a pic of me from 2016. You cannot trust news reporters! Plus she also mentioned things that were “off the record.” 😡

News About The Fire

Finding Out My Home Could Have Been Saved

While sifting through the ashes, I continued to see the firefighters. I thanked every one I saw. I found out from a few firefighters that if they had known my house was an actual house, they would have fought to save it. But sadly, my landlord hadn’t mentioned that there were any residents in the three lots he rented out. The firefighters thought they were just structures, not actual homes. 😭

How The Fire Started

According to the news reports, Marlon Coy set the house where he had been residing aflame with gasoline. There was a cat in that house that had been rushed to a veterinary hospital, but died due to her severe injuries and smoke inhalation.

The house was on Diane’s Way. It was a chop shop. I remember passing the locked white gate while driving home. I never knew who lived up that road, but there were some seriously sketchy people always parked nearby.

Conclusion

It’s been 4+ years since my house burned. I never found Felipe. I think of him often. I hope he is still alive, living at someone’s house. But I’ll never know. I found some beads and ruined jewelry, but I never found the rings I really wanted to find – engagement/wedding rings, and the ruby ring that my Grandma had that was passed down to my Mom, and then me.

Photos

Felipe with the large stuffed dog, Hugo.
Felipe on flannel.
Felipe chilling in the downstairs sink.
Felipe when he was a kitten
A beautiful sunset from what once was my deck

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE MAKE AN EVACUATION PLAN!!! Update it yearly. Don’t let this happen to you.