Finding Out Your House Burned Down

It’s surreal when you find out you’ve lost your house, your home. Yes, it’s stuff – some is replaceable, some is not. Memories were made there, those we can take with us. Everything else is left behind. It’s a painful and heartbreaking loss.

Left of my house 2017

When you first find out that your house is gone – you think back to what you wish you grabbed. But you have to remember that you only had so much time to evacuate. When you’re evacuating, you’re not in your right frame of mind – you’re only thinking of what you need – which is what you should be thinking. Evacuating is a life/death situation, not a “let’s think about everything I want to take on my vacation sort of thing.”

Whatever you do, don’t play the, “I should have grabbed…” game. You grabbed what you felt was necessary. Period. You did the best you could under your present circumstances. If you didn’t go back to your house to grab this, that, or whatever – don’t beat yourself up; you stayed out of the danger zone. (During the Bear Fire of 2017, I would have gone back for my cat if I could have, but there were road blocks.)

The most important thing to remember is that you did the best you could. You saved yourself. A life is worth way more than any amount of stuff – replaceable, or not. Don’t believe me? What if you had gone back for those photos you forgot? And then your house or someone else’s house or the road caught on fire, and you couldn’t get out? Those photos are not worth your life! Nothing is worth your life! NOTHING!

Your house is gone. You scream, you cry. Your heart is shattered. How am I going to pick up the pieces? How am I going to survive this? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do? Oh my God. OH MY GOD! Your head is in your hands, you’re crying again. People tell you they’re sorry. They say hang in there, they offer encouragement – your house is gone! GONE! You’re crying and screaming again, wondering what you could have done differently. You may scream at God, asking Him, “Why?” “Why me?”

I know it seems like you’re not going to get through this, but you will. You are going to get through this. Repeat after me: “I’m going to get through this.” Now, breathe. Take a long deep breath in and hold it for 3 seconds and exhale. Repeat if needed. Scream if needed. Cry if needed. Pray if needed. You will get through this.

This is the grieving process. It’s going to take awhile to go through this. You’re going to be very tired. You haven’t slept. Your eyes are red and puffy. Your exhausted, but you cannot sleep. You keep having flashbacks, nightmares. This is normal.

Share your thoughts, your pain, your heart, your loss. Write it down. Post pictures. Some people may criticize you and tell you that you shouldn’t live in the past, or you cannot rewrite history. They don’t know that you are doing this to grieve. Ignore them. Do whatever you have to do to get by.

When the fires are contained, and the word is given – then you can go back and sift through the ashes that was once your home. You need to wear the correct mask though and because of this pandemic, those are harder to find. You also need to wear gloves. Why, you ask? Because whatever was in your house and in the surrounding area are those ashes. It’s not just from trees. It’s chemicals, plastics, hazardous materials that you don’t want to come into contact with. If you wouldn’t touch Drano or battery acid with your bare hands, then don’t touch these ashes. (This is the mistake I made.)

You will prevail. I have confidence in you. We are survivors.

It is very expensive to rebuild your life after a fire – please don’t make the mistake I made. Plan wisely. Make sure you have enough funds to cover everything, not just rent. Make an expense plan BEFORE you start buying.



  • Plates, bowls, and silverware
  • Pots and pans
  • Spoons, wooden; spatulas, knife block & knifes, cutting board, tongs, etc.
  • Pot holders, towels, dish soap, sponges, etc.
  • Spices, coffee/tea, etc.
  • Microwave, rice cooker, blender, etc.
  • Paper towels, napkins
  • Dining table and chairs
  • Tablecloth, placemats


  • Bed
  • Sheets, blankets
  • Pillow, pillowcase
  • Night table +- lamp
  • +- drawers


  • Clothes – all 4 seasons
  • Shoes – closed toe, sandals
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear, bras
  • Coat
  • Umbrella


  • Shower curtain
  • Towels, bath and hand
  • Washcloths
  • Soap, shampoo, conditioner
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash
  • First aid kit
  • +- Sanitary napkins, tampons


  • Broom and dustpan
  • Mop and bucket
  • Sponges
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Garbage bags


  • Books
  • TV
  • Music

Start adding what you need. It may help you get your mind off of losing your house. You need to contact your insurance company as well. (Sadly, I was living in a non-compliant house and didn’t have insurance.)

My Heartache

It’s been almost three years since the Bear Fire of 2017 destroyed my house. I still find myself wishing I had three photo albums that I didn’t grab. I wish I was able to find my cat, Felipe. I wish I was able to rebuild a life elsewhere. Instead, I’m homeless. I didn’t plan very well when it came to the limited funds that I had. I wish my house never burned down. I wish these CZU August Lightning Complex fires never happened because not only are they destroying people’s homes, terrifying other people, but they’re conjuring up bad memories.

I still remember my evacuation as if it happened yesterday. I even remember what I was wearing. I had less than 30 minutes to escape with the clothes on my back and the sandals on my feet as I got the rest of my pets, but not Felipe. I miss him so much.

My heart aches for each and every one of you. Every time I read that one of you have lost your homes, I cry. I remember. I pray.

Redwoods standing tall post Bear Fire 2017

Everyone’s story is different. Share your’s. Don’t let anyone tell you not to. And remember – breathe.



Winter 2016-17

The winter of 2016 to 2017 was the worst winter that I recall while living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After five years of drought, California was pelted with rain again and again, thanks to the Pineapple Express. Although Santa Cruz County as a whole received a total of 37 inches of rain, Boulder Creek had over 80 inches of rain for the winter totals. That’s over six feet! There were landslides, trees down and tangled with power lines, sink holes, and of course, flooding. I, along with the rest of my neighbors were pretty much stranded in our neck of the woods. We couldn’t get to either the towns of Boulder Creek or Los Gatos as both directions on the main artery were impassable. It was nightmarish.

Bear Creek Road, January 2017

To get to Bear Creek Road (BCR) which is the main artery to the nearby towns of Boulder Creek and Los Gatos, we could go one of two ways. But these storms knocked off half of the road for going the “back way,” which left us with only one route. There are three roads connecting to BCR going the “front way,” and none of these roads are paved. (The back way isn’t paved either.) On a dry sunny day, it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to drive eight miles, going at about 15mph. Now, add some rain – it’ll take about five to ten extra minutes to drive those eight miles. Add LOTS OF RAIN, and turn those roads to complete mud… where when even in 4WD, you’re slipping and sliding – oh my gosh – SCARY!

Bear Creek Road heading towards Boulder Creek

I’ve been driving for a long time. I’ve driven through snow, blizzards, hail, dirt, mud, and have done my fair share of hydroplaning – nothing has measured up to driving up and down those muddy roads over and over again throughout that winter! And then when we were cut off from both towns for a couple of weeks… when I was having a true emergency. Talk about feeling absolutely helpless. It was horrendous.

Abygayle AKA: Aby

Aby at the veterinary hospital

Aby is my barn cat failure. She lived in the upstairs portion of my house with my other cat, Madeline. But when Maddie died unexpectedly, Aby was all alone. I got her a kitten as company, but she hated her little brother and hid from him. It was about five days or so before I had found her in a hidden compartment inside a drawer!

Oh my gosh, she was just sitting there. She was dehydrated, she was icteric – her skin was jaundiced. I have no idea how long she had not eaten as all of my cats are free fed. All I know is that she definitely hadn’t had any water or food for at least five days! This was an emergency – I needed to get her to the veterinary hospital STAT, but the roads were closed.

Luckily, I am a veterinary technician and have over 25 years experience working in emergency triage/ICU. I also have a stockpile of veterinary meds, fluids that were not unwrapped, fluid lines, and the like. I called and spoke with Callalily who’s also the veterinarian to my pets. I let her know what types of meds I had on hand, and she gave me the dosages. I started Aby on subcutaneous fluids and a mishmash of medications, but I knew that she needed to be seen as soon as the roads opened up.

On January 9, 2017, I was finally able to traverse the roads to the veterinary hospital… but it was later in the day, and it was still raining. Normally I’d just take Bear Creek Road to 17, but that was no longer an option. I had to take BCR to the cutoff of 35 to Gist to Black and then to 17. These roads are very curvy and because of the recent storms, many were down to one lane. Driving them was arduous. What would normally take me about 45 minutes to drive to the hospital took about three hours, but we finally made it. Aby was seen.


The road connecting to BCR

My truck, “Turtle” approaching the scary part of the road
Had to hug the mountain and drive very slowly in 4WD low; the orange cones are sheer cliff
Backside of orange cones
Looking back from driving scary part of muddy road

Black Road

Shortly after I drove Aby to the hospital, this road was closed down
You can see this in the image above further in the distance

Bear Creek Road

I drove under this on BCR the night I took Aby to the hospital.
BCR heading towards Los Gatos
Bear Creek Road 2017

Highway 17

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

It’s difficult to see in the bottom image the very small amount of sand so I tried to get another picture from the web to show the comparison.
This is a better image to show how very little beach there is – none! The boardwalk was actually flooded. The parking lot which isn’t shown was also flooded.
Somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains 2017

Home in the Santa Cruz Mountains

View from my deck

It was 2004 when I found this gem – a one bedroom, two story cabin rental in a small town called Boulder Creek, in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was literally in the middle of the forest, off-the-grid, at 1700 feet with well water and solar electricity. The views were breathtaking as you can see from the image above. The majestic redwoods, oaks, and madrone trees provided shade and homes for an abundance of wildlife: deer, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, the occasional mountain lion, jack rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents, quail, finches, wild turkeys, skinks, salamanders, snakes, lizards – both alligator and blue bellies, scorpions, spiders, and so many more.

I still remember the ad that was in the back of the free publication, Good Times. It read:

1 bedroom cabin $950/mo 1st mo free. Views of Monterey Bay. Must have 4wd, be quiet & clean. No smoking. Fenced yard. Pets? 555-1234

My friend, Callalily and I had just finished eating lunch at the Boulder Creek Brewery. C, as I call her, actually lived in Boulder Creek and said that she’d help me search for a place. We had looked at a few places already and left messages. When we were leaving the brewery, which has the best raspberry iced tea, I grabbed the Good Times.

I showed C the ad and then called the number. Dee answered the phone and our conversation, not verbatim as this was about 16 years ago, went something like this:

Me: Hello, I’m calling about the ad in Good Times.

Dee: Yes, it’s still for rent. May I ask why you’re moving from your current place and how long you’ve been living there?

Me: I’m living in a duplex and have been for the last seven years. The lady who owns it is 90 years old and if she dies, I’ll only have 30 days to find another place. I have pets…

Dee: Well, we’re looking for a long-term tenant. How many pets do you have?

Me: (whispering into the phone) I have nine. (Louder) I work at a veterinary hospital.

Dee: Oh my (laugh), that’s a lot of pets. What kinds are they?

Me: I have six cats and three dogs – a pit bull, an older mixed breed dog, and a miniature pinscher.

Dee gave me the address, after making sure that I did in fact have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. C and I drove up there, taking her AWD Subaru as she had GPS. Except back then, GPS didn’t work so well. Even while I gave her directions, without any street signs, we still got lost. We drove the main road to the first sign and made a left, then drove until we came to a “1301” posted on a white sign and made another left up another dirt road, then when we came to the fork, and made a right. The next fork in the road, we made a left up the hill. Those were our directions as the roads were not marked with signs. With eight miles of roads in between, and “driveways” veering off to the left or right, it was very easy to get lost in the woods. These roads were not paved, they were more like fire roads. There were no houses like in a typical neighborhood, just pure forest. When we drove up the hill, we saw a brown painted clapboard house off to the left, enclosed in a huge yard. According to the directions, this had to be the place, but for $950/month? It looked huge! In comparison to the dinky two bedroom duplex that I had been living in for the last seven years, this place was huge!

We drove down to Dee’s house, which was grand, and retrieved the key to the cabin. We got a tour of her house – there was an atrium in her house with a wood plank walkway that curved around the atrium into her office. There was also a tree in her house! Wow! 😮

First Impressions

My American Bull Dog-Pit Bull Terrier, Brad Pitt in the living room with the old wood burning stove.

The entire downstairs was wood flooring – the front door opened up to the dining area with the kitchen on the left hand wall. Then there was a long hallway that led to the stairs on the left, and the original part of the cabin which was the living room and a full bathroom that was added on later. The living room and full bathroom had laminate wood floors, whereas the rest of the downstairs had pine wood floors. There were huge double pane windows that made up the whole right side wall of the dining room, along with one corner area where the propane stove was. The living room was wood paneling and had one large double pane window next to the sliding glass door that opened out to the deck. The deck didn’t have a railing around it, nor did it have stairs. There were 8 inch wide by 2 inch thick planks of wood that were about 10 to 12 feet long that sat on either side of the deck and were angled down to the yard. There was a claw foot tub in the bathroom with a pedestal sink. There was also a very small wood burning stove in the corner of the living room, nearest to the bathroom.

The upstairs consisted of the bedroom, a narrow hallway, and a one half bathroom that was as big as the downstairs minus the living room. The bedroom had light beige carpet, the narrow hallway leading to the half bath was turned into a closet on one side, but no doors. Speaking of doors, there were absolutely no doors inside the house – no door to either bathroom and no door to the bedroom. There was also no heat in the bedroom. (This wouldn’t be added until about eight years after I had been living there.)

After looking at the huge bedroom, the large yard, and knowing how little rent I’d be paying – I wanted this place! No walls to share with my neighbors, the location was closer to work, and it was just absolutely peaceful there. Dee called me a week later and said the place was mine if I wanted it. 🙂

Home Sweet Home

The stairs leading from the deck to the yard.

Throughout the years, Dee’s husband, Monte built a wood shed for me, replaced the tiny wood burning stove with a larger wood burning stove, built a carport, and stairs leading down to the yard from the deck. I supplied the fencing for the railing around the deck to make it safer because having a deck about ten feet off the ground with absolutely no railings of any kind around it is absolutely terrifying if a child or animal falls off of it. One night I was sitting with my legs dangling off the deck, and my Miniature Pinscher, Gwenyth was sitting on my lap. Well my Pit Bull, Bradley, came over and was nuzzling Gwenyth and he nuzzled her right off my lap, and she fell off the deck! Ten feet down and hit solid ground – boom! She lay there very still. I was scrambling to get my butt off the deck to run down one of the board planks to check on her, but then she shook herself off and was OK.

After eight years of living there, I even got a heater in the bedroom. (Mind you, I didn’t realize that this was a mandatory thing in California.) It was cold in that bedroom. In the winter, it would get to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in that bedroom! Brr. My bed had fleece sheets, a thin blanket, an electric blanket (but it never worked right with the solar electricity,) a thicker blanket, and two down blankets. Not to mention, I would go to bed with socks on my feet, dressed in fleece pajamas, and wear a beanie on my head, and mittens on my hands. It was that cold! Having all of my pets snuggled in the bed with me just to keep me somewhat warm. The heater in the bedroom was a godsend.

But despite all of the problems with this house, it was my home. It was the longest place I’ve ever lived in my entire life. I loved it there. It inspired me to create jewelry. It inspired me to write poetry. It inspired me to learn how to draw. Dee and Monte didn’t care how many pets I had. They, at one time, were like my second parents, taking care of me – when I was their only tenant. They bought me a cord of wood one year, which isn’t cheap. They didn’t raise my rent for years!

And then 2017 happened… 😭

Next blog: Winter 2016-17

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