Today I am sitting with my cats, remembering the Vision Fire. I was working at the Bolinas post office when I got a call that there was a fire on Mount Vision. At the time, I was renting the lower part of a house at the top of Drakes View Drive, and though there was no evacuation order, my landlords were gathering some things in case. I asked them to grab a box of mementos from my closet, but I couldn’t really think straight.
I knew how fast a wildfire could grow, yet I felt I could not leave the post office. I was in the middle of a $4,000 stamp order that only my boss could fill, and she was leaving on a three-week vacation the next day. I decided to be a good employee, and stayed until that was done.
By the time I reached the bottom of our hill, the sheriffs had blocked it. Some neighbors and I stood around for a while. After watching planes and helicopters dump retardant and water on the flames, I sat on the patio at Cafe Reyes, sick to my stomach and in shock. I retreated to a friend’s house, hoping that somehow my house would be unscathed.
The next morning I picked up a survival bag at the Red Cross shelter. There were no reports on houses lost, and the fire was still burning out of control. I remember a neighbor crying out in agony when she learned her dog had perished. The fire had jumped the canyon and spread so fast that people had to run for their lives. Many were away at work and not able to retrieve their animals. I did not have an animal at the time, but my landlords had a dog and cat. The dog was safe, but the cat was nowhere to be found when they evacuated. Another cat I knew and loved was also missing.
At some point a neighbor managed to sneak up to have a look at his home, which was near mine. He reported that his house had sustained damage, but was still there. My hope grew, until I learned that a friend had watched our house burn down that night from across the bay. When we finally got a list of lost homes, 45 were on it, including ours.
A friend took me in that night, and I will never forget his kindness and gentle humor. Other friends soon offered me a rental.
The fire was on a Tuesday. I was asked to come back to work on Saturday, and I did, though I was still not functioning well.
Clothes came slowly. It was a time to learn to say, “Yes, thank you,” though sometimes things were offered that were just awful, and it was hard to say no when it meant so much to the person offering help. The Red Cross volunteers seemed almost too eager to help; I would go into the center to pick up necessities, and be swarmed.
The thing that saved me was the search for my two cat friends. It became my mission to find them. The sixth day of the fire, I could not sleep, and realized that the time to look for my landlords’ cat, Fritz, was the crack of dawn, always his active time. The Humane Society had placed traps, food and water for missing animals, but my cat friends had not turned up. I awoke in the dark and jumped in my car. The sheriff at the bottom of the hill was kind enough to escort me up. I walked down the driveway calling, “Fritzy, Fritzy, Fritzy,” and suddenly there he was, running down the drive. He jumped into my arms. I looked at the deputy and said, “Now what do I do?” He replied, “Take him home!”
I called my landlords to tell them I had Fritz, and they came by after church. The cat’s whiskers were singed and he was quite dehydrated, but he had no burns. We figured he found safe haven in the redwood culvert on the road. We decided he would stay with me, and he eventually became mine. Most everyone else had spouses or family; I only had Fritz, and we nurtured each other through the trauma. My other cat friend was never found. I could not bear to think of him perishing in the fire, so I wrapped him in a prayer and let him go.
The recent Valley Fire has initiated post-traumatic stress disorder, and so much empathy. Right now those people feel lost and so much loss, and theirs is a long journey to recovery. I am so grateful to all who have risen up to give aid to the animals, as they are like family to many of us. And this is where we see the best of humanity: we take care of each other and in doing so, the trauma does not take us into a vortex of despair. The people of the Valley will need our love and support for a long time to come. Blessings and thanks to all firefighters. We love you with all our hearts.
Kathy Runnion, the head of Planned Feralhood, lives in Inverness Park.