Tag Archives: #sonoma

Four Months of Limbo

12 Feb

After The Fire

Today is the 18th Monday since we sat in a hotel watching in horror as our neighborhood burned to the ground, and although we would later count ourselves among the lucky ones because our homes were still standing–we didn’t lose everything–the irony is that we, the #JE44, are the ones who have been in limbo all this time.  Here are the facts.

Because our homes are still standing, the insurance payout was only limited to the policy cap of additional living expenses due to displacement, which was on average $6,582.

Insurance also paid to repair physical damage, cleanup of smoke damage, property loss, and spoiled food–which essentially means that once we are able to use our homes again, we will pay the difference between the actual cost to repair and replace, since the insurance companies payout based on their estimates of fair market value at the time of the incident.  The fact is, the actual cost has skyrocketed because of the enormous demand for materials and services.

FEMA denied housing assistance because we had insurance.  For those still living in a FEMA motel, their time runs out soon and they have to file an appeal based on being “under insured”.  None of us knew we were under insured.  We all thought, “No problem, I have insurance!”  Many of my neighbors are in dire straits because they cannot use their home–utilities have not been restored and the owner of the park is trying to sell the land, and the buyer is promising to build “affordable” housing (highly unlikely that the legal requirement of this new “affordable” housing will match what we had, which was less than $700/month including utilities).

Basically, our retirement homes were destroyed and they’re not coming back, and even though we had insurance, our losses were not covered because technically the insurance company did not have to move our homes, and legally we cannot force the land owner or the buyer to restore what was.

Let this be a warning to everyone who thinks they’re covered.  We all would have been better off if we had no insurance at all–every one of our neighbors who had no insurance was eligible for FEMA housing assistance.

After four months, we still have no idea what is going to happen to our homes.

“Can’t you move it?”  One neighbor received a quote of $60,000 to move their double-wide custom home.  Another neighbor received a quote of $13,000 to move a single-wide less than 30 miles away.  There are no available sites within 100 miles.

So 44 families are still in limbo because the park owner and the prospective buyer won’t tell us what they are planning.  This feels wrong.

Journey’s End … Before & After

Silver Linings

4 Nov

Week Four

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Neighbors at Journey’s End Mobile Home Park, 1 Nov 2017

A lot happened this week.  We finally heard from Evans Management that residents of Journey’s End Mobile Home Park would be given access to retrieve personal property.  My husband made the long schlep again from L.A. to North Bay, 474 miles.  His mother went with him to get as much as they could take in the car, and put things into storage until we have a place to live.  We were supposed to have five days, November 1st to 5th, from 8am to 4pm, but on Friday morning, the park was shut down by the EPA because of hazardous materials–including asbestos!  The park is now officially condemned.*

 

[*Update: “Condemned” status is short-term. Authorities stated in a meeting yesterday with Journey’s End residents that test results are expected Wednesday.  So we are in still in limbo.]

That is both good news and bad news.  For those of us who have been in limbo because our property is still standing, but the conditions were unlivable (due to no utilities and surrounded by toxic waste), it was a welcome relief because as far as insurance was concerned, our homes could be salvaged.  Now, word on the street is that the EPA is not going to let anyone take anything else out of the park, to minimize the spread of contamination.  That means we cannot have our homes towed to another site, which means in essence, the fire destroyed our homes through cross contamination.  This should mean that the insurance company should payout as a total loss.  We still do not have confirmation that they will see it this way, but at least we have a case–if they do not treat our homes as destroyed, we can appeal their decision and get a judge’s opinion.  One thing is certain:  We can all stop looking for a place to move our homes.  Those contaminated homes are not going anywhere!

This is bad news for our uninsured neighbor, Louise, and those like her who could not afford homeowners insurance.  For them, it is all loss.  The silver lining for her is that she had a chance to save some of her favorite things, and she has family to help her cope with the trauma of losing her community of 37 years.

Resilience means focusing on those silver linings.  The total destruction of stuff gives one a blank canvas.  The altering experience of waking in the middle of the night to imminent danger gives one fresh perspective.  We take the blank canvas and newfound appreciation and with tremendous gratitude create a new home.

Such experiences strengthen our bonds with family, friends, and co-workers.  Feeling loved and supported transforms all involved.  Relationships, as everyone knows, are most important, and disasters have a way of growing trust and admiration, whether directly or vicariously impacted.  It has made us all think and feel about what matters most.  We have all hugged more, been more gentle with ourselves and others, and have felt more thankful for life’s simple pleasures.

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Lost Disneyland

30 Oct

Week Three

After the Apollo 13 crew landed safely following a near disaster, astronaut Jim Lovell wrote about it in a book titled Lost Moon.  That was his experience…he lost the moon.  As much as I try to power through, focus on the silver linings, and deeply appreciate the generosity and compassion of everyone whose donations are helping my family recover from the Santa Rosa firestorm, sadness has had a grip on this week because October 23-29 was supposed to be a special week with my daughter and grandkids.

We had planned our vacation together for months.  We were going to do a lot of fun stuff.  All week long we felt the pain of this loss.  So please forgive me, though I want to focus on the positives, and make everyone feel good about how they have helped my family, week three hangs low under two words: Lost Disneyland.  This lost week of joy with my kids is beyond measure.

On the bright side, we found a condo that we like, made an offer on it, and it was accepted.  We are now in escrow and hope to have keys to a place where we can physically start the process of rebuilding our lives.

My husband, Oliver, has been out of work for three weeks.  He is driving to Santa Rosa tomorrow with his mom, Inger, to meet with FEMA reps and insurance adjusters.  aerial-calif-fire4-rd-ml-171012_4x3_992We still do not have access to what remains of our property.  JEMHP is unsafe.  Pacific Gas & Electric has been tearing up the streets to repair and secure underground lines, and they won’t let anyone in until they make it safe.  So for those of us lucky to have homes still standing, each day brings us one step closer to the salvage situation.  Hopefully, Oliver will be allowed in next week, and can bring clothes and important documents.  [Edit Sunday evening: A representative of Evans Management called and informed us that residents of JEMHP will be allowed in November 1-5.]

On the bright side, we are starting to think about moving into the condo on Thanksgiving weekend (if escrow closes in 30 days, as we are all trying to make happen).  In a few weeks, we will have keys to four walls and a roof, and will begin to make it our home.  It’s a good feeling.  And I would like to leave you with that good feeling.

We are looking forward to finding furniture pieces that have some character.  Starting to browse pictures online of what local stores have in stock.  Starting to think about the Pacific breeze that will cool our evenings, and the foggy mornings that will greet each new day as we settle in SoCal.

0414170703a_HDR“We’ll always have Santa Rosa,” we said to each other with a sincere smile.

We will always remember our three wonderful years of tranquility, living in the green beauty of northern California.

 

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Beautiful Sonoma, we cherish the memories we made there. Bodega Bay 013-COLLAGE

Inger Simonsen in Armstrong Redwood Forest; Carma & Oliver Simonsen in Bodega Bay and Mendocino Headlands; two feral kittens we rescued and gave to good homes; and rafting on the Russian River. 

 

 

Chaos, Grief & Gratitude

22 Oct

Week Two

My husband and I have had moments of laughter, in spite of the chaos and grief in the aftermath of the Santa Rosa firestorm.  We were chuckling yesterday about how crazy popular The Cars album was.  The subject came up because I mentioned that every time I go through something, a chorus from that album pops into my head and helps me get through the craziness.

That sums up week two after the fires.  It’s all mixed up.

Grief and gratitude mix about as well as vinegar and oil.  They have to be shaken pretty hard and well seasoned to make a palatable dressing.

Living indefinitely in a hotel with three cats is not an option.  Going home is not an option.  Going anywhere near home is not an option.  Meeting our insurance adjuster this week was not an option.  Getting information from the park management was not an option.  We hear on the news that after a disaster there is chaos and emotions run high.  Chaos is a word until it defines your life.  Now it’s real.  This is what chaos means.  It means the news says one thing, a local friend says another, the multiple authorities in charge say something else, the manager in charge of your community doesn’t answer the phone and doesn’t return voicemail (because they’re waiting for clear answers from whomever is in charge–and that keeps changing); it means the internet isn’t working, you can’t do research; your phone flakes out when you need it most–it’s one thing after another, road block after road block; inexplicable detour and traffic jams on the information highway.

FEMA sent me an email saying that we were eligible for transitional shelter assistance, and there was a link, forms to complete, and finally a map with hotels that take in displaced families and pets after a disaster.  I tried to make a reservation, only to learn that the list was outdated.  Several hotels were no longer part of the program, or for some reason were not participating at this time.  Finally, success!  We have landed in a home away from home until November 9th.  Now, what do we do for the rest of November?

One thing became crystal clear immediately after the fires… we can’t go back home.  There is no home to go back to, even though the structure is standing.  The community is gone.  Infrastructure, utilities, melted.  They can’t simply run an electrical line from the street to our mobile home.  Anyway, these are all logistics.  This week has been about the emotional aftermath, which is that odd mixture of grief and gratitude.

We both fell silent and lethargic periodically as depression hit hard.  For me, it’s that my retirement plan has been destroyed.  My perfect little retirement home, my affordable little retirement home–all that research, planning, saving–all the years of work that resulted in a successful outcome–my life after retirement was all set, and now, it’s all gone.  But stop and smell the roses!  YOU’RE ALIVE AND WELL!!!

Grief and gratitude, it’s all mixed up.  Tears of sadness and relief.  Moments of horror as memories of running for your life are triggered, followed by moments of amazement by the generosity and compassion of the people who have said, “We want to help your family!”  The sweetness of hotel staff makes living in a hotel with three cats a little less painful.  And the gratitude–always, the gratitude–keeps the floor under us.  Things could have been so much worse.  We came so close to losing everything.

Silver linings have been free breakfasts and all the little and big acts of kindness.

It is hard to sleep when you have to make big decisions, when every day that you don’t have a place to live after November 9th, the last day of hoteling from FEMA, means you’re paying $3,000/month or more in rent.  Urgency deprives you of sleep.  Something must be done!  But what?

We reached an agreement that Long Beach is a sound economic direction for us to go, because I have been paying for my son to rent a room near college in that area.  Rather than continue to pay rent for him, we will combine households.  He’ll live with us again, we’ll buy a condo near California State University at Long Beach.  That way, I can continue to help him finish college, as he pursues a degree in Industrial Design.  I can also help him learn to drive, so he can get to and from the temp jobs he’s been ubering to.  He can drive our dependable 1998 Toyota Camry.  It has over 207,000 miles on it, and it’s still a quiet and comfortable ride.

We have come to terms with the changes.  Instead of living in the natural beauty of sleepy Sonoma County, where we could drive 10 minutes and find serenity in the greenery… once again, we are in the concrete and asphalt jungle with traffic and noise.  From Los Angeles, it takes hours to drive to a wild place.  We will miss our Sunday afternoons in the Armstrong Redwood Forest.   There’s the grief.  And then the gratitude… aerial-calif-fire4-rd-ml-171012_4x3_992

Carma & Oliver

We have each other:)

 

After The Fires

15 Oct

It is 7:56am Sunday, October 15, 2017, as I begin the next phase of recovery after the fires in Santa Rosa nearly put an end to us.  There are so many friends and extended family members who want to know what happened, what we went through; I can’t tell this story over and over, it’s traumatic.  So I will tell it once, here, and share the link, and I will try to post weekly updates here, I’ll make it a minor goal to write a little each Sunday morning until we rise like the Phoenix.

My husband, Oliver, arrived home from work around 10:30pm last Sunday, October 8th.  He is a driver, part-time.  His primary goal is nearing the finish line, and that is to complete the final rendering of Cerebus Film.  It is an independent animation project he has been producing/writing/directing since before we met in 2009.  He works with a team of over 200 artists worldwide, all of them doing it in their spare time on their own computers, a labor of love by skilled and talented Cerebus fans.

It was too late to catch up on our favorite shows, so we got ready for bed.  We both remember saying it smelled like a camp fire.  “There’s a wildfire in Napa,” I’d seen some news about that.  I thought of my boss, Terri, who was visiting her friend in Napa last weekend, and hoped the fires there would not affect her.  (It burnt to the ground, we learned a few days ago.)

We fell asleep easily with our three cats nestled at our feet and next to us and on us, as they usually do.

I woke to the sound of voices outside, yelling, in a fog I think I heard the word “evacuate” and I reached over and my husband wasn’t there.  A moment later he was in the doorway, shining the light of his phone into the bedroom and saying in no uncertain terms, “Honey, we have to evacuate.  There’s a fire in the park.”  (Our mobile home park, Journey’s End, you may have heard about it in the news, it’s the one located next to Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated in the middle of the night, like we were.)

It was dark, power was out, inside our home the air was breathable, it only smelled like danger, but when I opened the door to look outside, the air was ghastly.  My brain yelled, “Get out!”  It didn’t stop yelling at me to obey that command until we were well south of Santa Rosa on Hwy 101, the main artery between San Francisco and the North Bay cities.

“The kitties!” I shouted, “We have to get the kitties!”

“I can’t see them!  Where are they?”

“Where are the carriers?” I said aloud and I remembered, they were outside, somewhere in the shed.  The red glow of flames nearby said, “You can’t do that.  You can’t risk your lives breathing that smoke and take time to find the carriers and try to find the cats and try to push them into the carriers.”

“What about–should we let them out?”

“No!  It’s too smoky and chaotic, they’re more likely to get hurt out there.”

Split-second decisions had to be made.  We rushed out with the clothes we threw on and our phones and keys.  I managed to grab my purse and meds.  “Get out!  Get out!”

We had to get Oliver’s Mom, Inger, a few doors down.  He ran over there, I got the car and met him.  He was out in that toxic smoke banging on her home to wake her and get her moving.  Her neighbor, Louise, came outside in her PJs and robe and we took  her with us.  They piled into the car and I drove carefully through the dark, smoky park toward the only exit, where we saw police cars parked with lights on, we heard sirens, but there was no sign of a firetruck, and plumes of yellow and red flames and black smoke consumed at least two homes at once.

“Get out!”  I obeyed.  Hyper focused on driving at 3:38am, turned onto Bicentennial Way.  Many cars, but not a jam, many people evacuating.

The entire hillside above Journeys End, the Fountaingrove area, was consumed.  And there were no firetrucks there and none on the road.  The entire county was going up in flames.

The wind that night was noticeably worse than memory recalls ever hearing in California, and we are used to the winds that kick up every year–known as the Santa Ana winds.  “It sounds like it could blow off some siding or the awning,” I had said before going to bed.

Once we got onto the 101 South, I drove the speed limit and watched other cars carefully to avoid an accident, getting away from the smoke was all that mattered.  Everything else was blocked out.  Drive to safety, that was my job, like a robot.

“Louise, do you have your medication with you?” I asked because she was understandably in a mild state of shock and panic.  She is 84 years old and takes heart medication.

“No, I didn’t get my purse or anything!”

“Okay, okay, we’ll stop at a hospital and get your medications.”

“I can get them at Tuttles.  They have all my records!”

Tuttles, her usual pharmacy, was probably not going to be open in the morning.  It’s in Santa Rosa.  There was a car consumed by flames on the side of the road, police nearby, doing what they could to help mitigate the dangers and steer people away.

We approached the next little city, Rohnert Park, it was dark and smoky.  “I don’t want to stop here, I don’t want to have to evacuate again, okay?  I’m going to keep driving until we get out of this smoke!”  All agreed.

We passed Petaluma, also smoky.  We found local news on the radio and heard that Novato had fire alerts and Hwy 37 was closed.  So there was no point looking for a hotel in Novato either, but we saw a hospital open, and took Louise to the ER to get checked out and get an emergency supply of meds.  They weren’t allowed to give her pills to take with her, but they printed out her prescriptions, so we could get them from a pharmacy first thing in the morning.

The only hotel that was not swarmed with evacuees was in San Rafael and it was $264, so we decided we might as well go all the way to San Francisco.

By 5am we were safe and in a comfy room.  We turned on Kron4, the best local live news channel, and were horrified.  “The mobile home park next to Kaiser Hospital has been completely destroyed.”  The news crew was on top of the Kaiser parking garage, directly behind our homes.  Their cameras were aimed downward and all that was visible in the black of night and smoke, was twisted metal in a wall of flames.

“Oh my god!” Louise said over and over again, and burst into tears. “Oh my god!  I hope everyone got out–how will we know?  Oh my god!  We’ve lost everything?”  By “we” she meant everyone in the park.  It has been her home for 37 years.  She’s the sweetest little lady.  It broke (and breaks) my heart.  I hugged her and told her we’re going to get through this, “You’re not alone, we’re all going to help each other get through this!”

“I don’t have any insurance!  I can’t afford insurance!  I’ve lost everything!  Everything!  Oh, I wish I was dead!” she cried.  And we held each other and comforted each other.

Louise doesn’t have a wireless phone, and she couldn’t remember the phone number of her friend Lois or her niece Ann.  It was hours before she remembered a phone number, and it was for Ann’s husband’s phone.  So that was a relief, to get word to her family that she was okay.

Resigned to our losses, we found a Walgreens open in the morning and got the meds Louise needed.  We picked up some clothes at a Good Will Thrift Store, and went to IHOP for some comfort food.

I couldn’t bear the thought that my husband had lost 9 years of work.  The rendering computer was gone, the backup drives, gone, all of it gone.  How much of it might be in the cloud?  Not much.  Was the project dead?  I could not bear to ask him this.  Besides, Louise was already so fragile and distraught, we did not talk about our losses.  We focused on the positive.  We were safe and well.  We had each other.  Her family knew she was in good hands.

After breakfast, my husband said he had to go back and see it with his own eyes, he didn’t want to believe it.  Maybe it’s not “completely destroyed”.  Maybe the kitties got out, maybe the hard drives survived.  I did not want to go back.  I did not want to see it.  I believed what we saw and heard on the news.  I felt sick, and besides, we weren’t supposed to go back to the evacuated areas–the City and Police were telling everyone to stay away.  He had to, and his mother wouldn’t leave his side, and Louise wanted to go too, so they went.  I stayed in the hotel and cried.  After a while, I called my son and told him the horrible news.  He didn’t want to hear the details.  No sooner did I answer his question about the kitties, that they didn’t make it, he hung up and texted me that he did not want to talk about it.  I knew he had broken down in tears and was angry that I did not let them out.

It took hours for them to get back to Journeys End.  They had to park at the hospital and walk into the park.  It was smoldering, there were still plumes of smoke rising, but the police did not stop them.  It must have been amazing to see the homes on the south side of Sahara Street still standing, barely damaged, and the north side demolish, black and smoking.

I heard the news and wrote a quick email to my team at work, “Our home is still standing!”  Wow.  Talk about a silver lining!  “The kitties survived and they seem fine!”

That’s all I can write today.  It’s been a harrowing week, but we are all safe and well.  More good news to come, no doubt.  More silver linings.

Thank you to everyone for your support and caring and donations and prayers and for the peace and comfort you are giving us knowing we are not alone in this marathon.  We are deeply moved and uplifted by the support of my Red Hat manager and team, who set up this donation page to help!  https://www.gofundme.com/simonsenfamily

Thank you!!!  We’re all glad to be alive, even Louise–she’s been reunited with her family.

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Special thanks to my daughter, Chelsea, in Utah, who found this helpful post on Facebook… another silver lining…

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This article pretty much says it all: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/2-big-wildfires-prompt-evacuations-in-Napa-County-12262945.php#photo-14325373