Our family happily escaped danger

24 Sep 2018

Earlier this week, firefighters finally contained the Mendocino Complex Fire. It burned more than 400,000 acres and has been called the largest wildfire in California history.

The devastation wreaked by wildfires is a reality that Monique and Cody Walker know well. Last fall, the couple had to flee their Santa Rosa, Calif., home with their five children when the 2017 Tubbs Fire swept through Sonoma and Napa counties. More than 4,000 homes, including the Walkers’, were destroyed.

Monique, 42, and Cody, 42, talk about what it’s like trying to move on after losing most of their belongings.

That night in 2017, the fire swept through your city.

Monique: Yes. When we left that night, we already had the glow of the fire behind us. You’re hearing on the radio all the places that you can go to, but nobody’s telling you which way to go.

Cody: I remember the streets were congested as residents tried to flee. Cars were driving up onto the sidewalks and the front yards.

Your family happily escaped danger.

Monique: Thanks God, we did. You see, in such cases, you’re feeling like an ant with a magnifying glass chasing you, and you’re just randomly going, but you don’t know if it’s gonna be safe ahead of you.

We evacuated first to Cody’s work, and then to our church.

Cody: When I returned to the neighborhood the next morning, our house was completely gone. So were all of the houses in the neighborhood. We brought our kids with us later that day.

Monique: It looked normal until you got closer to the railroad tracks. And then you’d see one house burned, and then two houses were fine. And then all of a sudden you got past the railroad and everything was gone. And you don’t know what street you’re on because everything looks the same — burnt and twisted metal and just ash everywhere.

Cody: Our oldest daughter almost fell over when she saw the house. She cried. And we just held each other for a long time.

It just was a numbing feeling you know? It’s like, what do you do? I mean, it’s gone. I just wanted to punch stuff, really. But that doesn’t do anything.

Monique: The hardest part was losing invaluable items tied to our family identity. It’s hard not thinking that maybe there was a chance that you could’ve saved something else. And I keep going back there, and I’m like, OK, maybe I should sift one more time and I might find my wedding ring or maybe if I look I can find my daughter’s rock that she really liked.

Cody: Destroyed, too, were the woven cradle baskets — given to each of our kids. You don’t want to let go of the past because that’s how we learned how to live and be who we are. It’s hard to say, ‘OK, all we have carrying forward really at this point is our DNA,’ you know?

Friends and family wished to help you, of course.

Monique: Oh, certainly. They call us and ask how we’re doing, and they don’t want to hear that we’re not doing OK.

Cody: We’ll have to find a “new normal,” now, while we wait for our home to be rebuilt. We live as yet in an apartment just south of Santa Rosa.

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