Helping the James Family

Hello to all our family, our friends, and to those who we do not know that are reading this. We appreciate you even taking the time to read the words that follow.

Personally, I (Heidi) am having a really difficult time with this, as I know so many others in our area are as well. I keep telling myself "I am not a victim, I do not act like a victim, we can figure this out on our own, other people need more help then we do." Maybe I'm in shock. Maybe I don't feel like we have a "sob" story. Maybe I don't want a sob story. As we look at our truck and its contents (2 bags of clothes, our daughters carseat, her halloween costume, our important papers, and 2 pairs of shoes each) I am realizing this is it. This is all we own now. And while this is all a depressing realization, I've never been one for material possessions. Things are things and they can be replaced, I know that. I'm a logical individual. It's the not having a home that is making this difficult for me, and for us. The most difficult thing is to understand that a place we called home has been reduced to nothing but a pile of ash. We can rebuild our lives, but how do we rebuild without a place to do so? Anyway, this is the story of what happened so you have a glimpse of what we, and so many other Sonoma county individuals went through that night. 

On Sunday night, October 8th around 10:30pm, Spencer (my fiance) & I were sitting at home on Porter Creek Road in Santa Rosa. Our 2 year-old daughter was fast asleep, and we were considering going to bed ourselves. The weeks prior had been pretty trying on our little family. We had moved into our home exactly one month prior and still had things in boxes to be unpacked. Spencer was working at least 9-10 hour days for Bodean Co. of Santa Rosa. I was working a decent amount myself as the estate chef for Sbragia Family Vineyards, a local winery in Dry Creek Valley. We are both hard workers, so the hours don't bother us, but we were definitely exhausted. 

Around this time, we started to small the smoke. Didn't think much of it at first. Maybe someone was having a fire to warm their home? The winds were unbelievably strong that night, and it was pretty chilly around our house. It smelled like a campfire, but we were convinced no one in their right mind would have a fire outside with winds like that. Not much time had passed and we noticed the neighbors across the street coming down their hill with a large trailer all packed up. It just seemed eerie, and my instincts definitely started to kick it. At this moment we received a call from Spencer's brother, letting us know there is an evacuation in our area and they had lost power at their apartment complex in Windsor. He let us know there was a fire on Shiloh, Conde, and in Sebastapol. At almost the same moment, I checked my phone and had messages from a best friend of mine, who lived 7 minutes down the street, off of Mark West. She notified me of fires on Mark West and Reibli, and in Calistoga and St Helena. We were right in the middle of it. 

At this point the neighbors had made it down their driveway and we heard yelling, lots of yelling. "We need to get out, we need to get out!" Ash was falling from the sky. At this moment we looked to our right, only to see the top of the moutain accompanied by red, orange, yellow and smoke. Lot's of thick, black, smoke is what it seemed like. The flames hadn't quite made it yet, but they were coming. We panicked. We didin't know what to do, but we knew we needed to get out. We needed to grab Charley, our daughter, and get the hell out. We grabbed what we could. Random clothes here and there, our important papers, some toiletries, and not much else. Everything was important, but nothing was important. We made it out of there within 10 minutes at the most, leaving my vehicle, knowing that we needed to stay together. Nothing else matters but your family during moments like this. 

We took Calistoga road, away from the fires to head to Airport Blvd. We made it with no major issues, and it seemed like many people were sleeping in their homes and apartments, unaware to what was going on. We thought we were safe in Windsor, until another evacuation notice was given and my instincts kicked in again. The fire was visible from the back of the apartments. We saw random explosions, electrical flashes to the right, we heard trees exploding all around. People who didn't have their garage open were breaking into them to get their cars and belongings. So many individuals were just waking up to this disaster, still unaware of what was going on. 

We left Windsor before the traffic hit to head to Healdsburg, where Spencer's grandmother was located. Charley needed to be woken up again to move in a slight panic. Heading onto 101 North, we had the fire in plain view. Everything was burning to a crisp right in front of us. We had just heard from our friends that they finally made it out of their home. Another friend didn't even have a chance to head to his home because it was in the same area. The whole evening was surreal. 

I think we arrived in Healdsburg around 3:30, maybe 4 in the morning. We didn't sleep much that night. Monday was a scramble to find any phone with service to make sure our loved ones knew we were alright, and most importantly, safe. We still hadn't recieved any word on our home. All we knew was they hadn't contained the fire, and it had already destroyed 1500 structures. Listening to the radio was all we could really do to stay updated. 

On Tuesday we got confirmation that we lost our home, our vehicle, along with everything left inside of them. We had no warning, no time to be prepared, and the local agencies didn't even have time to warn us on that night. We learned that our home was gone within an hour of us leaving. It's a hard thing to swallow. Even harder to see the photo.

It's hard in situations like this to not think about the what if's. What if we were sleeping? What if we had time to grab things? What if we didn't leave when we did? What if, what if, what if. None of that matters, and I know I'll drive myself crazy thinking that way. 

It took a lot for me to start this gofundme, as I said before. However, we are at a loss. An enormous loss. And we do need help, whatever help can be given. We had a really hard time with an amount to put, but we did try to estimate our belongings as best we could, including what it will take for us to find another place to live. The biggest question I've gotten was "how can we help?" and "what do you need?" With so many friends and family members all over the country, we decided this was the best way to accept any help from anyone. *Any funds we recieve will be put towards a new home, a vehicle, and the necessities (clothes, toiletries, food, etc.) If we do find ourselves with more than what we need, Spencer and I vow to donate the remaining to other victims around the community. 

We are happily overwhelmed with all of the love and support we have received from ALL people, even folks that didn't know us at all. I won't ever be able to express with words how much we appreciate everything. 


The (future) James Family

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, we are still planning our wedding for next July, and the only thing that will postpone that from happening is if Healdsburg is hit by this terrible disaster. Spencer and I are both trying to stay positive about this entire situation. It's been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but their is always a silver lining and a reason to celebrate the life we are living. 

Again, thank you friends, for anything and everything.

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Heidi Jean Finney 
Santa Rosa, CA
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