California dreams reduced to embers

The wildfires already rank among the deadliest in California history

Jose Garnica worked for more than two decades to build up his dream home that was reduced to ashes in a matter of minutes by the deadly firestorm striking Northern California.

Garnica, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico over 20 years ago, had finally decided he could afford to upgrade parts of his Santa Rosa house after building a stable career with the local garbage company and saving nearly everything he and his wife earned.

Over the past two years, he replaced the siding and installed a new air conditioner, stainless steel appliances and new flooring. He bought a new 60-inch (1.5-meter) television. On Saturday, the 44-year-old got an estimate to replace the fence, one of the last items on his list.

But at 3:30 a.m. Monday, he watched his house become one of the more than 2,000 homes and businesses destroyed by the series of blazes across the region that had killed at least 17 people.

“You feel helpless,” he said Tuesday. “There’s nothing you can do. Everything, your whole life, goes through your mind in a minute. Everything you had done. I left all my family behind in Mexico to get a better life. Finally we were just coming to the comfort level, and this happens.”

Garnica tried to save the home with a garden hose. He and a neighbour tried to cut open the neighbour’s above-ground pool, hoping the water would protect their homes. In 15 minutes, the entire neighbourhood caught fire, he said.

“If I knew this was going to happen, maybe those 45 minutes I spent trying to put the fire down, I should’ve just grabbed all the belongings,” Garnica said. “But I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Those destructive flames raced across the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties and the coastal beauty of Mendocino further north, leaving little more than smouldering ashes and eye-stinging smoke in their wake. Whole neighbourhoods are gone, with only brick chimneys and charred laundry machines to mark sites that were once family homes.

Related: Deadly California wildfires force thousands to evacuate

“This is just pure devastation, and it’s going to take us a while to get out and comb through all of this,” said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said the state had “several days of fire weather conditions to come.”

In some torched neighbourhoods, fire hydrants still had hoses attached, apparently abandoned by firefighters who had to flee.

The wildfires already rank among the deadliest in California history, and officials expected the death toll to increase as the scope of destruction becomes clear. At least 185 people were injured during the blazes that cropped up Sunday night. Nearly 200 people were reported missing in Sonoma County alone.

David Leal, 55, and his wife and stepson salvaged a few decorative items from their Santa Rosa home, including a wind chime, tiles from the backsplash in the kitchen, a decorative sun and a cross.

“Our plan is to keep those things, and when we rebuild, they’ll be mementos of what we’ve lived through, and of, just, resilience,” Leal said. “It’s hard not to get emotional.

In the meantime, Leal got a post office box so the family can get mail, a new laptop and some clothes. They’re living out of their two vehicles for now.

“We’ll be back home again sooner than later, and with our chins held high,” he said, choking back tears. “And hopefully we’ll be amongst our neighbours and friends as they do the same.”

Leal, a U.S. Navy veteran, evacuated with his family, two dogs and cat to nearby Petaluma late Sunday after seeing fierce, hot winds and flames whipping in the distance.

“We didn’t have time to think about what to grab. We grabbed what we saw,” he said. He got his external hard drive, which was lying out, but left his laptop.

Garnica also hung onto hope, saying he was not back at square one.

“I came into the States with nothing. I didn’t have anything,” Garnica said. “I think I’m better off than how I came in. At least I got a job. I got a family. I’m healthy.”

___

Knickmeyer reported from Sonoma, California. Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Olga R. Rodriguez, Sudhin Thanawala, Juliet Williams and Andrew Dalton in San Francisco and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report.

___

Follow the AP’s complete wildfire coverage here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires.

Jonathan J. Cooper And Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press

Just Posted

WATCH: Sparks fly as SUV speeds down wrong side of Highway 1 in Chilliwack trying to flee police

Captured on video, the vehicle headed westbound against oncoming traffic before crashing

Drugs and guns seized by Chilliwack Mounties in complex case

Drug trafficking investigations led to five arrests in three different locations across Chilliwack

Chilliwack RCMP trying to catch robbery suspect

Police hope someone will identify the person who appears in security camera footage

LETTER: Why is Jati Sidhu ashamed of his riding?

Lytton’s Christopher di Armani shares his dismay at the potential name change of the MP’s riding

Chilliwack churns out new generation of wildfire fighters

School district partners with B.C. Wildfire Service to prep Grade 12s for careers

Stolen Bentley spotted going wrong way down highway found in Summerland

The car has been recorded going the wrong way on the Coquihalla, found two days later

1,300 cruise ship passengers rescued by helicopter amid storm off Norway’s coast

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances

Province announces $18.6 million for B.C. Search and Rescue

The funding, spread over three years, to pay for operations, equipment, and training

Vancouver-bound transit bus involved in fatal crash near Seattle

One man was killed and a woman injured in crash with bus purchased by TransLink

Late-season wave of the flu makes its round in B.C.

BC Centre for Disease Control reported 50 per cent jump in flu cases in first weeks of March

Tofino’s housing crisis causing some to seek shelter at the local hospital

Tofino’s housing crisis is pushing the town’s ‘hidden homeless’ population into the forefront.

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years

Most Read