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

Okanagan has its very own orchestra of recorders

Forget the shrieking sounds from your Grade 3 class; the recorder is capable of making real music

World of Prayer Day returns, celebrates 97 years

Vernonites can celebrate the day by attending a service at 2 p.m. at All Saints Anglican Church.

Okanagan Shuswap weather: Hold on to your toque, wind and snow today

The sun will be hiding behind the clouds for the next few days

Crash closes highway between Vernon and Lumby

Traffic being routed around the scene

Cougar “living” next door to Vernon elementary school

Conservation Office has been alerted and monitoring large cat

A Mother’s Wish: Ryan Shtuka’s mother wants her son to be ‘forever known’

‍‍‍‍‍“Let me tell you a story …. it all began with a boy named Ryan”

Searchers return to avalanche-prone peak in Vancouver to look for snowshoer

North Shore Rescue, Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog teams and personnel will be on Mt. Seymour

Market volatility, mortgages loom over upcoming earnings of Canada’s big banks

Central bank interest hikes have padded the banks’ net interest margins

City’s plastic bag ban expected to begin July 1

Salmon Arm bylaw would impact approximately 175 retail stores and 50 food outlets/restaurants

Hearings into SNC-Lavalin affair start today, but not with Wilson-Raybould

She has repeatedly cited solicitor-client privilege to refuse all comment

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

B.C. pot giant Tilray to acquire hemp food company Manitoba Harvest for up to $419 million

Tilray will pay $150 million in cash and $127.5 million in stock.

Tears, flowers at impromptu memorial for Syrian children killed in Halifax fire

The family had only lived in the Quartz Drive home for a few months

Most Read