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Santa Rosa Fire: Leaving the Cats

Santa Rosa Fire: Leaving the Cats

I woke up around 1 a.m. on October 9 to the glow of a fire on the horizon. I glanced out the window. The glow was over the ridge that separates our hill from the one next to it, and the valley between them has been my favorite view from 14100 Mark West Springs Road for almost 10 years.

I went to the bathroom, then walked onto the back patio to get a better look at the fire. It was tearing over the ridge and toward the valley floor.

I rushed back into the house and yelled to my wife, “Christine, we are leaving RIGHT NOW.”
The power went out. I grabbed clothes in the dark. Socks? No time. Shoes only. Car keys, phone, laptop, Christine’s hand. Then we ran toward the car parked at the back of the property. I said “We are taking the Honda.” No time for debate; it was our most reliable vehicle.

We ran past the garage. That’s where our two white Siamese cats, Pierre and Apple, spend each night. They’re twins and we’ve had them since they were furry little kittens.

apple and pierre

Apple and Pierre


While I was running, my mind was working furiously: Is there time to get the cats?
A 40-foot-high fireball erupted behind the buildings. There was no time to do anything but jump in the car and escape.

As we tore down the driveway, a firestorm of cinders hit the side of the car. There was so much smoke I couldn’t see the asphalt.

There were cars driving fast out of the neighborhood. This winding country road was the only way out. I merged with the last two cars without taking my foot off the accelerator and then floored it.

Christine felt heat on her head and looked up through the moonroof. The branches of the trees above us were on fire.

Driving through Fire

A National Geographic photographer took this shot while driving through a wildfire.


We slowed down after driving two miles. We hadn’t said anything, but we were thinking the same thing. The cats.

Christine said, “Maybe the fire will go around the house. It does that sometimes. Maybe they’ll find a way to get out of the garage. Wild animals are smart in a fire.”

“That could happen,” I reassured her, knowing in my gut that nothing would survive the inferno we had just driven out of.

When we saw the photographs of the ashes of our home the following day, we knew that the cats could not have survived. A news report said that the fire was moving the length of a football field every 3 seconds, so the fire must have engulfed them quickly. Car gas tanks were erupting all around them; one of my cars was thrown 20 feet by the explosion. The most comforting thought I had was that the cats had died quickly.

Christine kept dissolving into tears for the next few days every time she thought about Pierre and Apple. At the shelter, looking for clothes, a volunteer gave her a bottle of French shampoo.

She began to cry and held it out so I could see the name on the label.


Christine began to cry uncontrollably. My children and hers enfolded her in a huddle of love. I could not join in because I didn’t want to add my own roiling emotions to the mix.
In the few days since the fire, we’ve shed a hundred times more tears for the cats than we have for the loss of all our possessions and our home.

I’ve replayed the scene many times in my mind. Running to the car. Running past the garage. Wondering if I could have saved them.

Each time I run the mental movie, I wonder if I could have done something differently that awful night that would not have resulted in their deaths. I know the answer is no, but I keep looking for a crack in reality that will let me rewrite the past.

I know logically that if I’d diverted my attention from getting Christine and I out of the fire and blundered around in the dark garage trying to corral frantic cats, I would not be around to tell the tale today. Neither Christine and I would have survived. That analysis doesn’t help me feel any better.

Gradually, as we’ve tapped and cleared our energy fields, the shock of loss and grief has begun to pass. We’ve started talking about all the ways we enjoyed Pierre and Apple, and we can think about them with misty eyes rather than a torrent of tears. Healing can take a while, but healing is possible, even from losing beings you love.


Santa Rosa Fire Blog Posts by Dawson Church:

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