Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Fire Story, COMPLETE

This is A Fire Story. Today's Part 2 is below, but I also reposted Friday's Part 1 so the complete story would be together in one place.

Which is not to say I won't do more, depending on what else happens.

It's much less polished than my usual work, but that's part of the point. Writing, penciling and inking an 18-page comic like this would normally take me a few weeks. I did this over parts of four days using a bad brush pen and art supplies from Target--Sharpie pens, highlighters and crummy paper--because Target was the only open store I could find within 20 miles.

It's a first-person report from the front line. They're not always pretty.

Page 9 has some profanity. Actually, it has nothing but profanity. Sorry. I wrestled with that, but that's exactly the way it happened and I am an honest reporter.

My family, pets and I are all fine--a lot better off than many others. There's not a person in the county who hasn't been touched by this disaster. Karen and I know at least a hundred people burned out of their homes, including a lot of cops, firefighters, and government staff who've been working hard for others all week.

A Fire Story has drawn a lot of readers, Facebook comments and shares, and other attention. I appreciate that deeply. Thanks.

We'll be fine. I'll keep you posted as we rebuild.




















OCTOBER 31: Three weeks after the fire, I posted a short update as my next blog post, HERE. Thanks again for reading.

125 comments:

Mike Peterson said...

Thank you for doing what you do.

Please don't have any more inspiring moments.

barbara said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm in the Valley, west of Sacramento. We've had winds, orange skies, and a dusting of ash on patio furniture and cars. You're not so far away that it could have been us. Please know there are many, many of us who feel deeply for what you're going through, and yet we're safe in our neighborhoods, while your neighborhood is gone.

I'd say "hang in there!", but you already are. Kudos to your wife and her staff, and all the first responders, many who are now homeless. We in the Valley, just a mountain range away, will be "boosting the signal", forwarding messages and lists of needed items for evacuees, gathering items and taking them to centers, and offering prayers and good vibes. Hopefully, it will help.

Hugs!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your family's losses, as well as for everyone in the area. We have been watching the posts of friends in the area, and it reflects and adds to the heartbreak of the fires in the Columbia River Gorge we had this summer. 2017 will forever be the year of disaster piled on disaster for so many.

I'm with Mike, I want to thank you for sharing this glimpse into this horror, and thank you to Karen as well.

Lori in Portland

Anne Canright said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was in Santa Rosa last week as part of a Search & Rescue effort to locate a few of the missing. I stood in the rubble unbelieving--and yet of course, it was all very real. I wish you strength and good humor as you make your way back to rebuilding your home. I'm glad you and yours are safe. That's what matters most in all of this. Not every one was so fortunate.... I don't know you, but hugs anyway!

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Thank you so much for letting us connect with your experience through your art. Crikey. Praying for rain there, before more people go through this.

Sarah Leavitt said...

Oh for god's sake, Brian. This is beautiful. I am so sad about everything you lost, and especially trying to wrap my head around the drawings and paintings. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

I'm so glad you and Karen are safe.

bert said...

Brian, thank you for sharing this. It's beautifully raw. Having been through this myself in Southern CA a number of years ago, I can very honestly say - it gets better. You get better. For for quite some time life is confusing, disorientating, unnerving, infuriating, and just plain sad.
But little by little, you do heal.
Wishing you and your loved ones all the best -

Roberta Grubman

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, and I'm so sorry you all lost your home and all your stuff, your neighbhorhood.... We're here in support

desiree stinson said...

And finally...tears break loose from their restraints. Thank you for sharing your story. You and your wife help keep the rest on the only path. Forward.

Jen said...

Thank you for sharing this - your raw and honest emotion is palable. I was born and raised in the area and many friends (and a family member) lost homes as well. Watching this unfold from where I live now across the country has been surreal. Not until reading your comic did I feel the emotional shock of how quickly everything changed in the middle of the night. Walking with you in your drawings, thinking you would be grabbing a few more things before heading back to your wife's office, only to see it all having disappeared in a matter of 8 brief pages... unreal. And too real. I'm so sorry for the losses your family and friends and neighbors have sustained. Please keep drawing this story, it doesn't end here.

Unknown said...

Here in Sebastopol, where all the evacuees have come, several in my home. Many friends in our LOVE CHOIR lost their homes and everything. My son lost a friend, identified by her teeth. We are in grief. Thanks for this...day 7 and it is not over...

Gloria Hafner said...

You used your craft to put on paper what we are all feeling and sharing as a community. Thank you!
pictures worth 1,000 words..your words added feelings. The past unfortunately is gone..the future maybe hopeful or scary. All we have is the present day. Be safe. Love to all.

Fred Dodge said...

I am able to grasp the enormity of all this, through your graphic art. I have loved the visual via 'comics' all of my 60 years. You have certainly earned your Eisner. Thank you.

Julia S said...

I'm a FOAF (or maybe a FOAFOAF, we seem to be all connected on the interwebs), several counties removed watching our fire danger move back and forth between "High" and "Red Flag" and choking up on the magnitude of loss and forbearance in the stories of coworkers' grandparents, family, and friends.

Donna Martinez said...

Responding for a friend... with a nod.
Unsettling correction noted during one of the earlier County wildfire pressers as they assured all of their intentions to check out the of deadly results of the fire by "going door-to-....ah... Foundation-to-foundation."

Anonymous said...

Wow, Brian, at MSH I did not know of your talent, besides in algebra. I've changed my name since then, but I remember you fondly. You were not a follower. Thank you for this.

Miranda Phoenix said...

Hey.... those diamond earrings are likely to still be there somewhere!!

I'm hoping that you're able to find them.... what a wonderful family heirloom they will be.

Barbara said...

This was an incredibly palpable description of the horrendous experience of the fire. I am thankful you were able to to summon the strength to journal it with your incredible talent. I saw this when it was posted by a friend in DENMARK. I have shared it as well. I am connected (by friends) with the training of Canine Companions for Independence and as a Santa Rosa resident you most likely know of their facility there which was evacuated. All the dogs are being fostered by the extended community, but at least 12 staff members lost there homes and everything as well. We are all praying for a miraculous change in the weather/wind. It doesn't seem like it now, but your life will take on a "before/after" delineation. My husband survived both bombings of the World Trade Center Tower One. He will never be the same. But he came home that night. And for me it has been one day at a time for the last 16 years of finding joy in some of the little stuff (and not turning on the television on the anniversaries) Your family and community are thoughtfully remembered here on the East Coast.

pegisorensontravels.com said...

Thank you for sharing your talent in such a poignant manner. As a former 30 year resident of Santa Rosa I feel impotent watching the carnage from so many miles away. I walked out in the rain today, without cover, wishing the rain and I were both in Sonoma County. I am overwhelmed by the courage, spirit and conviction that you are all showing the world as you struggle through each day of this never-ending trial of mother nature. Please remain safe and using your talents to tell the story that the world needs to hear. I know it's not what he meant, but HOW PRESCIENT IS THIS FROM LUTHER BURBANK:
"I firmly believe, from what I have seen,
that this is the chosen spot of all this earth
as far as Nature is concerned."

Luther Burbank, 1875

J Ellsworth said...

Please keep writing and drawing. You just may be saving people's lives sharing your own story of survival. It helps other's know they are not alone. This is so very sad and shocking now but I feel it may get worse in the coming months, the loss combined with grief and frustration of how to survive the change in your lives. You have a voice and it is powerful. Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

:(

Ellen Chesnut said...

I am so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Last month we were told to prepare to evacuate, hard winds blowing a wildfire down the Columbia River Gorge towards our house. I was nearly paralysed trying to decided what to save and what to leave to burn. It's horrible. We had a happy ending, but it has changed the way I look at the things in my life. They aren't as permanent as they once were.

Erika said...

My parents were on the opposite side of the road from you. They, too, lost everything. Thank you for putting words to such a deep, complex emotion.

Jazz4111 said...

No words ... just tears

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry man.
My cousin lived in Larkfield and lost her home, her mother's home and a rental up on Thomas Lake Harris. Wake up owning 3 properties, go to bed owning heaps of ash on scorched lots.
I'm lucky -- live on the west side, outer RR square. Sweat a lot, but no evac.
May your next home be perfect.

Unkletom said...

My sister's story is the same. Only the town (Glen Ellen) is different. My only advice is to keep the house key. One day you will have a new home and it might be of some comfort to key its locks to fit the key in your pocket.

Margaret said...

Oh, man..... what can I say..... Your comics are incredible, and very moving, and I appreciate your honesty. No problemo with the F word -- hey, how could you or anyone not have cussed i a situation like that? And "I inhaled my neighbors' lives" -- that says it, your devastation compressed into that one blunt word, said many times,

And "a napalm tsunami" -- again, stark fact in two powerful words that I have not seen used together.

I am just heartbroken by the wrenching losses thousands of people have suffered. I sit here in the Peninsula, and, though I and my loved ones are all down here and are safe, and none of them have lost anything, I will never be the same. So many people have had their lives ruined by these horrific fires that early October, 2017, will always be a very sad and stark dividing line in my life.

(This next almost seems to take a lot away from the enormity of what you have gone through, but -- I love your drawing style -- simple and just right for what you are saying. About having to use the so-so supplies you had to buy at Target (some of their employees, too, must have suffered awful losses in the fires) -- a talented artist can use inferior materials and still do great art, and I would never have known that you had to use inferior materials had you not said anything about that. And I have bookmarked your site, and a site has to be pretty special before I do that.)

Your comics are a great goodness, and I know they will help others. They tell a story that needs to be told, and in a way that people can relate to.

I am very proud of your wife, who has been a saint through all this, as she worked tirelessly to help others, even though she knew her home had been destroyed. What a lady! And she has a lot of company, from what I have read. I am deeply moved and cheered by that.

Thank you for your comics. And thank you for being you. And, as I learned long ago, when tragedy strikes -- keep busy, if you can. It will take your mind off the sadness and loss and give you something to do that will distract you from your grief. And as time passes, you will start to heal.

I do not know you, Brian, but I send hugs to you and your wife.

Suzanne McLean said...

Thank you so much for sharing your heart wrenching experience. It's so important for folks who can't put it into words or pictures themselves. And for those who watch helplessly from afar, to try to " get it" for our friends. This helps. Sending love & blessings. Xxx

Michele said...

Thank you for sharing your soul and sharing your experience. It must be so hard to have documented this. You've brought it home in a way no other need report has done so far.

I wish you and Karen peace in the coming days. I think you're going to need some.

Michele Jones in San Francisco

Britta said...

So moved by your testimony, thank you. So much sorrow.
Here is where humans need humans. We must not leave each other alone here.
Firefighters who lost their own home fighting for others...Your wife rescuing, supporting and doing/saying what's needed in this tragic situation. All of that brings hope to my heart, a place of rest and different kind of home. Home of the human heart, kindness and compassion, solidarity.
I live in Portugal where yesterday was one of the worst days of fires, 27 lost their life, many more their houses, animals and possessions. People often don't get assurance payments, so they are left with nothing.
Fires still ongoing, not enough resources to fight all of them - waiting for the rain that should come in the evening. I know rain will come. And a lot will be gone by then.
My heart goes out to you, and all who experience loss and grief today. Much love...

Susan said...

Brian - Thanks for drawing this and I'm sorry for the loss of your belongings and home but grateful that you and Karen are still alive. So many stories to tell. As a healthcare worker of those with neurological diseases it has been gut wrenching to hear the stories of those due to age or illness who were unable to leave their homes and perished in the fires. Many are still fighting/fearing these fires. Wishing you, Karen and all those who are experiencing loss and grief today the comfort of community.

Risa Nye said...

Brian, thank you for using your extraordinary talents to chronicle your fire story. As someone who lived through the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 (and wrote about it a lot), I am in awe of the way you captured these terrible moments with such aching similarity to what we went through. Meeting folks in the stores with carts full of basic stuff and knowing…lists of the special things you cannot replace, twisted metal in the moonscape of a neighborhood. Wishing you and your family strength and resilience in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

It's jaxun! said...

Powerful. Gut wrenching. This really brings it home and makes it real. Thank you.

Amy Goodman said...

Hi. I'm friends with Elizabeth and just so moved by this. My parents lost their home not far from you off of Mark West Springs Road. Thank you for your art, and I'm so very sorry you lost all of your art, previous work and drawings, but so grateful for your future capacity to share your talent with the world is still in the here and now.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry.

It might not come to be, and might be no comfort, but I can tell you this: after the Oakland Hills fire the redwood trees in my backyard (that looked just like your drawing) did eventually come back. I know you have lost so much, but you may not have lost those. Take care of yourselves.

Sarah Fisk said...

I lost my house to fire 10 years ago this week. Your beautiful art describes the experience so well - thank you. It is hard for me to know so many wonderful people are experiencing what I went through back then. Sending much love to you, and if its any help (probably not) ten years later I still miss some - ok, a lot of - stuff, but I have a great life and I have new stuff. Love on, my friend...give your gift and hug your wife for me - she is a superhero! Sarah

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I'm a Santa Rosa native as is my husband. We have lived in Arizona now for 12 years. While we have never lost a home and can't begin to know what you're feeling, our hearts are with you and all who've lost their homes. I cried again for everyone reading this. The burned area is where we worked,lived, played. I have no words to express how I feel.

Bless you for sharing, bless your wife for being strong enough to help others knowing what you've lost. Blessings on the first responders who fought to save people and homes in spite of what might have been happening to their families and homes. And, last but not least, blessings and prayers to those who lost homes, possibly family and friends, and those who are sheltering them.

Anne Findlay Dowling said...

I am so incredibly sorry.

Steve Ciaffa said...

Thank you for so eloquently expressing the grief and tragedy so many in our community are experiencing right now. I'm so sorry for you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This shows what a powerful art form comics can be. Wishing you strength and courage.

amandine dorian said...

Wow. Brought tears into my eyes. Plenty of love and courage.

SylviaRN said...

Thank you for not letting inferior tools keep you from telling your story. The fingers and mind behind the tools shine through. I am so sorry for your loss and glad you are able to realize you still have everything that REALLY matters.

Steve Lafler said...

Very sorry to hear about the loss of your home. It is great you and your wife got away safe! Good luck with the days ahead.

This is excellent work documenting your experience. It's good for others to see, and indeed good for you as an artist to report and process the experience. To my eye it is certainly the work of an accomplished pro! It's the nature of the artist to be their own roughest critic.

My family in Santa Rosa is lucky and safe, as we live near the fairgrounds with house intact. We did leave town for the better part of the past week to escape the stress and bad air. Relatives who were evacuated came to stay in our place.

Keep an eye on that wind this week, and keep the story going.

Best, Steve L.

Dan Brumbaugh said...

So moving, thanks! Wishing you and all of our refugees as much resilience as possible.

Anonymous said...

Dear Brian,
Incredible story; so sorry for your loss. Such weight in much of your dialogue; beautifully written. "I inhaled my neighbors lives" is one of the most powerful sentences I have read.

Take care and best of luck and wishes.

Unknown said...

Excellent art work and storytelling

BeHearNow said...

Thank you for making my heart experience this as much as my intellect has. I hope you keep writing.

Maureen Book said...

thank you for this description--our home survived--had a chat with God cause our home burned down in the Oakland fire when kids were young--grateful

WonderingWoman said...

Brian:
I don't know you. I didn't know your work before this moment. I read your strip about the fire. It is an amazing, poignant account of this horrendous event. Thank you. Thank you for your creative articulation of you and your family and your neighbor's experience. I grieve for your loss and for those of so many. Together, somehow, we will each find our way to help rebuild the community. With people like you and your wife, it will be that much easier.
Warm regards,
Colleen Pundyk

Templeton Ra said...

Touched me deeply. Thank you. You and your family are alive. And your pet(s). Family, I have discovered are the true gold in existence. And friends.

Susan Smith said...

Great Job, Brian. Have you submitted this to the Nib yet?

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

I’m sorry.

NSuttor said...

You are lucky, and clearly you know that others have been lucky before you, and others will also follow - I speak as one who ran from a fire, and had the winds change before it reached my place. I was 10, and fled with my mother and sister.

And I'm not talking about the fire you fled. I'm talking about a fire about 20 years ago, in Australia. You have sympathy and empathy coming from all over the world, and Australia is one place where you will get plenty from! Our fires... we run for a reason!

I'm so sorry for what you've lost, and best wishes. And excellent that you valued your skin and lives and ran while you could!

katiecat said...

Brian, this touched me so much. I live in an area in Southern California that is regularly threatened by wildfires. I find myself saying annually "I hate this time of year," but I seem to say it more often regardless of the time of year, not just during "fire season." Your area is the place I wished I might settle in for retirement and I have a special affection for it. I now know that's because of the spirit and such talented expression of it as yours that survive in those environs. And I see that you know that and will carry on with that spirit. Blessings to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.

www.paigebyrneshortal.com said...

Wow you are gifted. And you've helped others who aren't as gifted tell their story and the rest of us understand. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story! Thanks to Karen for leading her teams through this emergency and caring for those in need... in the shelters and throughout the county where there has been pain. Your colleagues at DCSS Sonoma County appreciate you and hurt for your loss.

Brett

Anonymous said...

Tidy whities. So sorry for your traumatic loss. "Inhaling my neighbors' lives" is a devastating image. Word.

Nohemi Castaneda Martinez said...

I'm sorry you and Karen lost your home! I work for Karen. We sat at the same table during the employee award dinner a few months ago with my husband and 2 sons. You are both great people...you are very talented!!! If there is anything I can do let me know. Good luck with with with everything.

Tracy Ardito said...

Soooooo sorry. We have family evacuated. Praying and sending help and continuing to do.
Since you asked, I agree with Uncle Tom hold to your house key.

Casey Leedom said...

Hi there, I was in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire and I thought you might appreciate my story from that time. It gets better. And this will become an important part of you and your wife's lives.


Requiem for Casa Amito Wednesday, October 23, 1991

Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful at Casa Amito. The wind was blowing strongly — bringing the music of the wind chimes from the surrounding homes. Standing on Casa Amito's top balcony I felt as if the wind was blowing through me, cleaning my soul. The sky was that achingly beautiful blue that it gets on such days and the air smelled of the magic of the beginning of Fall.

It would be a good day for a house cleaning. Kate was coming up for the day. Bill was heading off to work to clear up some things. Maybe Kate and I would take a walk in the hills around Casa Amito and just admire the day.

I loved Casa Amito. When Bill and I were first introduced to Casa Amito he kept shushing me. Telling me “Stop acting so enthusiastic. It'll ruin our bargaining position!” But he loved it too. When we moved in, it was a great empty canvas that we painted together, but even empty it had a warmth that drew us. We cleaned it together and we consulted on the placement of everything as we began unpacking and making Casa Amito our home. Where pictures would go, how rooms would be arranged, even which shelf paper to use in the kitchen.

As I began cleaning the house on Sunday morning, a shadow dimmed the sunlight. I looked up surprised — for the day hadn't hinted of clouds at all. But the sky was clear and shadow on the ground outside was a dark red. Running upstairs to the street above I saw the great cloud of smoke that was beginning to cover the sky to the South. And I knew that the fire that I'd seen on the previous day's walk in the hills had reemerged.

I still wasn't worried. The wind was blowing South. Blowing the fire — also to the South — away from us. Neighbors were out on the street and we all began to water down our homes and trees as a precautionary measure. But the strong dry winds dried the leaves and roof nearly as fast.

We began to think that maybe we should think about packing our most valuable, most precious, most personal things in our cars if the wind shifted. I helped June, who lived across the street, water down her back yard down the hill while she hurriedly grabbed a few of her paintings and other work she'd created. All the while the huge sheets of fire leapt across the face of the next ridge to the South.

I went back into Casa Amito and left a hurried message for Bill telling him to call me back with what he wanted me to take for him. I called Kate and told her not to come — I would call her back when I knew what was happening.

I looked at the house and just couldn't think where to start. There were a thousand things we'd built our home with. I grabbed a couple of days worth of clothes and my guitar and tossed them into the car. I went back to spraying water on the house and trees, but finally gave up and just threw the still running hose onto the roof. And then the fire-fighters came and said we all had to leave ... I closed and locked the door still not really believing that the fire could come and take away something as substantial as Casa Amito.

Over the next few hours as I listened to the news reports from Kate's brother's house it became near certain that Casa Amito had been hit and, in all probability, completely destroyed. I carried a fantasy that the hose I'd left running on the roof would save it, but I knew it was fantasy.

[[ continued ]]

Casey Leedom said...

[[ continued ]]

Monday they wouldn't let us go up because it was too dangerous, but Kate and I were able to climb the ridge opposite Casa Amito to the North. The weather was cold and foggy. So unlike the previous day's hot, clear windiness. As we crested the ridge we saw through the fog the strange landscape that Casa Amito's crest had become. A line was drawn down from the back of the ridge in the direction of Grizzly Peak to the East. The line descended to the North side of the ridge, ran along Alvarado and descended out of sight around the front Western edge of the ridge. Above the line was what could only be described as a blasted landscape. Below the line, green rolling hillsides and homes. It was obvious that in the desperate effort to prevent the fire from taking everything, the fire fighters had had to draw a line and forfeited everything beyond.

I thought for a moment that I saw Casa Amito still standing, but the house I saw was too far down on the face. People who had also climbed the ridge lent us their binoculars. I wasn't able to see any remains of Casa Amito even knowing where it had stood from landmarks. Casa Amito was no more. Our home was gone.

Throughout that day and evening and the morning after, I kept on coming up short as I thought of things that I'd left and would never see again. I kept on trying to tell myself that it was only “stuff,” but they were pieces of a life and home I would never see again. Not the CD collection, not the stereo system, not the college books that I never looked at, not the final things of my father's that I had left to remember him by. Not ever Casa Amito again. Casa Amito which I'd never had time to say good-bye to. And I couldn't help but think of Casa Amito suffering through the terrible fires alone, smoke alarms wailing to a deserted home.

Tuesday Kate and I bought construction boots for myself. We'd bought gloves and garbage bags the previous day. We were ready to meet Bill and our friend Brian to reconnoiter what remained. We weren't allowed to drive up, but we were able to walk up. The day was even colder than Monday had been.

We walked up beside the Claremont Hotel using the Eucalyptus Path stairway to the South. Everything seemed strangely normal. The trees were green. The houses were all still there. It didn't seem anything like a raging fire had come within two-hundred yards of sweeping the Claremont Hotel away. We climbed up to the top of Eucalyptus Path and turned onto Alvarado. Further up the hill and nearly out of sight we could see the beginnings of some fire blackened trees, but still no real destruction. But as we rounded the corner onto the North side of the ridge, a holocaust, nightmare landscape presented itself.

[[ continued ]]

Casey Leedom said...

[[ continued ]]

The hillside above the road was completely burned away leaving only occasional fingers of chimneys and skeleton trees. Twisted steel support beams sagged from one partially standing concrete wall. Burnt out cars were everywhere. The hillside below was mostly untouched, but covered with red fire retardant. Puddles and runnels of aluminum were everywhere also. They seem to have come running out of many of the cars like blood. But more than anything else, it was the sight of the hillside swept nearly clean of anything that awed us.

As we rounded the turn onto Amito an even more strange sight came into view. In the midst of all the destruction, at the side of the road there was a goldfish pond. It must have once been inside a fence which was no longer there, because I hadn't ever seen it before. It was a small concrete pond set into the earth. In it, orange goldfish still lapped at the top of the ash strewn water. In the background and all around the pond was grey ash covered ground, leveled foundations and fog drifting over the crest of the ridge.

Finally we came to where Casa Amito had stood. Nothing that was even remotely burnable remained. The fire and wind had been like a blast furnace. Only concrete and other heavy rubble remained of the corpse of Casa Amito. We climbed down but in the end were only able to find a handful of recognizable things to carry back with us -- mostly to remind us of the fire and Casa Amito.

Even in death, Casa Amito was strangely beautiful. Pools of aluminum had formed and run down the hill. Glass had fallen into bizarre faery flower gardens. Many objects had burned completely, but some of the most fragile remained as ghosts or mutated shapes. We could still read the exposed pages of one book which fell into ashes when we touched it. Our prized CD collection could be found in long rows of similarly ashed CD booklets — the plastic cases and CDs themselves completely vaporized leaving behind only CD-shaped shadows within the ashes.

As we walked back, we saw others coming up the road. A few cars started appearing, but most walked. We stopped at one former home where a man and a woman mourned a dog they had left Sunday morning for a trip to Salinas. But eventually we left. We had done what we had had to do. We had seen the body of the home that we had called Casa Amito.

Michelle Schohn said...

Thank you for sharing your story. We happened to have arrived in Napa the night the fires started. We woke to the smell of smoke and could see the fire from our hotel room. But we lost nothing and were able to return to our east coast lives a few days later. My heart breaks for all those we met who lost everything and the thousands of others we didn't.

Ann Shaver said...

I'm so sorry . . .

I'm glad you, your wife & animals are safe!

Anonymous said...

It was so hard to read. Thoughts and prayers for the resilience of your community.

ronnie said...

Oh Brian, our hearts are breaking for you. Thank you for sharing this with us so generously. I have no words to offer such an extreme loss. Please just know that we are both sending you every good thought we possibly can, and wishing that somehow we could do more.

ronnie & Bruce

Anonymous said...

The diamonds from your earrings are probably still there, if you have the time and inclination to find them.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry you lost your house and belongings. It could be worse and I know. My brother in law lost his house and all of his belongings in a fire in Colorado the same day my son was pronounced brain dead in California due to medical/negligence malpractice and belongs are things most can be replaced but my son can't be replaced. He was a single father to a 5 yr old boy who already had lost his mom. So I know you think you lost everything but losing a child is loosing your future. That is the worst nightmare! I live it everyday and will until I die. I have lived with this pain for over 5 years already.

Brian Fies said...

Casey, thank you especially. Ronnie and Bruce, wonderful to hear from you! Diamonds are on the "try to find" list. We know exactly where they were!

Thank you everybody! The response to this story has been overwhelming. I appreciate all your comments very much.

bert said...

PS - to also offer some encouragement, I did find a diamond ring in the ruins, so go for it!
Roberta Grubman

Anonymous said...

You described almost exactly what happened to my husband and I Sunday night into Monday morning the 9th

alphakat said...

Wow. This is incredible - thank you for sharing this.I hope this brings some comfort, somehow, to everyone going through this right now. Much love to your family and friends.

Anne said...

Thank you for presenting, effectively, this heartbreaking event. Please continue to share your journey in recovery and rebuilding. Hugs.

Inker's mother-in-law said...

I'm not exactly sure how work gets nominated for an Eisner, but this deserves that recognition for sure. Also, please keep this series going! It would be useful if you share your experiences with the aftermath. The fire's over and it will not be foremost on other people's minds. Keep us informed so we keep the fire victims in our thoughts. Thank you.

William Klausing said...

just phenomenal. "pain thru tears". Sorry for your loss. I live at the bottom of fountaingrove. I left home with less than you, but came home to everything five days later. Lucky old man I am ....

Helen said...

Reading from Alaska, I grew up in that area. The devastation is mind-numbing, but your artwork gives a perspective unlike any other. Thank you.

Sound Mind said...

Mr. Fies,

You can say what you will about this not being up to your usual standards, but this is pretty damn good work. Take it from an old comic collector.

I'm *so* sorry for your devastating losses. I can't imagine...but,"A Fire Story" has helped. I've linked a number of people to this page, and they've been helped, too. Particularly those who had to evacuate and came *that* close.

Thank you again. It's helped all of us.

Jon Jackson

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments. We have had many doctors down in the peninsula and very often they never had heard of Sonoma County or at least couldn't picture Santa Rosa. I have worked alongside Brian's wife on two different positions with the county and she is amazing. I'm just very touched that someone from the South Bay would even really be affected by what we're going through up here. It's such a microcosm to us.

Randall Polliard said...

Brian-

I was lucky enough to stumble onto your graphic memoir via a CNN link. I live in Santa Cruz CA, am a fellow cartoonist (for the Seattle Times newspaper) and have been watching all week the tragedy unfolding about 100 or so miles to the north of us in Santa Rosa. I find it fitting that you produced this beautiful work with raw, basic art materials to give voice to your raw unpolished emotions. That makes it very powerful to view. Kudos to your wife for being of service to others when your world is crashing down, and godspeed as you rebuild!

Richard B Puffert said...

Thanks for sharing your life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting. That was so moving and raw and beautiful at the same time. You may have lost your artwork, but the fire couldn't take away your talent. I am reading from Pleasanton, CA.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this... I am from Petaluma but I now live in Savannah, GA. It breaks my heart to see this and that I am a million miles away from it. :*-(. I wish everyone from back home the best. You are all in my prayers. Be safe.

Aaron said...

That's a pretty cool thought...

Joyce Moser said...

Having lost a home as a young married couple, full of Grandma's stuff, I understood every frame you drew and spoke. It was 1970 in Jamul California. The Laguna fire started 50 miles away, Santa Ana winds. No warning, just RUN on Sunday morning. Your description of the shoppers and your key ring. Completely accurate and full of memories. Thank you for your good work on this. SO expressive. God bless you. Joyce Moser, Burns, Oregon

Bruce Cunningham said...

I was touched by your amazing account in words and art depicting your tragedy and loss. Glad that you and your family are safe. I can't imagine what you felt as you walked down your street to where your house was. My "thoughts and prayers" aren't enough to offer you for what you're going through. As one of the old "NET Gang" if there's anything I can do for you please let me know. And if you need to get away for a bit my home in Las Vegas is always open to to you and Karen. I hope you find happiness down the new road that you are now unexpectantly taking.

Susan Bruce said...

At one time I worked in Santa Rosa. I have friends helping friends who have lost everything but their animals. Your personal graphic art nailed the experience.

Drew Cannon said...

I just "met" you on social media. So very personal and very powerful. More so than all the news reports I have seen. Hang in there.

C Faherty Brown said...

I am so sorry for you and your wife's losses, and all who lost in this horrible fire.

Betti Thomasian said...

I can't even imagine the rawness behind your words, but thank you for sharing/allowing me to get close to it. My heart breaks for you and yours, and all the folks affected by the fires. Namaste.

MELI. said...

sending lots of love and strength to you and yours

is there a pobox or addy i could send mi favorite micron pens and a few pads i have here for you, I'd love to share those with you, if that's ok

thanks for sharing your art, raw and sincere. it has broken mi heart.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

I don't know if you remember me, but I took your headshot photos not too long ago. I just wanted to send you my deepest condolences, and thank you for publishing this. So real, so raw, so moving. An inspiration. <3

Please let me know if I can help your family in any way in future!

DJ
Danielle Joy Photography

Unknown said...

Wow. You both are so strong and so talented. Thank you for sharing your story in such a beautiful way.

Anonymous said...

It’s hard for me to even compose myself after reading your story. It is so similiar to my fathers. He is an artist too. Our family home was on Wallace road... Thinking of all the artwork he had created over his whole life... items I was hoping to one day treasure... gone. Reading it gave me insight to how my father must feel. You may have lost all your artwork too, but the meaning in this cartoon and how it will help me to know we’re not alone, gives me what little solice I can find in the depths of hell we have been experiencing lately. Thank you for doing this... I have a few pieces of his artwork. They were just some nice paintings before that night. Now they are most treasured items I own. One of them is of two 100 year old big brown barns that sat on our neighbors lot. Our neighbors let us use them for extra storage. Where all my childhood toys and mementos were. Not only has this fire destroyed my parents lives, scared me nearly to death with no sleep for days. I live on Franklin street about a mile away. So I feel very fortunate that my world is still somewhat intact, But I also feel so badly for everyone. I can’t even name how many people I know who lost their home. And I feel so angry as to why did this happen, who is to blame for this. I feel so much love for our first responders. I’m in awe of the community coming together and the support from so many people reaching out to help. I’m sad. I can’t think clearly, I probably have ptsd. And that’s not being funny. And I haven’t even been able to go back to sift through the ashes... signed 95404

Pat Goudey OBrien said...

Massively broken heart reading the list of things lost ... "Everything I ever drew or painted."

So incredibly sorry this happened. So incredibly sad for everyone who is losing the connections to their own lives. Their havens. Their ... everything.

Hope for those who still have their lives and their families [and sympathies to those who have suffered these losses. Words just fail ...]

I hope our communities can provide some solace ...

So sorry for all your losses.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking testimony with us. I can't imagine losing the things that you have lost. Holding all of the survivors in gentle thought and prayer. I will continue to give an assist in all the ways that I can. We are out here. The helpers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,
This is Neal Kirby, Jack Kirby's son. I saw the CNN article today and read your "fire" story. This is obviously a very difficult time for you and your family. My wife's 83 year-old uncle, with whom she is very close, lives in Santa Rosa, and he has been in hotels for two weeks now. Though his residence is the only building on his street not burned, it will probably be two months before they reopen. We were due to travel up there to see him this week actually, but right now we're trying to talk him into living with us here down in Orange County for the time being. So your graphic novel was particularly moving to us. I also wanted to mention that if you need any financial assistance, be sure to reach out to the Hero Initiative! www.heroinitiative.org Ask for the president Jim McLauchlin. Our daughter Jillian's Kirby4Heroes Campaign has a yearly fundraiser for them.
Best wishes, Neal

Jane Yolen said...

Brian--as much as I have gawked in horrorat the California fire, written poems, this comic has personalized what has happened in a very real way. Your last panel--a killer!

Yes the family is alive and entact. Yes you lost a lot of your past. Folks to the right and left of you have lost as much and some even more, though STarbucks lives on. It's the flashpoint that you illuminate, the calm unlikely heroism, the desperate recognition, the human response. And all in a few honest panels. Art saves. And tells. And gets to the heart. Let me know if there is something I can do way back here on the East Coast.

Jane

Cathy said...

Can we help you?

Carole Hyman said...

Incredible. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Saw your story on the news and am so emotionally struck by your cartoon story. Unable to find the words that would convey what my heart feels for you and your fellow neighbors. I grew up outside of Houston and saw the devastating floods from the hurricane this fall on TV, only to wonder if my childhood home survived water damage. Although I reside in Fairfield now, I lived in Santa Rosa for 5 years before moving here. Drove down to the city Tuesday after the fires. Couldn't see all the areas I wanted to but what I did see broke my heart. I hope you will cherish those few items you were able to save from your house and that you will find those diamonds!! I doubt any of us could even function properly much less brainstorm about what to grab when you only have a few precious minutes to flee your home at 0-dark-thirty. Rebuilding your life will take time and patience, but please know you are not alone or without prayers and well-wishes. :)

Lucy Swayngim said...

Wow.

Anonymous said...

It seems strange to thank you for recording you loss, but I live in Petaluma and have been away visiting family in Israel since the Wednesday after the fire roared through the county. My friends, the news, facebook - everyone and everything has been trying to tell me what it's been like. You succeeded better than the rest. It has been hard/horribly anxious to be away,but nothing touches on your experience being in the middle of it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry for you and all the others. Thank goodness most of you survived.

Thank you for sharing. Beautiful work. I hope you can regain your normal life soon.

Patricia Morrison said...

I can't even. I can't even imagine. I can't even find words. Art can be a refuge. I am so sorry.

Linda Clader said...

Thank you. Beautiful and terrible.

Brian Fies said...

I can't possibly respond adequately to all the good feelings and offers of help expressed in these comments, but I read and treasure them all. Thank you. We're safe and can handle this ordeal financially, which is more than a lot of people can say. We have many local friends who've supported us physically and mentally. Soon we'll start sifting through our rubble to see what bits of our lives we can recover. We're already talking with neighbors about rebuilding. What can I say? It's hard and we take one day at a time. Thanks again.

Trina Robbins said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you and to all of you. Thank you for sharing it with us so beautifully and so eloquently. I try to imagine what I would do -- I think my partner and I would each grab a cat and run. I'm glad that you're both unharmed, along with your pets. In the end, that's what counts the most.

Jam Banjo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ddbyrne said...

This is magnificently brave and absolutely heartbreaking. Most important thing is of course your personal safety but this is a tragedy for everyone, we hear the stories on the news but this personal account brings it home. Wishing all of those affected the very best and hope you all get back on your feet soon. This must have been terribly painful to create but you have done something important and worthwhile here, this is a testament to human spirit and resolve. I admire your honesty and thank-you for sharing. All the best X

the Business Doctor said...

I'm so sorry for what you and your family had to endure. But I must share: I would have never heard of you if I hadn't seen this latest comic. Now that I have, I'll subscribe. I'm extremely impressed with your talent! You're extraordinary, and I'm guessing you'll have a lot of followers after reading your Mother Jones insert.

Good luck and keep us informed in your usual way.

jeffwithajee said...

Hey Brian,

Thank you for your work in sharing your story with others. Your wife and all those who have been committed in helping our community during these fires are true heros. It is important that these stories are shared and preserved as part of Sonoma/Napa county history.

- Geoffrey Bachelder

adh said...

Thank you for this. Two close friends of mine who live(d) on Mark West Springs Road in Santa Rosa also lost their home, and, worse, their dog, in a 1 a.m. panicked flight on foot (cars got blocked by flames and downed trees) from the flames. The death of their beloved dog puts the loss of "things" into perspective, as I can't even say to them, "at least it was just stuff," even the kinds of irreplaceable things that you catalog in your cartoon (and yet still "have," in your drawings, which is pretty wonderful even as the loss of the things is sad). I have started a fundraiser for them, as their self-built home was not yet insured and they have lost absolutely everything. Please, readers, consider donating if you are able. Thank you. https://www.gofundme.com/john-and-wendy-fund. --Alison H. Reno, NV

Anonymous said...

A deeply moving commentary in black and white.

Patti said...

I don't know you but I'm heartbroken for you.

Anonymous said...

Nothing else I have seen or read personalized and told the story of what happened the way your drawings and narrative did. I live in St. Paul, MN, and am grateful for your account of what you experienced and how you felt.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant and poignant and heartbreaking.

But you knew that. You’re living it.

So sorry for you and so many like you.

So glad you - and so many like you - survived, physically unharmed.

We will never read the stories of those who were even more unlucky...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. I knew exactly where you were by the illustrations. I have family in the same situation and immediate vicinity. The fire has been an abstract concept to people living in other areas and this brings the reality home. About a week after the fire the Yahoo feed in my area of the country no longer featured fire stories and was once again enamored with the Kardashian's most recent crisis. This really surprised me as I had been reading everything I could about the fires and nothing about Kim et al. My heart goes out to everyone in the area. It will take a long time to rebuild and even then it won't be complete. Something will always be missing. I hope you have it in you to chronicle the recovery. People need to know, remember and care. I know I have been guilty of not thinking about victims of other disasters. Again, thank you so much for sharing.

tamborette said...

Jesus Christ

Linton Hale said...

You have helped me to feel this more fully. I am crying now, helped past my initial shock. Thank you for sharing your continuing gift with all of us. Best wishes to you and yours.

Michael Fargo said...

Brian--
Thank you for giving us this. The photos don't do that night justice; your drawings do.
I'm so sorry for you and your family's loss. Saying anything more would sound like platitude.
But you gave thousands a gift with this cartoon, it both consoles and demonstrates so many lives.
Michael

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I feel for your loss and the loss of homes of your neighbors. I lost my job few months back and have been thinking it is the end of my world and worry how I will pay my bills. Nothing I am going through compares to the tough times all of you around Santa Rosa are going through. I pray things get better for all you folks. god bless!

Dee said...

Thanks to the N Y Times, I found your blog and graphic story. My breath is taken away. Youyart is magnificent and compelling. We were at church on the Sunday morning in October 1991, when the Oakland Hills fire began in ernest. As we left church, which is across Claremont Ave from the Claremont Hotel, I saw huge flames just behind the hotel. I yelled at my husband to stop the car, got out and ran back to the church to tell people. Many parishioners lost homes and all their possessions. Your cartoon brought it back in a rush.

You have quite a way with words: “at the tip of a bellows feeding a blast furnace”, “like a napalm tsunami”, “I inhaled my neighbors’ lives”. Those words/phrases etched themselves into my memory. So very powerful, so visual/visceral.

Thank you seems too small. God bless you and yours. Hugs to all, never forgetting the furry family members.

Brian Fies said...

Thank you again, everyone. Especially old friends, I appreciate your support most of all.

Commenter "adh" (Alison from Reno), I know you're trying to help your friends but repeatedly posting your Gofundme plea for them isn't helpful or right, it's Spam. I've deleted all but one of them, that's enough. Sorry and thanks.

My family and I are doing fine. Adversity tests us; it's the toughest test I've ever taken, but so far I think we're passing.

Thanks again for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it.