In the middle of the night, the screaming woke them, warning they didn’t have much time. The fire was coming.
Residents in and around Vacaville, in Northern California, grabbed their treasures and got out.
In some cases, it was an album of cherished photos. One woman collected her late father’s ashes and her jewelry box. Some snatched up their pets. Others took nothing and fled as fast as they could.
Then, once away and safe, came the agonizing wait for news about their homes, threatened this week by the LNU Lightning Complex fires, which by early Friday had torched 215,000 acres. Across the state, 360 recent fires – most sparked by lightning and spread due to high temperatures, inaccessible terrain and limited resources – have destroyed or damaged 660 structures.
A woman named Laura, who didn’t want to give her last name, said she learned Thursday from neighbors around Vacaville that her home was safe. But her nerves were still rattled from having to evacuate at 2:30 in the morning.
“Our next-door neighbor pounded on the door. It was the scariest thing ever, ” she told CNN as she waited at the Ulatis Community Center in Vacaville. “You don’t know what to grab. I got a little jewelry box and my Dad’s ashes.”
Not everyone knew of the fate of their homes. They bided their time in the parking lot despite the heat.
Cheryl Jarvis didn’t know whether she still had a house.
Jarvis didn’t want to go inside the shelter and potentially put herself or her daughter at risk for contracting the coronavirus, she said. Besides, the parking lot had become something of a staging area for motor homes. Children rode bikes and neighbors made breakfast burritos on a portable grill.
In the center, there were just too many people, Jarvis said, so they slept in the back of her Toyota Prius.
“Not only are we dealing with Covid but with also the heat and now the fires,” she said. “Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?”