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"It Was Just Like An Apocalypse": Stories From The Wildfires

A photo from a GoFundMe page for Bobby Jo Valentine and John Fornachon, who returned from a trip to find their Napa home had been destroyed.


Many Northern Californians are experiencing loss, uncertainty and unity as they face raging wildfires.

Heidi Moss Erickson lives in Green Valley near Fairfield, and said she and her family have been watching the Atlas Fire evacuation line creep closer and closer to them.

“In a way, we’re waiting to get a clearer picture of how close the fire is," Moss Erickson said. "And if we leave, do you take your life’s possessions or do you just go with sort of a temporary departure?”

Christine McNeely lives northeast of Yuba City in Browns Valley. The area was under evacuation due to the Cascade Fire, but seeing the heavy traffic on her exit route, she decided to stay put, along with a group of her neighbors who she banded together with.

“We put everyone into one property and then from the highest lookout point, we just took shifts up there throughout the night, we did about four hour shifts while the other families were able to get some rest,” McNeely said, adding that many of them had not slept in 26 hours.

The fire passed just north of them and destroyed many homes in Loma Rica. McNeely said her boyfriend took a video driving on Marysville Road toward Loma Rica shortly afterward. "It's really eerie," she said. 

She says they were lucky the fire passed them, but they’re still concerned about changing winds in the upcoming days.

Bobby Jo Valentine and John Fornachon were out of town in Kansas City when they heard a fire was threatening their home in Napa. They flew back and when they landed at the Oakland Airport, Valentine said they got off the plane to find they had been sent pictures of their home.

“It was just like an apocalypse," Valentine said. "It was otherworldly, like a bomb had gone off. I mean just absolutely nothing where it used to be.”

"It's just an overwhelming heaviness," Fornachon said of the home that had been in his family for 115 years. "I don't know if I'll ever get over it."

Fornachon's son had tried to evacuate, but he only had half an hour before firefighters told him he needed to leave. That meant all of the family pictures and Valentine’s instruments were destroyed.

“I’m an independent musician and everything that I have used: CD’s, keyboards, including a $15,000 van that we used for tours and stuff," Valentine said. "That all burned.”

Valentine, a folk musician, said he’s still planning to perform a show Sunday afternoon in Sacramento at the Pioneer Congregational United Church of Christ.

“We’re all gonna get together and we’re gonna sing songs about recovery and it’s gonna be very hard," Valentine says. "But you’ve gotta keep going. Absolutely, you’ve gotta keep going.”

A fan and friend set up a GoFundMe page for them, that has already received more than ten thousand dollars in donations.

“That’s been the one wonderful positive thing that we’re experiencing now is people’s capacity to show up for their neighbors and friends and be there for them,” he says.

Find evacuation information here.


Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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