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Nov 6, 2018
- SUMMARY: The wind and fire storms of October 8 changed my personal and professional life. Personally, the firestorm incinerated the forest surrounding my house, keeping my family out of our home for 7 months and creating years of work to repair the landscape I live in. Professionally, it immediately focused my work as an art curator and California environmental historian toward the new topic of environmental crisis that has resulted in a constant situation of California On Fire.
- The night of October 8 is permanently etched in my mind as I watched dozens of fires eventually gather into three monster firestorms surrounding my ridgetop home above the Napa and Sonoma Valleys: At midnight from my forest-ensconced mountaintop home above the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, I saw the shocking sight of the huge Atlas Peak fire burning 20 miles away. Over the course of the night we learned that Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Kenwood and Glen Ellen had all been wracked by the firestorm and within 24 hours 100,000 people were evacuated and 300,000 affected.
- My 9-year-old daughter, husband and I became long-term evacuees, living in a hotel for 7 months due to the catastrophic fire damage to the forest surrounding our home, and to our entire water and power system: The firestorm raged directly over my house and the dense forest surrounding my home, completely incinerating the forest that encircled my house, destroying all our water and electrical utility systems we ourselves build and maintain, including three huge water tanks, high voltage power poles, above-ground utilities that took 7 months to rebuild.
- Our home itself was saved by our local volunteer firefighters, the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department, all of whom are also our neighbors. Of over 130 homes on the mountaintop where I live close to 50 home were destroyed by fire. The effort to save those remaining by a cooperative joint firefighting effort, but local volunteer firefighters who know the rural area helped guide that effort. Nearly half of the firefighters also lost their homes in the fires as they were fighting to save ours.
- My personal experiences of the 2017 North Bay Firestorms immediately inspired my professional work with the two hats I wear. One hat I wear is as an art exhibition curator; the other hat I wear is as a California environmental historian, researcher and writer: As a trained historian, I am helping lead an oral history project in my local mountain community about the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department. I have interviewed all of the volunteer firefighters in my mountain area about their experiences. I plan to publish that story when we finish the interview project. My work as an art historian and exhibition curator inspired me to create an art exhibition and film screening event to show work by artists who immediately began creating art in response to the fires; 4 of the 11 artists in the show lost everything. We have worked hard to open this show in October for the anniversary of the 2017 fires. We thank Todd Zapolski for his generosity working collectively with us to provide a beautiful and accessible exhibition space in his shopping and dining development in downtown Napa, called First Street Napa. Our Art Responds project also includes an online public exhibition for anyone out there (adults, artists, kids, families) who has images inspired by California fires that you want to share online -- photographs, pictures from your phone, drawings, artwork, any image you can upload will be exhibited online.
- CONCLUSION: My experiences from that terrifying night of October 8, 2017 to now a year later, have led me to seek creative ways to channel the grief, terror, sadness and deep empathy that we all feel as we collectively recall, tell and rebuild our stories from the 2017 Fires in California. But this is not only a story for people who lived it in the Wine Country in 2017, but for all people in all places affected by wildfire and firestorm. For me, art is what allows us to begin and continue having the conversations we need to remember, share, heal, rebuild and move forward.