Students and staff displaced by early season wildfires

PHOTO: A plume of smoke over the North Napa Target from the LNU Complex Fire in August before the winds became more severe and spread the fire. (Courtesy: Cathy Gillis)

By Lauren Lee, Staff–

As wildfires scorch California, Davis High’s community members from both Solano and Napa County have lost their homes and been under threat of evacuation. 

Napa 1
Only around two miles away from Eileen Guerard’s home, the 2017 Napa Complex fires started south of where the LNU Complex fires began in August 2020. (Courtesy: Eileen Guerard)

Eileen Guerard

DHS English teacher Eileen Guerard lives in Napa where there is a high fire risk. In October 2017, Guerard and her family had to evacuate their home with a fire only a few miles away. This year, Guerard began to prepare to evacuate in August, much earlier than the standard fire season.

“We could see the plume up on the other side of Pope Valley; it looked like an atomic bomb had gone off,” Guerard said. 

Guerard lives with her husband, 12-year-old son, two cats, a dog and an African grey parrot. The parrot is especially sensitive to environmental changes and can die from the wildfire smoke. Due to these factors, preparing for evacuation was more stressful for Guerard.

“I can’t imagine just staring at a smoldering ruin and thinking, ‘oh my God now I have to start over.’ It’s really overwhelming to me so we don’t mess around […] but I also value my life above all of my stuff,” Guerard said. 

With the fires raging and school beginning, Guerard struggled to adjust to online learning while staying aware of fire updates.

“When I’m anxious like that, I exhibit physical systems. So not being able to eat, not being able to sleep, wandering around my house going, ‘what am I going to do? What do I freak out about first?’ […] figuratively my life was on fire,” Guerard said. 

A line of flames jumps down one of the ridges in Skyline Park, on the southern edge of Napa County next to Solano County in 2017. Ben Guerard stands on the roof of his house with a phone in one hand and a hose in the other. (Courtesy: Ben Guerard)

Ryan Mitchell

On sophomore Ryan Mitchell’s street in Vacaville, multiple houses, including Mitchell’s, burned down from spot fires stemming from the LNU Complex fire. 

Mitchell’s home in the spring before the fire season began. (Courtesy: Ryan Mitchell)

Although Mitchell was not home in Vacaville during the evacuation, his mother and brother had to evacuate at around 2 a.m. with only a 10-minute warning. 

“It didn’t really hit me like at all until literally like yesterday when I went up there and looked. […] After seeing [the house], it gets a lot more real,” Mitchell said. “Coming up the driveway and not seeing your house of like 12 years. It’s so weird.”

Mitchell’s home on August 23. (Courtesy: Ryan Mitchell)

Mitchell has felt the community support. One of his friends made a GoFundMe for Mitchell’s family and the DHS cross country coach shared it with the team as well.

“Some people that you wouldn’t expect to even remember us are reaching out to us and donating […] it’s cool,” Mitchell said 

Mitchell now resides in a rental home in Davis.  

Cody Watt

On Aug. 19, Cody Watt woke up at 3 a.m. to his grandfather, who lives in Vacaville as well, calling him to warn about the wildfires growing nearer. The police came down his street to warn residents of the nearing fire, suggesting that they voluntarily evacuate. However, some of Watt’s neighbors were under mandatory evacuation.

Watt is an Information Technology Specialist III for the Davis Joint Unified School District and resides in Vacaville with his girlfriend and two dogs. 

Watt piled his belongings into his car and went to help his grandparents and friends who lived in a mandatory evacuation area. Since Watt was in a voluntary evacuation area, he chose to stay home but kept his items packed up in case the fire conditions changed. 

“Now that I’m a grown up, I pay rent and I started buying stuff in the house. It’s covered by insurance, but if everything I have in here burned, that would be everything I have and that would stink,” Watt said.

Although the fire had been in the same area for a few days, the winds were rampant and the fire could change direction. Watt couldn’t commute to his office in Davis in case the wildfire condition worsened. 

“I wanted to stay home [from work] because I have a puppy. She’s an eight-month-old Golden Retriever. She’s a handful. We have nobody to watch her or take her so if the fire comes to the house it’s going to take me 30 minutes to an hour to get home from Davis,” Watt said. 

The wildfire warning greatly affected Watt’s appointments to help teachers and staff with their technology issues considering the heavy reliance on computers for the remote learning system. 

Luckily, Watt, his friends and his family didn’t lose anything to the fires, but now have to deal with the heavy air quality. Trapped inside the house, Watt’s two dogs, especially the puppy, yearn to leave the house. 

“[The puppy] wants to run all day […] they just bark at each other because we’re not going on our three mile walks,” Watt said. 

Corrected Infographic (Climate) pg2

Hayden Tam

In late August, senior Hayden Tam was under mandatory evacuation when the LNU Lightning Complex fires reached near his home in Fairfield. 

Tam was watching the Union of European Football Associations Champions League final game when he and his family could see the flames crawling down the hill from their house. 

“I was a little nervous because I can see it […] like you always see it on the news that [the fire] is like getting close but once you actually see it from your house that it’s like a whole different level,” Tam said. 

Having enough time, Tam collected most of his belongings, including his shoe collection and valuable family items like scrapbooks. However, Tam lives with his 99-year-old great grandmother which made evacuating more difficult. His family loaded up two cars and headed to their property in Davis. 

“When the police came to tape off the front of the house just to show that they cleared the residence already, [it] was kind of nerve-wracking because just because I’ve never had that here before. I’ve never had them come by and make sure everyone’s evacuated,” Tam said. 

Tam feels fortunate to still have his home and isn’t anxious for future fires. 

“I mean if [the fires] were to come back, it’s just a house you know. As long as everyone’s safe we will survive,” Tam said.

Corrected Infographic (Stats) pg1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *