wild­fires grow to size of New York City

Fire sur­vivors wres­tle with guilt ‘Like why me?’

Times Colonist - - World - JONATHAN J. COOPER

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Res­i­dents who evac­u­ated from wild­fires rag­ing in Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try are thank­ful they sur­vived or kept their homes, but gnawed by guilt about the fate of their neigh­bours.

Jeremy Adams said Thurs­day that shift­ing winds, a lit­tle water from his hose and some luck spared his home in Santa Rosa from the in­ferno. Most of the other homes in the area were de­stroyed.

Drive past his cor­ner house, and noth­ing re­mains for al­most a mile.

“That first night it was just a hor­ri­ble feel­ing. Like why me?” Adams said.

“I still feel that. That guilty feel­ing. Why do we get spared and them not? To see them come back to what they have, or don’t have, was pretty hor­ri­fy­ing.”

Adams and his wife walked around what’s left of their neigh­bour­hood early Mon­day, but now they stay away. “It’s just too sad,” he said. Ryan Nel­son lives in the same neigh­bour­hood and fears his el­derly neigh­bours, one of whom has mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, didn’t make it out of their home. He won­ders whether he could have done more to help.

As his house filled with smoke, Nel­son ran over to his neigh­bours’ house and pounded on their doors and win­dows but wasn’t able to get their at­ten­tion. He didn’t kick the door down, think­ing he’d have time to come back and help them.

“We’re in the mid­dle of the city, so that’s never crossed any­body’s mind here in terms of ev­ery­thing be­ing a to­tal fire loss,” Nel­son said.

Nel­son was go­ing through the ru­ins of his house on Wed­nes­day to try to find his grand­fa­ther’s ri­fles, in­clud­ing an M-1 car­bine from the Sec­ond World War, that he kept in a gun safe.

He found only pieces. His neigh­bours’ home was also a to­tal loss.

Nel­son knows the man only as Man­jeet and said he has never met or seen his wife, who had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. Man­jeet, who was in his 70s, has no car and is fairly “reclu­sive,” Nel­son said, seen oc­ca­sion­ally walk­ing to the nearby Trader Joe’s or else­where in the neigh­bour­hood in a blue or white tur­ban and san­dals. He rarely an­swered the door if Nel­son knocked.

“No­body ever sees him or talks to him, but when you do see him he’s got ev­ery­thing in the world to talk about,” Nel­son said.

Nel­son said he awoke to the sound of a fright­ened dog scratch­ing at the door.

The dog fol­lowed him as he went to alert neigh­bours, but he lost track of her and doesn’t know whether she sur­vived and was res­cued.

Nel­son said he un­der­es­ti­mated the fire.

“My re­gret isn’t do­ing more to try to save any­thing, it was more I feel like I could’ve forced en­try into their house and pulled them out of bed or done some­thing more to help him get out,” Nel­son said.

Res­i­dent Ryan Nel­son goes through the ru­ins of his house to try to find his grand­fa­ther’s ri­fles in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia.

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