Es­cap­ing to the beach: Fam­i­lies dis­placed by the fire camp at Do­ran Re­gional Park.

300 dis­placed by fires camp at Do­ran Re­gional Park

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­tiana Sanchez tsanchez@ba­yare­anews­group.com Con­tact Ta­tiana Sanchez at 408-920- 5836.

“We know that there are shel­ters. But since there’s so much smoke, we de­cided to come out to the beach where we could breathe much purer and cleaner air.” — Isau San­doval

BODEGA BAY » As acrid smoke bil­lowed to­ward her Sonoma home this week, Annabelle Davis scooped up her beloved Labrador, “Shy,” and a few be­long­ings. But in­stead of flee­ing to an emer­gency shel­ter, she sought refuge at a sparkling, quiet beach tucked away in a county park about an hour west.

“The air was so thick ev­ery­where else,” said Davis, 58, who fled with her friend, Shawn Har­ris. “So we came down here. We like it here any­way.”

The pair was among an es­ti­mated 300 peo­ple who opted not to stay at or­ga­nized emer­gency shel­ters in Santa Rosa and Pe­taluma, in­stead chas­ing so­lace— and­much cleaner air — at Do­ran Re­gional Park, with its 2-mile Do­ran Beach along Bodega Bay.

But their emer­gency re­treat comes with an ex­pi­ra­tion date — park staff and vol­un­teers said fam­i­lies will have to leave by Fri­day to make room for va­ca­tion­ers who had booked a spot at the camp­grounds a year or more in ad­vance. The park is a year-round haven for camp­ing, fish­ing, bird­ing, kayak­ing and hik­ing.

Only a few dozen fam­i­lies re­mained on the grounds Thurs­day morn­ing, rum­mag­ing through mas­sive piles of food and cloth­ing do­na­tions and pass­ing time in packed cars or in tents, some with their dogs at their side. They were not charged for their time at the park.

“We have un­til ba­si­cally Fri­day morn­ing un­til we have to clear this up,” said Phil War­ren, a nearby res­i­dent who’s been vol­un­teer­ing at the park, help­ing fam­i­lies with do­na­tions and other ser­vices. “We’re try­ing to clear this out but there’s re­sis­tance.”

Isau San­doval brought his wife, Maria Silva, and their four kids to Do­ran Beach on Wed­nes­day, where the 33-year- old had fished be­fore. Though their Santa Rosa home is in­tact, San­doval said he wanted to es­cape the toxic air plagu­ing the city. The fam­ily, which lost elec­tric­ity at home, had set up two large tents on the camp­grounds and brought ev­ery­thing from cof­fee to lawn chairs and a cooler.

“We know that there are shel­ters,” he said. “But since there’s so much smoke, we de­cided to come out to the beach where we could breathe much purer and cleaner air. Af­ter be­ing over there for three days in such dense smoke, we could feel our throats clos­ing up and our eyes wa­ter­ing. Our kids had headaches.”

County staff and law en- force­ment stopped by the grounds Thurs­day morn­ing to in­form res­i­dents of shel­ters avail­able to them as they pre­pare to leave the beach. It was un­clear whether there would be any shel­ters near the beach and away from the smoke.

“What we’ve been try­ing to tell peo­ple is that as we’re try­ing to help folks out, they’re only here tem­po­rar­ily,” said Su­per­vis­ing Park Ranger James MacMil­lan.

Some fam­i­lies left the beach af­ter a few days be­cause of the ex­treme cold that hits the beach, par­tic­u­larly at night.

“It’s not a great place to be,” MacMil­lan said. “It’s cold and windy, so it’s not re­ally good for tents.”

Some com­mu­nity advo- cates said many fam­i­lies who fled to the beach at the be­gin­ning of the week were un­doc­u­mented, and feared be­ing outed or ques­tioned by au­thor­i­ties at or­ga­nized shel­ters. But county of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers stressed that isn’t the case.

“They feel that if they go to some places to ask for help they might be ques­tioned about their sta­tus,” said ac­tivist Neil Pacheco, an em­ployee with the Sonoma County Of­fice of Ed­u­ca­tion. Pacheco stopped by the beach Thurs­day to in­form Latino fam­i­lies about the shel­ters and to ad­dress any im­mi­gra­tion con­cerns.

“I talked to the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol and they’re here to help,” Pacheco said. “They’re not here to ques­tion any­body. It’s very im­por­tant that our Latino com­mu­nity de­liver this mes­sage to our fam­i­lies, that law en­force­ment is here to pro­tect them.”

Mean­while, Davis is hop­ing her home makes it through the fire. But she’s mak­ing the most out of her time at the beach with Shy.

“It’s a pretty cool place to keep your mind off all the stress,” she said. “Peo­ple come to­gether here and help each other.”

COURTESY MINDI RAMOS

ANDA CHU — STAFF PHO­TOS

Isau San­doval, far right, talks on his phone Thurs­day next to his tent at Do­ran Re­gional Park in Bodega Bay. San­doval and his fam­ily have been camp­ing to avoid the thick smoke from­sev­eral wild­fires burn­ing hear their home in Santa Rosa.

Annabelle Davis of Sonoma has been sleep­ing in her car since Mon­day, af­ter be­ing forced out of her home.

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