Escaping to the beach: Families displaced by the fire camp at Doran Regional Park.
300 displaced by fires camp at Doran Regional Park
“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.”
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.