Northern California 2017 Fires — One Year Later

A calm June day, 8 months after the fire

One year after the October 2017 Northern California Wildfires, we celebrate our recovery. Next week is the anniversary, October 9th. Here are a few photos of our rebuilding stages, our house that was dead center in the middle of it all.


For all but two weeks of this past year we did not live at home, because we had no electricity or water. We lived instead in vacation rentals and apartments, sometimes a friends’ house or rental unit–eight different places, four different counties. With 90,000 evacuees, there was a housing shortage.


Every week we filled the bird feeders and refreshed their water trays

We visited our house frequently, met with the contractor and sub-contractors, and tended to the physical repairs. Filled the bird feeders. The house had not been consumed by the fires; just damaged. We lost our storage building filled with clothes, tools, and keepsakes; a guest cottage, and the forest.


With 8,900 structures lost in the firestorms, repair work was slow, and often shoddy.


Chainsaws and chippers are a common sight.

Rebuilding the back yard


People suffer all the time–earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, school shootings, cancer, war, assault. Some of it from natural disasters, some of it from hateful activity.


In the midst of the chaos and disaster in this past year, what I found was far more love than hate.

With our next door neighbors on the first day back


Rebuilding the new well, 9 mos. after the fire. An excellent team.


Our forest


Sometimes the gifts were obvious, like a friend buying us dinner, or letting us stay in their home, or family coming across the country to help. Other times the gifts were less obvious, like a simple smile, or someone just listening to my aching heart. Phone calls, emails, texts, cards, packages, songs, meals. So many WordPress friends who sent messages, remembered, extended kindness.


People ask, what do I need to know about insuring my home in case this ever happens to me? There are many answers I can give. Inventories, tasks, insurance policies. But what is the real answer, what do we really need to recover from something like this?


Love and kindness.



But what about when the insurance adjustor was unreasonable and hammering, what then? She lied, she denied, she fought, made “mistakes” in their favor to the tune of $45,000.00. Do I give her love and kindness?


No. In that case, I gave myself love and kindness–usually by going to a movie, or reading, sometimes the French bakery. Sometimes I just laid down and cried. My partner and I, my wife, we walked a lot, walked in the winter fog and counted cormorants.

Cormorants, Tiburon

Today is a windy day, and it’s the first week in a year that I am back at my own desk. The dead trees outside my window, I notice for the first time, don’t bend and sway in the wind. They are stiff, and rattle. A raven rides the thermals. A finch landed in a dead tree, apparently content with stiffness.


We all go on. The lucky ones, the survivors, we go on. We learn, we suffer, we hope.


And we give a hand, or lend an ear, and we help each other.


What have I really learned? Not to ever underestimate the power of love and kindness.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Parrolets, Mexico



126 thoughts on “Northern California 2017 Fires — One Year Later

  1. Oh Sweet Jet, You made me cry. I am so sorry for all the struggles but so very happy for all the love and kindnesses You’ve experienced. When I lived in Los Angeles I used to volunteer for Tree People. I’ve gone out with them to do replantings after major fires and know what You’re talking about. A raging fire came close to us when we lived there and we were all evacuated but it passed us by. God. That’s so crazy. I can’t even imagine how it feels when it comes right on. And You know what? You have such a Golden Heart that I bet You anything that the $45,000 the insurance lady played games with will come back to You and Your Wife a few times over. Who knows when or where but what’s Yours is Yours and I believe it will find You. It’s difficult to imagine how intense it is to have everything stripped away suddenly like that. You are a wonderful gift to blogland and the planet. Please know there are so many hearts with You. Words feel trite but please know I’m sending much love and light Your way. ❤️

    • Dear Katy, such a heart-warming message that I will hold close, thank you. You do know the devastation before, during, and after a California firestorm. For us, a year later, it just keeps going, and I suppose it will continue to for a long time. Fortunately things are better now and even though we still have a lot of trauma in the aftermath and clean-up, it is not as bad as it was while we were homeless for that year. We caught the $45k mistake right away and had it rectified, and there have been many other mistakes too. There is so much chaos. Some of the mistakes are carelessness in the chaos, other mistakes I’m not so sure are innocent. But as you say, we keep going and we receive so many gifts too, so that’s what we focus on. Your kindness here is very much appreciated, Katy, thank you.

  2. So wonderful to talk with you and to read your wonderful blogs, Jet, and enjoy Alexandra’s great photos. I could send you photos of Yellow-winged
    Bats, Mauritius Tomb Bat and a tiny horseshoe bat all from Ndutu. Wow, that’s way back in 2003 that we were there together!

    • An utter delight to hear from you, Gail, and thanks for stopping by this post and the bat post too. Also enjoyed your reminder of the great bats we saw in Tanzania together. We don’t have photos of those bats, so it was nice to be reminded of them. Many thanks.

  3. Oops, I meant Athena’s photos! Great news that you are back home again, so you are also enjoying the birds in your backyard. Keep your eye out for Lewis’s Woodpecker!

    • Woodpeckers are gradually coming back. They have no interest in the burned trees, but they do in the live ones, and half-live ones. So I will be on the look-out for the Lewis’s. I have been searching the Bay Area for a Lewis’s Woodpecker for over five years; how wonderful if it would come here and surprise us. Thanks so much for the tip, Gail, and of course, a true pleasure to hear from you.

  4. I am so happy to see you and Athena have migrated back to ‘home’. I know it has had to be a difficult year, full of new hopes and dreams and yet not forgetting your past memories lost in the fire. A new chapter has unfolded for you both, and in my heart I know you have the love and support of so many to bring life and strength back to your home and lives together. Best wishes to you both!

  5. California is on fire again (11/11/18). I can’t believe that the entire city of Malibu was ordered to evacuate. That’s where the terrifying mudslides occur after the fires. Pacific Coast highway was closed in both directions and people couldn’t escape to the east. It’s a nightmare scenario.

    • It is a nightmare scenario. The air is so bad in northern California, mostly from the “Camp Fire” near Chico, that we haven’t been outside in two days. It looks like Armageddon around here with the burned out forest from last year and the pall of gray skies and smoky air. Feeling real bad for the folks in Paradise (northern Calif.) and LA too.

      • The smoke from the N. California fires has reached San Francisco, and smoke from L.A. has reached San Diego.

        One of the Dodger’s announcers called into KFI and said he was trapped in a grocery store parking lot in Malibu. He had evacuated his family the night before, but decided to stay to protect their house. Despite orders to evacuate, the grocery store remained opened to serve the people who ignored the order.

        Fire had knocked out electricity so the store was operating on generators. I have a lot to say about a business that would put their employees at risk, but that’s another story. Anyway, the guy said he just kept driving around trying to find an escape route. There were live power lines down in the street so he just drove through a barricade and was able to get out.

        There’s a lesson to be learned. When people are ordered to evacuate — whether it’s a hurricane or fire — they need to understand that saving lives is the most important priority.

        Kudos to the LAFD for knocking down the fire that threatened the Griffith Park zoo. Some animals were evacuated before the fire was extinguished. The topography around the park is very difficult to navigate so firefighters had to climb through canyons to get to the flames.

        And we’re only in the middle of fire season.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s