Circle Oaks Fire – the Great Escape

Circle Oaks Fire – the Great Escape
By Marcus Cox – Circle Oaks Resident

When the Sheriff knocked on our door at 1 am and told us we had to evacuate we had no idea the extent of the raging fires surrounding our 185 home enclave at Circle Oaks, or that the fire was only 2 miles away (as the crow flies) on Atlas Peak. We also didn’t know the gale force winds were spreading cinders all through the forest and the Atlas fire would grow to over 51,000 acres and our community would be inaccessible for over a week. When the Sheriff told us “The Silverado Country Club is gone” I felt a sense of panic – if the country club and surrounding homes could burn down then I thought the heavily forested Circle Oaks community was doomed.

 We rushed to pack what we could as the smell of smoke got stronger and stronger and I could hear our lawn furniture being tossed around like toothpicks in the Gale force winds (there were gusts of 70 mph that morning).  When I finally gave up on my fruitless last minute computer backup I tossed all the computers into the back of our truck, cornered our kitty in the office and locked her in the pet carrier (in spite of her protests) just as the lights blinked out and we lost power. It was in total darkness we continued to pack and sort through the 4 stories of stuff we had accumulated in our last 30 years together – all the time the thought of our precious home burning up caused a tightness in my belly – but getting out alive was priority (we would later meet someone at the Calistoga shelter who tried to save his dog at the last minute and had to jump from a second story window with his hair and clothing on fire – he had waited too long and he was fortunate to escape with his life - his dog did not make it). 

My wife and I hugged as we set out for the shelter in separate vehicles, and joined the departing neighbors in a mass exodus in the dark. Circle Oaks had been our Mountain Retreat dream home for the last 13 years but this time it seemed our idyllic life style was about to end!

As I finished packing our SUV and truck I gave a wistful perhaps final glance at l’il Indy, my little Porsche,  and then I saw our boat, Athena, in the backup lights as I passed her tucked away in the forest - a visual of them melting in a roaring inferno popped into my mind and I tried not to think about it – that knot in my stomach returned. 

Fire Refugees

As we wound our way through the back roads to the shelter in Calistoga I saw a bright red glow above the Atlas peak ridgeline – it was obvious the fire was out of control and growing fast – it must have been less than a mile behind the Circle Oaks ridgeline by now. When we finally got to Calistoga there was a similar glow on the mountain behind the shelter and it seemed there was fire everywhere (we later found out that shelter was evacuated later that day). After sporadic sleep on cots under Red Cross blankets, we decided the fire behind us was too big to stay and we started the trek to the Napa shelter at Napa Community college – the traffic was horrendous and we had a lot of time to ponder if this was the beginning of the apocalypse!  The smoke and fires seemed everywhere we turned and since the power was off the traffic lights on highway 29 had turned to 4 way stops – morning commute traffic was inching along and I wondered what would happen if the fires came down to the highway – I quickly put that out of my mind and jumped on a side road. 

When we got to the Napa shelter we began to choke on the smoke cloud when we climbed out of our vehicles, the sun had disappeared into a red glow behind a massive plume of smoke – and we decided to keep driving east instead of inhale all this smoke. As I drove I pondered articles I had read on global warming and how the burning of fossil fuels was overheating our atmosphere and what I was experiencing then was eventually going to be everywhere – the picture of Canned Canadian Mountain Air popped into my mind as I thought we were close behind China on our carbon emissions.

When we found one of the last hotel rooms available between Fairfield and Sacramento (there were over 100,000 evacuees that week) we thankfully settled in for a few days – the hotel had lifted the no pets rule and kitty joined us in the Hotel room - there were evacuees with their pets all around us and everyone had stories of fleeing the flames.

The next day one of our friends texted us that they had a room ready for us to use and we were welcome to live with them “as long as needed!” - I still get a tear in my eye when I think of how kind these people are (we actually had a great time at their place - fell in love with their kids, their kids fell in love with us,  and they especially didn’t want kitty to leave when we did – thanks again to the Scanlin family in Vacaville!).

Hunkering down at our friend’s house we started to get news reports and “Facebook Live” broadcasts from Lake Berryessa News reporter, Evan Kilkus.  Evan had stayed behind at Lake Berryessa Highlands and was doing live videos showing firefighting progress in real time - he was doing these several times a day and the whole community of evacuees on “Napa Neighbors” (another social media app) were glued to their phones during these facebook feeds - we all got to know each other better and share a comradery I had not seen before.  It was through the Napa Neighbor’s app we learned our house was still there – in fact they were all still there – we all watched Evan’s Facebook feeds with great enthusiasm as somehow our neighborhood stayed intact. We later learned that one of our neighbors, Battalion Chief, Larry Carr, had come to fight the fire in Circle Oaks, and joined forces with 2 other fire crews from Southern Cal. Another of our neighbors, Fire Fighter Greg O’Dell was also helping out every day. As you can see in the picture of Larry and the flames below his house they were almost 60 feet high at one point and flying embers created other spot fires in the neighborhood but were quickly extinguished by these brave fire teams.  This  recent article in the Napa Register describes the incredible stand these brave people made and how Evan Kilkus’s live reporting meant so much to so many of us.

As I write this article from my resurrected computer (survived the evacuation and being tossed around in the back of my truck) I am so full of gratitude for everyone who contributed to saving our neighborhood – and my prayers and well wishes go out to everyone who was not as fortunate as Circle Oaks was – once again thanks to all the 1st responders who risked their lives to save this precious neighborhood.

Circle Oaks fire photo

Marcus Cox is a published author, Blogger, and full time Network Marketer – his blogs are www.MountainNetworker.com, www.AriixWaterFilter.com, www.CharitiesInTandem.org, and www.CertifiedSupplements.com


pkilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2017