Fires erupted in Napa Valley on Sunday, October 8 around 10 pm. Here are my reflections about how I believe God led me to be useful.
I write to any who sometimes aren’t sure what to do in a crisis. To be sure, wisdom and good judgement is needed, but sometimes we just need to show up and be ready to do whatever is put in front of us.
I hope you find these words encouraging.
24 hours and counting…reflections on the Napa Fires…
When a pastor gets a late night call, it’s always bad news. I got that call late Sunday night, being told that “the Valley is on fire”. That sounded a bit extreme until I went online and turned on the news. Then I understood. The Valley was on fire.
The Napa Valley isn’t a wide Valley, and indeed, there were fires on both the east and west ridges, easily visible from many locations in the city.
High winds with gusts up to 50 mph not only pushed the flames across ridges and fields, but things outside our house were shaking and banging loudly. Thick heavy smoke was in the air, and ashes were gathering everywhere. Tree branches were broken off and scattered in the streets. Nothing resembled normal.
Sirens were heard regularly all night. There was no cell service. Some of our family members had to evacuate, and they joined us in our home. They spent the night monitoring the news, wondering if their home would be there in the morning. (It was) Our family members are with us again tonight. They are not yet allowed to return home.
I was told that one of the fires was on our side of the valley, and so at midnight I hit the road to investigate. The fire was very visible, and not yet threatening, but I knew things could change quickly with the drought dried vegetation and the high winds and rough terrain.
It’s hard to know where to begin when these tragedies hit. It’s hard to know how to help. I texted those whom I thought might need help evacuating. I watched the news until they signed off, and then continued searching for more news online until I couldn’t focus my eyes. I decided to sleep, praying that God would give me direction in the morning.
Today I was able to visit evacuation centers in Napa, and practice what chaplains call the “ministry of presence”. Just show up, pray, and be available. That was God’s plan for me…just show up.
I was impressed with the volunteers that showed up at these centers to help their neighbors. Food and supplies were not lacking. Facilities were open, and people were being cared for.
The evac centers were not full when I saw them, and I get the feeling that many Napans are opening their homes to those in need. That’s great news.
I went out twice today. Once in the morning with men from our church, and then tonight with single adults and families with kids. We’ll go out again tomorrow, giving out ice cream and popsicles to people that can’t go home. It’s a simple thing, but it matters and we can do it.
There is still no cell service in Napa. 28,000 people don’t have electricity. Some gas stations are out of gas. We drove home through a dark portion of the city tonight. No store lights. No traffic lights. Eerily dark.
It’s only been 24 hours, but I’m already used to seeing fires on the ridges, hearing sirens, seeing people driving erratically through lightless intersections, and navigating through way more traffic than normal. I’m also getting used to seeing people helping and caring for each other, and I like that.
The Napa Fires are bad. Our country has been hit hard with many tragedies this year. Many have suffered and died, but the Napa Fires are happening where I live and affecting people that I know and love. One family I know has lost everything.
I had my “shut down” moment today. It hit me and knocked me out for a bit. I watched the news and was overwhelmed by the damage of these Nor Cal fires. It was too much.
Then, like many, I gathered myself and went back out “just to be there”.
This isn’t just my story. To varying degrees, this is our story. There are a thousand variations. These are just some of my reflections, but perhaps I speak for a few others.
In back of it all, I believe that there is a God who is good.
Thanks for the prayers and kind words and intentions that people have shared. Do what you can to help your neighbors.
I’m looking forward to “just being there” again tomorrow.