I live in Napa and in October, 2017, I experienced the savagery of massive forest fires that surrounded Napa. The wild fires consumed the Wine Country, required 11,000 firefighters and destroyed 8400 homes and businesses. Many people barely made it out of their homes with the clothes on their back.

The fire hit on a Sunday night. I had gone to bed at 11 p.m. and was excited to start a new workout routine early on Monday morning. My work out clothes were laid out and the dvd was in the player – all I had to do was hit play at 5:30 in the morning. Within an hour, I awoke to the smell of smoke. Concerned, I got out of bed and made my way to my patio door.  As I slid open the door, my blood ran cold as I was greeted by the same demonic howl that I experienced in my bedroom at 3:24 a.m. on August 24, 2014 when the 6.0 earthquake shook my home for what felt like an eternity.  While the jolting fury of the earthquake was unsettling and frightening, it was the sound that consumed my pitch black bedroom as it shook me and I screamed, a sound that I can only describe as demonic in nature, that terrified me. It’s a sound and feeling I will never forget and had hoped to never again experience.  Yet here it was, greeting me at my door at 12 a.m. on October 9th.  I knew we were in trouble.

The winds were howling in excess of forty miles per hour creating a cacophony of dried autumn leaves.  It looked and felt like a bad Halloween movie, with acrid, dense smoke replacing the eerie fog of the movies.  The halo of the streetlights lined empty streets as sirens screamed in the distance.  I could not see the fire, but was painfully aware of its magnitude.

After wandering the empty streets, I returned home and checked the news and Facebook to see what was happening.  Other Napans were online and there were many updates in the feeds to provide an overview of the fires and the locations.  I was up all night watching the fires unfold, reading about its speed and fury chasing people from their homes with no time to gather any possessions and communicating with other concerned locals.  As 5:30 a.m. rolled around, I was still up monitoring the fires and my new workout routine was going to have to wait for another day.

The next couple of weeks were surreal. While I spent my days doing anything I could to help anyone I could in any way I could, the nights were spent in anxious dread. My home was in an advisory evacuation area. While the fires should not reach it, the fires were a massive wild card given the roaring winds and the tinder box conditions of the entire Napa Valley. The fires could, and did, change directions on a dime.  The unexpected was becoming the new norm. And the nights were the worst. My cell phone, which is normally banned from my bedroom, was on my nightstand with the volume turned up so I could check it hourly for any new fire notices.  The consuming fear was sleeping through an evacuation notice and being awakened by the fire sweeping through my neighborhood, which was happening throughout the wine country. 

As the losses mounted, the fires raged and the smoke filled our town, our hearts were called to action.  Too many people lost too much.  And those who cared deeply sprang into action to help. 

The napa fires raging on the hills above napa

The fires in the mountain range above the town of Napa

an image of the fires raging on the napa mountains and reflected in the napa river

Sundown view of the fires above Napa along the mountain range.

an evening shot of the raging fires in the napa hills reflected on the napa river

The view from my Studio, the fires above the town of Napa and reflected on the Napa River

an image of the smoke filled day in napa during the wildfires

The days were filled with a smoky haze that created an eerie orange glow

a smoke filled day during the wild fires in napa

The trail that Teddy and I walk each day was transformed by the smokey haze

As part of my healing process, I created this collage to capture the fury of the fire and the indomitable spirit of the communities to come together to celebrate the heroes, support those in need and rebuild with conviction, compassion, tenacity and love.  It shares the faith in trusting what’s next and the commitment to make a difference. We are all learning to fly again and differently.

The raging fire is captured behind the words “Wine Country Strong.” Despite the swirling darkness, we have strength and hope.

the words "Wine Country Strong" with swirling fire behind the words

The white flowers above the peacock are actually the blank canvas showing through, which is also indicative of a fresh slate under all the swirling turmoil and the possibilities and beauty it holds – tabula rasa.

The peacock represents vision, spirituality, awakening, guidance, protection and watchfulness. 

a portion of the wine country strong collage that shows a peacock, a wine bottle with 2 glasses and the statement "be open to whatever comes next" and the word brave

The eye represents the window into the soul of those impacted to see the pain, hope, fear, compassion and sadness, yet faith in what’s possible. It celebrates the heroes who were everywhere making a difference. 

There are words you can’t see, such as “grit” hidden under the wine bottle and glasses.  This piece captures the energy of the experience and the certainty that, with the support of our communities, we have the ability to rise above and come back stronger than ever.

While the fire’s swath of destruction impacted 100 square miles, the community is rising strong and taking care of each other. They are opening their homes and hearts. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild, but we will come back stronger, more compassionate and more determined to share the beauty of our land and our people.

I reproduced the collage into an 11 x 14 print that was first sold at a fundraiser in San Francisco to help raise funds for the victims of the fire. It’s now listed as a matted print that can be purchased from my Etsy Shop and portions of each sale will be donated to the Emergency Relief Fund at the www.TippingPoint.org to help those impacted by the wild fires.

Wherever you are and wherever you go, make a difference. Love your community. Share your skills and talents. Have an open heart and a generous spirit. I’m grateful to be on this journey with you.

Joan Jakel

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