Santa Rosa, California, United States — Jose Garnica worked for more than two decades to build up his dream home that was reduced to ashes in a matter of minutes by the deadly firestorm striking Northern California.
Garnica, who moved to the US from Mexico over 20 years ago, had finally decided he could afford to upgrade parts of his Santa Rosa house after building a stable career with the local garbage company and saving nearly everything he and his wife earned.
Over the past two years, he replaced the siding and installed a new air conditioner, stainless steel appliances, and new flooring. He bought a new 60-inch television. On Saturday, the 44-year-old got an estimate to replace the fence, one of the last items on his list.
But at 3:30 a.m. Monday, he watched his house become one of the more than 2,000 homes and businesses destroyed by the series of blazes across the region that has killed at least 17 people.
“You feel helpless,” he said Tuesday. “There’s nothing you can do. Everything, your whole life, goes through your mind in a minute. Everything you had done. I left all my family behind in Mexico to get a better life. Finally we were just coming to the comfort level, and this happens.”
Garnica tried to save the home with a garden hose. He and a neighbor tried to cut open the neighbor’s above-ground pool, hoping the water would protect their homes. In 15 minutes, the entire neighborhood caught fire, he said.
“If I knew this was going to happen, maybe those 45 minutes I spent trying to put the fire down, I should’ve just grabbed all the belongings,” Garnica said. “But I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Those destructive flames raced across the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties and the coastal beauty of Mendocino further north, leaving little more than smoldering ashes and eye-stinging smoke in their wake. Whole neighborhoods are gone, with only brick chimneys and charred laundry machines to mark sites that were once family homes.
“This is just pure devastation, and it’s going to take us a while to get out and comb through all of this,” said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said the state had “several days of fire weather conditions to come.”
In some torched neighborhoods, fire hydrants still had hoses attached, apparently abandoned by firefighters who had to flee.