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Students affected by California fires


A Santa Rosa building that was destroyed by the recent Sonoma County fires.
Photo by Julia Novak, Cuesta student.

By Stephen Kondor
Managing Editor of Content

Cuesta student Julia Novak’s childhood home in Sonoma County has been threatened by flames since last week when a firestorm engulfed the rural area — and reduced her aunt’s home to rubble.

Novak was visiting family in Windsor for her mother’s birthday when the fire erupted, preventing her from returning to school for a few days.

“I just felt kind of empty and have this pain in my stomach ever since I left,” Novak said, holding back tears.

“My eyes hurt and my lungs feel constricted like it is hard to breathe,” she said recalling the traumatic ordeal.

Novak, a sophomore and communications major, is one of many Cuesta students who grew up in Sonoma County affected by the fire.

The Cuestonian reached out to other students who have been impacted, but did not receive a response in time for print deadline.

The latest death count in Sonoma County was reported at 15 and hundreds are still missing, according to Sonoma County officials. This was one of more than 15 fires that have been raging in California, torching more than 190,000 acres — leaving 27 dead, hundreds missing and more than 20,000 displaced.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in three northern California Counties: Napa, Sonoma and Yuba.

Novak recalled being at her parent’s home when the evacuation warning was issued.

“As soon as I found out [about the fire], we had to pack everything,” she said. “I think one of the hardest moments of this whole tragedy was looking at my house where I grew up and going like ‘What’s worth taking?’ I grabbed photos and my parents’ wedding cake topper.”

Nearby, however, her aunt was under mandatory evacuation as the flames crept closer to the home she had lived in for more than a decade.

“My aunt only had time to grab their three dogs,” Novak said, adding that her aunt arrived shortly after at her parent’s home.

“When she looked at me, she started crying,” Novak said. “I think she was in shock.”

The day the fire began, she said the family woke up to a house filled with smoke.

“But my dad didn’t think it was that bad and showed up to work,” Novak added.

However, when he arrived the parking lot was thick with smoke and filled with evacuees who had just lost their homes.

Her father felt helpless and overwhelmed, she said.

“That was one of the few times I have ever seen him cry,” Novak recalled.

Novak described her feelings about leaving her house where she grew up:
“I felt pretty helpless, like I couldn’t do anything.”