The full impact of the fires are yet to be tabulated, but most of the houses can be rebuilt, furniture replaced, as with all the vehicles. Living in a digital age, many photos will be stored in the cloud, but albums will be lost forever, as will other family heirlooms and classic cars. Those that lost animals are really hurting.
I didn’t think much about the number of houses or out building, but when I heard that seven people had lost their lives, I was wondering if they were the ones that stayed and tried to save their homes? Then someone told me that I knew one of the families, my heart skipped a beat.
I met Leo McDermott when our kids were in Little League, over 30 years ago. We were about the same age, like riding Harleys and cold beer. When we ran into each other we would sit and have a drink and talk about family, life and politics. He didn’t like to be told what to do and tried to avoid any contact with any government agency. I think he was pretty successful with staying out of sight and enjoyed his life in the hills above Lake Berryessa. Over the 40 years that he lived on the property, he had built a place were he could live, work as a machinist, enjoy his hobbies and admire his car collection.
The last time I saw him was at one of our street fairs last year, and he was with his long time partner, Mary Hintemeyer. Leo was in a wheelchair and told me that he had a disease that was causing his muscles to fail. When I expressed my sorrow, he just chuckled and said that he was still enjoying life, and you have to play with the cards you’re dealt.
When I asked about his son Tom, Mary spoke up with a smile and told me that the two of them had smoothed out their differences and were getting along for the first time in years. Leo said he wasted too much time fighting with his son and had come to accept him for who he was. I’m sure Tom was thinking the same thing.
A friend sent me a link to a story in the Napa Valley Register about Leo and his family. Leo thought that he could survive a fire, or anything else that came his way. His water truck was still running when they found their bodies a week ago Tuesday. Leo was 71, Mary was 70 and Tom was 41.
There are stories about people who stayed and tried to save their homes and their neighbor’s, too. There are also stories about fire crews having to stop what they are doing to try and save those same people. Not all of the stories have happy endings.
I know of someone in a wheelchair that lives in Golden Bear Estates who decided to stay and not evacuate when told. Her husband told me that they could have left at a moments notice. I’m sure that’s what everyone thinks before the hills are on fire and fallen power poles block your escape.
I’m probably one of those that would want to stay until the last moment, but after this year’s fires and reading about Leo, I’m starting to pack a to-go bag, just in case I get that phone call or a knock on the door.
Stay safe, smart, and say a prayer to all of the victims of 2020.