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Fire As The Villain

giraffes-fire-update-1920x768In my new release, coming out Tuesday, Love Me Tender, Love You Hard, I used fire as the villain, not a person, like I usually do. As I was finishing up the book, the fires had just started in Southern California but had yet to develop in Redding.

Since I lived through the fires last October here in Sonoma County, I was more drawing from the experiences we went through there. We were under voluntary evacuation then, and it happened to be when my daughter was due to give birth at one of the two hospitals that had to be closed down because the fire had crossed the freeway and infringed on the hospitals themselves. What a scary time.

We relied on the local news media, namely the AM station KSRO, and kudos to them for doing an outstanding job of spreading the word, since not everyone had access to cell phone updates, or television. They reported on the shelters and what they needed, as far as supplies, and of course told everyone what was being done with the fire itself, with stray pets and messages to where to find loved ones. They told us how to get updated maps of the current evacuations mandatory and not, and where the fire lines were.

I did my own little part, donating clothes, and all those itty bitty bottles of shampoo and soaps I've collected in my travels – some came from Paris (The Ritz even!), some from our trips to Italy and Brazil, but mostly from Disneyland or other US venues I was at for book signings. We had several hundred families living in tents at the fairgrounds, with portable showers and bathrooms many had to live in for weeks afterwards.

I also bought pizza for about 30 firefighters from the bay area when they stopped to take a break at my favorite place here in Bennett Valley. I got a standing ovation. Our church community coordinated relief efforts. More than 40 families in our congregation lost their homes. Many of us made cash donations to this and other causes. Vacant storefronts were used as a donation center for people to bring furniture to help families rebuild what they'd lost.

One of the discoveries in all this was that cell towers were destroyed in this fire. That made the early warning systems some people got as texts and alerts non-existent. We are such a cell phone dependent society that this really hampered the rescue efforts. Because this was such a massive fire, the local departments were all overloaded, and very early on, some crews had to be sent home because of a lack of equipment to use. This was rapidly fixed, of course, but equipment takes time to arrive, especially when it's coming by truck, since we have very limited rail service. We've invested in Smart Trains for passenger movement, but nothing for emergencies.

We had issues with local citizens using drones to take pictures to sell to the news media, which grounded some of the boride bombers who were not able to fly. Someone's drone was actually tracked and that person, or so the media reported, was sent to jail.

firefighters-1920x768-1600x640There is a local place called Safari West, and I used a fictional place based on this park in my book. I've attached some links to the articles written about the park, and the owner's heroics saving all of his animals. I changed the cast of characters to fit a SEAL romance, of course, but some of the details were the basis for my story. Naturally, a place like this needs a great chef, and my Navy SEAL, Derek Farley, came to work there to help pay for his CCA tuition.

Dining-1600x640

You can read about the real place and how they emerged from the wildfires here:

https://www.safariwest.com/fires-hope-emerges-video/

http://abc7news.com/pets-animals/santa-rosas-safari-west-reopens-after-devastating-north-bay-fires/2674986/

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/specialsections/7585721-181/how-the-safari-west-owner?gallery=7525164&sba=AAS

Naturally, our people did an excellent job of juggling all these issues, having never had anything so massive to deal with before. As they say, out of the ashes, comes the miracle. I think lots of things were learned. The community still is working together. And we have signs still, though it's been some 8 months, reading “Sonoma Strong”, with thank you posters on fences and telephone poles. The slogan, “Love is thicker than smoke,” is another banner we see everywhere.

My hope is that some of these things are being used now in Redding and other places as they continue to battle these blazes.

But fire indeed is a heartless and cruel villain, destroying all that we hold dear. It happens so quickly, and feels like a huge violation.

Thank goodness we have our memories.

 

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 11 comments
Karen Dooley - July 29, 2018

Sharon,

I had no idea we lived so close to one another. I am in Martinez and we are also hyper aware of all that occurs with our Northern California fires.

We also donated what we could and assisted monetarily as well to the Sonoma and Napa fires, but it was just such a massive scale event and was so devastating. We had friends and co-workers who were evacuated for 2 weeks and one of our friends lost their dream home in Glen Ellen. They had both just retired in the last 2 years…

I am hoping with some of the humidity today that our amazing firefighters can get a handle on some of these horrible fires. Thank heaven for their tireless efforts.

I just pre-ordered Love Me Tender, Love You Hard, and I look forward to the release and the rest of the series.

Thank you for your books!

Karen

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    Sharon Hamilton - July 29, 2018

    Karen,
    Yes! We’re neighbors, practically! Fingers crossed for some good weather and slow winds so they can wrap up. And this is the beginning of fire season. Hope that’s the worst and the last of it all.

    I know many people who lost everything. It will take quite a bit of time for those poor people to catch their breath. I went through it ten years ago. But that made me a writer…

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Ilona Williams - July 29, 2018

Hi Sharon
The Redding, Ukiah and Lake County fires have been so surreal to the SR community. Really too close once again. My heartfelt prayers go out to all the burning areas; North and South.
Maybe CA isn’t the wonderful place to live in any longer. Who knows!!
Ilona

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    Sharon Hamilton - July 30, 2018

    Ilona,
    Yes, I agree, Don and I keep shaking our heads “not again?” So sad for all the animals too, and the tragic loss of one’s whole life of memories. I know what a shock it is, having been through it once ten years ago. But yes, we feel like the Johnny Cash song, “The Ring of Fire.” And this is just the beginning of the season.

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Linda Crawford - July 30, 2018

Thank you for sharing today!
You have been on my mind all week as the fires burning now are way to familiar to what you and my daughter both went through last year.
It’s so very sad, but as you said love is thicker than smoke.
Blessings to you and your family.
Linda

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    Sharon Hamilton - July 30, 2018

    Thanks so much, Linda. Yes, your family was impacted too. Such a scary thing. Thanks for all the blessings. We’ll take all we can get. And I share your love of all the firefighters and other support staff and their families who are working hard to keep us all safe. Like you, my heart goes out to all those who were impacted by this loss.

    But let’s hope they learn how to deal with these. Unfortunately, it takes one to give that knowledge. Wish it weren’t so.

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Sandi George - July 30, 2018

I was profoundly touched by all these letters detailing your experiences with wildland fire. I drove from San Francisco to Seattle a few summers ago and saw a lot of firefighters going to wildland fires at that time. Your fires are so scary out west.
I’m a volunteer fire fighter in Mississippi and we don’t have that extreme fuel load in the forests here or mountains and hills to complicate firefighting.
Hope and pray that you are all safe.
I’m looking forward to this book that includes fire as the villan.
Take care friends.
It Dickens me to read about the lives lost already.

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    Sharon Hamilton - July 30, 2018

    Hey Sandi,
    Thanks so much. If you drove from San Francisco to Seattle, then you came right through this area. Thanks for all your good wishes. Right now we are safe, and we hope to stay that way. But fire is so cruel and indiscriminate. Be safe there in Mississippi, and thanks for your heroism and for giving back!

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Elaine - July 30, 2018

I have been to California and the northern part is beautiful. I don’t know if you know here in the Great Smoky Mountains we had a fire in the town of Gatlinburg. Many homes and lives were lost and we are Smoky Mountain Strong.
The city is doing well again and many homes and cabins have been rebuilt.
This is a best wishes for you and all the people there.

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    Sharon Hamilton - July 30, 2018

    Elaine,
    Yes, I’ve talked to several people from your area, and have many good friends there. Gatlinburg has been on my list for awhile now. So great it is rebuilding and going strong. Yes, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’ll be in that area some day visiting…thank you!

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Diane Paulsen - July 30, 2018

Not too many know of Firestorm north of Spokane, WA. I lived in the woods up there, very happily with my husband and animals. We had a windstorm come through that knocked power lines down, and sparked the fires. My husband was terminally ill but still functional and was home alone. We had one way into our house and the same way out. I got home ok but we were terrified. We watched fire closing in on three sides of us not knowing if escape was possible. There was a terrible loss of land (crops, etc), animals, and homes, barns and the like. Not too long after was the the Oakland fire. Very expensive homes. Everyone heard about that one. I know where you are and fear you live with. I pray for everyone in the path of fire.

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