After the Fires: Living the New Normal

Sunday, Oct. 8 began as it normally did for USF Santa Rosa student, Brittany Ratiana. Church in the morning with her family, followed by a brisk walk through Coffey Park to play fetch with their dog. Later that Sunday afternoon, Ratiana noticed the high-winds picking up at around 4 p.m. but didn’t think much of it. As the evening progressed, the wind grew stronger.


“I was worried [the tree next to my room] was going to come through the window and throw glass all over my dog, husband and I. That’s [what] kept me up most of the night,” she said.


It wasn’t until 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning that she awoke to the sounds of voices shouting and door-knocking. Ratiana immediately looked outside to see her building manager frantically speaking with her neighbors; their body language suggested that something was seriously wrong. Within moments, her neighbors were evacuating and she would be next to hear the news that a fire was a mile away, and quickly approaching their apartment complex. Ten minutes later, the roaring flames were already climbing the walls of her building.


Ratiana and her family escaped in time. They were evacuated from Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, an area that is now known to have suffered the worst damage from fires in California’s history.


Not knowing what to expect after being away from her home, Ratiana said that she felt extremely grateful to see that her apartment complex was still standing. The building would have been destroyed if it wasn’t for the efforts of her neighbors who stayed behind to fight the fires. Ratiana has since been coming to terms with a new normal.


“I’m definitely not the same,” said Ratiana. “I’m still jumpy, triggered by small things. Last night, when the light rain started, a gust of wind blew a pile of red leaves out into the road. I started crying — it looked like flying embers that I had run through to get to my car on Monday morning.”


The smoke from the fires forced Ratiana and her family to purify the air in her home for several days to prevent chest pain. Their adjustments to the rapid changes caused by the catastrophe has resulted in feeling a profound loss of security.


Amazed at how quickly the response was from the community, Ratiana thought it was beautiful that people were so ready to love one another “I’m so proud of the USF community for rising as soon as the call went out,” said Ratiana. “When I visited our Santa Rosa campus to stock up on supplies, I was surprised to see the walls covered in positive messages of hope and encouragement, created by other students. Knowing that we’re loved and remembered as people and not just fire victims brought me strength to keep moving when I became overwhelmed.”


Ratiana now has a deeper sense of appreciation for the people in her life, and the compassion that has arisen from this tragedy. She is grateful for the strength that her community has, but also acknowledges that they are hurting as a family. “There’s a new normal now and I’m trying to figure out what that looks like,” Ratiana said. “There was a sense of ‘my life is busy and stressful, but I’ve got this’ before the fires. Life was very scheduled and regulated. Now I’m trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing minute by minute and putting pieces back together as best I can.”


Featured Photo: Brittany Ratiana, a student at the USF Santa Rosa campus, embraces her dog in front of a fire truck. Her family’s home caught flame during the devastating Santa Rosa Fires. Courtesy of Brittany Ratania


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