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For Santa Rosa Neighbors, Waiting Together Is Their Way to Cope

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Meg and Jeff Nyholm pitch a tent at the corner of Old Redwood Highway and Airport Boulevard. They've been sleeping in it since evacuating their home on Monday morning. (Tonya Mosley/KQED)

If you type the Santa Rosa neighborhood of 'Fountaingrove' into a search engine, you'll see directions to some of the city's main landmarks.

The Fountaingrove Inn, a Kmart and the local high school.

The map that appears when you enter 'Fountaingrove, Santa Rosa, CA' into Google Maps.

Today, those places have burned to the ground. And for many residents, the weight of what's been lost is just now starting to take hold.

On Tuesday evening, the open field at the corner of Old Redwood Highway and Airport Boulevard resembled a makeshift evacuation center.

Residents of Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa wait for clearance to enter their neighborhood. (Tonya Mosley/KQED)

Filled with people in their cars, waiting for authorities to allow them back into their neighborhood, these residents waited, and hoped, to see if their homes were spared.

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Others admitted that there's nothing left, but they said they needed to see it for themselves.

"Some people have gone in and they say everything is gone," said Bianca Hernandez, as she wiped away tears. "I don’t have high hopes right now, but I just need to see."

Hernandez stood in the field with her husband, Fabian. Nearby, their truck sat, parked. Inside, a few pillows, some water bottles, and one of their 3-year-son Fabian Jr.’s stuffed animals.

Bianca and Fabian Hernandez wait at the corner of Old Redwood Highway and Airport Boulevard. They know their home has been destroyed, but they want to see the carnage for themselves. (Tonya Mosley/KQED)

Those were all the belongings they were able to grab before fleeing in the dark, as the flames crept toward their home at 1 a.m. on Monday.

"I know we should be happy that we made it out," said Hernandez. "But I'm just so sad. So, so sad. We just moved to this neighborhood, and now we have nothing."

The Hernandez family has been sleeping in the insurance office where Bianca works. Fabian has been checking his phone constantly, waiting to find out if his car repair shop burned to the ground.

Bianca and Fabian Hernandez fled their home, in the dark, on Monday morning. (Tonya Mosley/KQED)

"It's like a bomb went off," said Fabian Hernandez. "I'm just in shock."

In a pair of lawn chairs a few yards away, Meg and Jeff Nyholm sat, wearing pajamas. They fled their home, just as the Hernandezes did, on Monday morning.

But instead of going to one of the evacuation centers, the Nyholms pitched a tent in this field. Jeff Nyholm said they were lucky. They're avid campers,  and a tent was in the back of their truck.

"It's all mattress, the whole floor, so it's like a queen-size bed," he said. "Away from the snakes."

Meg and Jeff Nyholm pitch a tent at the corner of Old Redwood Hwy. and Airport Blvd. They've been sleeping in it since evacuating their home on Monday morning.
Meg and Jeff Nyholm pitch a tent at the corner of Old Redwood Highway and Airport Boulevard They've been sleeping in it since evacuating their home on Monday morning. (Tonya Mosley/KQED)

The Nyholms stayed in a Walmart parking lot the first night after the fire.

Nyholm said he knows his house is still standing. When he squints, he said, he can see the roof, but he worries about everyone else.

"The wild thing is, we're less than a mile from chaotic destruction but we can't see it," he said. "We can't look at it on our phones and there's no newspapers."

Across the street, Rudy Zarate huddled in a circle with his neighbors. They talked about being on hold with their insurance companies, what their properties might look like now. They all knew their homes were gone.

But they continue to stand on the corner because, at this moment, standing together is all they've got.

"It's a neighborhood that you find once in a lifetime," said Zarate, who moved to Fountaingrove five years ago with his wife and two daughters. "That kind of bond doesn't happen all the time, you know?

"I don’t know if we're going to be neighbors," he added, thinking of the future. "I know we'll all be friends forever, but neighbors again? I don't know."

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