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Night at the Shelter 

A small taste of what the Valley Fire victims experienced

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I got a miniscule taste of what it is like to be a refugee when I attempted to return home to Lake County from Napa last week.

At the intersection of Tubbs Lane and Highway 29 in Calistoga, the police informed me that the only open route home would be to drive all the way north to Hopland, cut across the notoriously circuitous Hopland Grade to Lake County, and then home to Clearlake. Since it was far too late for this drive, I was directed to the Calistoga Fairgrounds fire evacuation center to stay for the night.

Upon arriving at the evacuation center, I pulled my car into the far side of the fairgrounds, hoping to get some shut-eye in the back seat. I tried about four pretzel poses to get some sleep, though the night was restless at best. At one point, a light rain began, and I hoped it was also falling where the fire was, in order to help put out the flames. Not so.

At breakfast, I met fellow Lake County residents who shared first-hand accounts of exploding propane tanks and gas stations, and walls of fire in Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake. I met people who had lost their homes, and others who'd been able to rescue their horses, but couldn't save the rest of their pets because the animals were overcome with fear. They had to walk away from their burning homes, leaving their beloved animal friends behind, though, fortunately, they'd gotten their families out. Their losses carved deep lines in their faces.

During my drive home, I heard on the radio about the many people who had lost homes or businesses. Their nightmare had just begun. I counted myself incredibly blessed to have only experienced a three-hour driving inconvenience. I was sleep-deprived and impatient—nothing compared to what others were going through.

The experience of being a temporary refugee brings to mind those in our world who are real refugees, like those now fleeing the conflict in Syria. May we keep all of the refugees, both known and unknown, in our hearts and prayers. And, where possible, may we do what we can to create situations where there are no refugees, or be there to help them when there are.

Leslie Sheridan is editor and publisher of the 'Carpe Diem Voice,' where a version of this story appeared.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write

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