Family with Kansas roots coping with fires in Sonoma, California

A fire burns by the RV storage of Christine Jones Cooley and her husband Gabriel. The fire, one of 17 fires in northern California, is about one mile from their house. The Cooleys are northeast Kansas natives. (Submitted)

Among the thousands of people affected by devastating fires raging this week in northern California is a family that traces its roots to northeast Kansas.

 

Christine Jones Cooley, 48, a native of Holton, along with her husband, Gabriel, originally from Lawrence, and daughter, Allison, 16, evacuated their home Wednesday in Sonoma and are staying in their recreational vehicle until it is safe to return.

Speaking by phone Thursday afternoon, Christine Cooley said she and her family were fortunate to have a motor home they could stay in until the fire situation improves.

She said they were staying with others who have fled from the fires on a 50-acre parcel of land opened up at Sonoma Raceway, a large racetrack in the immediate area.

Cooley said her family soon would be heading to an RV park, where they could hook up their motor home to utility services.

“We’re doing fine,” Cooley said “Our home is not in a mandatory evacuation right now, but we’re very, very close, so we elected to leave last night.”

Cooley said she hadn’t seen any flames from the fire, but noted the smoke was very thick in the area, and that people have been urged to take precautions by wearing masks to avoid inhaling particles that were in the air.

She said she was keeping tabs on the direction of the fire and how it might affect her family’s home.

“We’re very nervous,” she said. “We just got a report — another text from the Sonoma County sheriff that the mandatory evacuation had been expanded a little further and a little closer to our house.”

On the bright side, Cooley said she had received word that additional manpower had arrived Wednesday night to fight the fires.

“We have a ton more fire-resource help that came in here yesterday afternoon, so it’s really been bolstered,” she said. “There’s also a huge police and National Guard presence, so I’m feeling way more hopeful today than I was yesterday at this time.”

Cooley said she and her husband moved to California in 1996, settling first in the Monterrey area before moving to Sonoma — which is about an hour north of San Francisco — in 1998.

She said she never envisioned her area being affected by a fire until after it started this past Sunday night.

“I’ve lived here for 18 years,” she said. “I would never have imagined it would happen here. You see it every year, but it’s always been in SoCal or north of here. But being in urban areas, burning down whole tracts of houses — that’s just crazy.”

Life has been disrupted for now, she said. She can’t get to her job at a local hospital. Napa High School, where her daughter is a junior, has been closed all week and may be closed next week, as well, Cooley said.

As her family — and many others — wait and hope for the best, Cooley said she is seeing plenty of support.

“Everyone seems to be well taken care of,” she said. “You make friends fast in this situation. I can say I didn’t know some of my neighbors very well, but I’ve met them and I know them well after the last three days.”

Contact Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/.

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