Kevin Courtney

Napa Valley Register City Editor Kevin Courtney.

J.L. Sousa, Register

Napa is good at handling disasters. It comes from practice.

Multiple earthquakes, more floods than you can count and, of course, these end-of-summer fires.

That said, last week was a doozy. Fires rampaged on three sides of the Napa Valley. Like a basin at a pig farm, the valley floor filled with a smothering stench.

Not to brag, but, yes, I did work 18 straight hours Monday as part of the Register’s news team. I reported for work at midnight knowing I wouldn’t go home until the next evening.

I wasn’t unique. Many people, including public safety workers, endured crazier, even dangerous, shifts.

As I drove into town I wondered about my endurance. I hadn’t missed a full night’s sleep since I was in the army.

When I got home Monday night, I was lightheaded from sleep deprivation. Everything was surreal. The lack of electricity. The acrid murk. The discovery that Cheryl had packed her car for evacuation.

Her employers had called her off for the day, so she spent hours in our front yard, watching the Partrick Fire light on the hill as bulldozers cut fire lines and Cal Fire lit backfires.

Unnerving? You bet.

Neighbors we haven’t talked to in months joined her. They scrutinized the burning hillside with the intensity of a radiologist looking at X-rays. Would the malignancy spread or would Cal Fire zap it?

The optics were not reassuring.

We went to Browns Valley Market and bought sandwiches for dinner. We didn’t want to open our refrigerator and let the dwindling cool out.

Eating at night in a house without electricity was not charmless. We ate by illuminated glass pumpkins.

When I went into the bathroom, I carried a pumpkin with me. Lacking hot water, I took a stone-cold shower. Like the army.

I should have crashed that night, but I couldn’t. I was wired. That’s what listening to a police scanner at high volume for 18 hours does to you.

It didn’t help when we heard footsteps on our porch. Cheryl confronted the stranger: it was her daughter’s boyfriend from Sonoma, checking up on us per Julia’s request.

Thirty minutes later, more footsteps. It was Josh, Cheryl’s son from Oakland making his own security check.

Why was this? Because Mom’s cellphone hadn’t worked all day and her children had worked themselves into a state from watching all the dire fire news.

Cheryl was more than touched.

As we resettled ourselves in bed, I joked that Cheryl’s third child, Jonathan, was probably on his way from Sacramento.

Not a joke. I found his car parked on the street at daybreak.

Cheryl is the most-loved mom ever.

Neither of my out-of-county children made an effusive show of concern for dad. They know I’m a journalist. In disasters, we are at our best.

The fires were unrelenting on Tuesday. Napa County’s situation became more dire.

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That night I took to bed by 8:30. My sleep deficit was catching up with me.

Cheryl roused me at 9. Another man roaming the neighborhood.

He turned out to be a city worker going door to door, notifying Browns Valley residents of a possible evacuation that night if the winds shifted.

Damn that fire. We’d been saved Monday from the Partrick Fire, now it was coming back at us.

We lugged photo albums and other sentimentals out to our cars, then I said enough and went back to sleep. Rather, attempted sleep. The cause was hopeless.

I was a walking zombie on Wednesday. So much news to handle at work.

So many phone calls asking if I could help locate a loved one.

What a scene I encountered when I got home that evening. Cheryl had a sprinkler perched on top of the garage roof and all the irrigation running. She was irrigating the neighbor’s dry yard too.

The woman was at battle stations. She was more wired than me.

We weren’t evacuated that night. Or since. But oh the apprehension that hijacked our nervous system.

This isn’t sustainable. Too many people have lost homes, too many people have been displaced.

Surely these fires will end. They can’t burn everything twice, can they?

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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