Almost 230 people, most from Calistoga, which was under an advisory evacuation, spent the night in Napa County’s three shelters on Sunday night. Come Monday, they were deciding whether or not to extend their stays.
Forecasted winds would elevate fire risk again Tuesday night, and experts have warned that fires in eastern Sonoma County could spread quickly toward Calistoga in Napa County. The circumstances left evacuees, like Penny Jesfjeld and her brother-in-law Dean Goins, unsure of their next move.
Jesfjeld had come to the shelter at Napa Valley College from Calistoga with her husband, who is 82 and has end-stage renal failure. Aware that his health would severely limit their ability to move quickly in the event of an emergency, Jesfield decided to get ahead of things: with help from the managers of their mobile home park, she was able to move her husband from the house to their car and drive to the college. There, her sister and brother-in-law helped him inside the shelter, where the four had spent the night on Sunday.
On Monday afternoon, they were still debating whether or not to return to Calistoga.
“We’re not sure if we should go back – especially me, because I have trouble getting him in and out (of the house),” Jesfjeld said, adding that her husband is “more comfortable at home” and had been actively vocal about wanting to return there.
Holly Dawson, public information officer for Napa Valley College, said the majority of occupants were from Calistoga. The college’s shelter hosted more than 200 people Sunday night, placing it practically at capacity.
Those leaving Calistoga had heeded a voluntary evacuation order given by the county’s Office of Emergency Services Sunday afternoon.
Maricela and Sergio Galban had decided they’d head back to their rented duplex in Calistoga Monday afternoon. They’d brought their two sons with them to the shelter at the college, where they’d spent Sunday night, worried about the strong winds.
“We have a son who has problems with asthma, so we’d rather not leave things until the last minute,” Maricela Galban said. “If we need to, we’ll come back.”
They’d return to a house without power, Galban added. It was the second time the family had evacuated their home; they’d been under mandatory evacuation during the 2017 wildfires, which Galban said had been “uglier,” the danger then seeming more imminent.
This time around, they’d packed food, a change of clothes for each member of the family and important documents.
Socorro Padilla-Vazquez, another Calistoga resident who had spent the night at the college shelter on Sunday, said she had previously planned to return home Monday, but would hold off in the wake of the latest forecast wind storm on Tuesday. She and her husband had brought their four children, one of whom has a physical disability, and their dog.
“I wanted to leave rather than stay in Calistoga and worry,” she said, adding her family would stay until the additional wind event had passed. “(The evacuation) isn’t mandatory – we could return tomorrow. But what makes me the most uncertain is the wind. The fire could reach us very quickly.”
The county opened additional shelters at the Napa Valley Expo and CrossWalk Community Church. The Expo, which has a capacity of 700, hosted only 4 evacuees Sunday night, according to Noel Brinkerhoff, the public information officer for Napa County. CrossWalk Community Church has space for an additional 200 people, though it held only 20 Sunday night, he added.
All three shelters have shower facilities and meals provided by the Salvation Army. Towels and toiletries would be provided, according to the county.
Jesfjeld said she’d felt welcomed and accommodated by the shelter staff, who had continued to assist her in taking care of her husband. They’d even brought her husband breakfast, she said; Goins, her brother-in-law, said they’d assisted his wife in obtaining her cancer medication from Kaiser over the phone in the wake of the shutoffs. And they’d been through it before: The four had stayed at the college shelter for six days during the fires in 2017.
“I only have one thing to say: they’ve been great,” Goins said, of shelter staff.
Even with the shelter’s support, it still wasn’t home for Jesfjeld, who remained torn between her husband’s desire to return to their mobile home and their collective safety. She said she would wait for a briefing from the police chief later on Monday before deciding.
“I can see where (his health) is really declining,” she said, noting that there was a kind of anxiety caused by sitting in wait. “And then to go through this – and I’m afraid if we go home, we’ll have to get back out again.”