Editor’s note: Mike Esnard and his wife, Robin DiMatteo, suffered an unimaginable and horrific tragedy during the Santa Rosa fires. Their home, their belongings, their family treasures were all burned and lost. They have found an apartment in San Francisco where their daughter lives and will re-settle there. The following comes from correspondence from Mike.
“We will stay in SF, and not rebuild in Santa Rosa. This is our new home,” Esnard wrote in an email.
Many Hill residents know and remember Mike as a former Pine Cove Water District director from February 2007 until he resigned in June 2015. He served as president during his last two years.
Esnard also was a member of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council for more than a decade and served as president from 2006 until his resignation in January 2015.
Esnard described the community’s sense of fire danger and the night it started in his email.
“As far as the fire is concerned, Idyllwild should be very proud of all its done in prevention. People up here had the sense that fires like this one simply did not happen in this area, so prevention was not high on anyone’s list.
“Unfortunately, that night we had a wind that was right out of the desert winds we knew too well in the south, and when the fire got going, they could not put it out and they were not well prepared for either alert or evacuation.
“The fire destroyed everything in our neighborhood, which we thought to be a nearly ideal place to live. It is all gone, all the houses leveled — I am sure you have seen the pictures. We were right below the Fountain Grove community, and a fire storm came through just before 4 a.m.
“We did not receive an alert, since our cells were turned off and AT&T made the house phone dependent on the internet, and power, which was off. I woke Robin at one point when embers were flying into our backyard and I saw trees start to ignite nearby.
“We got our dogs, laptops and drove away. After I manually raised our garage door I saw a pick-up with two firefighters going through our streets on a loudspeaker telling people to leave. We left minutes after. I could see houses igniting a block up, and the smoke was intense,” Esnard wrote solemnly, but grateful he and Robin were able to respond.
They drove to San Francisco and stayed with his daughter until they located an apartment. So, the city will be their future, he said. “We are not going to rebuild — we think it will take 4-5 years to get all the houses back up and the area is not going to be the same for decades. We are very happy to be in SF.”
Reflecting on the catastrophic fire they endured and survived, and comparing that experience with the constant fire threat here, Mike wrote, “The irony of all this is enormous for us — I spent years working with the MCFSC and thinking about fire every day.
“I was relieved in some ways to put it behind me in Santa Rosa, since fire was not a concern. I think about things I could have done to save our house, but nothing would have mattered. The new firehouse on top of the ridge burned down, and that had harder materials and more clearance than was possible for us.
“As I said, Idyllwild and its major actors seem to me years ahead of people up here. I think Edwina [Scott, executive director of the MCFSC], Jerry [Holldber, Pine Cove Water general manager], Norm [Walker, former fire manager for the San Jacinto Ranger District and current MCFSC president], Dan Felix [succeeded Walker as Ranger District fire manager], and Chief [John] Hawkins [Riverside County Fire chief] were models of handling the fire threat.
“They should just keep doing what they have been doing. People up here will have to come around to the idea that climate change probably means fire will be the threat in northern California that has been in the south,” Mike concluded.