Carr Fire: The Collective North State Would Flunk a Psych Evaluation

I've not been myself since Thurs., July 26.

I blame the Carr Fire and its smoky straitjacket.

As I type, I pause to listen intently to a helicopter overhead, a sound I used to associate here in Redding with cops in pursuit of criminals who've ripped off something and are on the run. Now I associate that sound with fires. Likewise, if I hear a siren, my heart leaps, wondering if they're fire engines heading to a new blaze.

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Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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47 Responses

  1. Randy Smith Randy Smith says:

    Fortunately for us, Dr. Ray John gave a talk at Rotary about his experiences losing everything in the Oakland Hills Firestorm several years ago. He spoke about being almost completely brain dead for six months after that horrific tragedy. He warned us of the confusion and lack of recall saying the insurance people would call and he would be unable to remember all of his Social Security number. Remember please that Ray is a Marine, a combat veteran from Viet Nam. So, what you describe is real, not imaginary and has to be better understood by everyone, especially those basically unaffected by anything except very poor air quality. Julie Kaplan’s compelling story on what to do and what not to do should be reread before any “feel good” gathering to help those who were really damaged. Evacuation is one thing, coming home to nothing but a pile of rubble is another. Thanks for being honest, for putting the truth out for everyone to see. Denial and being strong only work if the basic premise of being damaged is acknowledged and steady movement toward regaining a better tomorrow is being made. There will be an end to this and our village will be a better place for understanding how to prevent and protect ourselves from this trouble going forward. Lastly, it could have been so much worse and stay ready. It ain’t over ’till it rains!

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      Your Marine story brings to mind another story of the Oakland Hills Firestorm. A friend owned a very successful Oriental rug store in Oakland, and one of his customers, and older Jewish woman who had been evacuated, came to his store with a question about her rug. My friend commiserated with her and hoped her home would be saved. Her comment? “Honey, I lived through years in Auschwitz; I’ll make it through this.” Her perspective doesn’t change how our neighbors feel – horror is horror – and the Jewish woman probably was as dazed as our evacuated neighbors feel after being freed from the prison camp. Thank you, Doni – Chamberlain, not Greenberg – for another timely column.

    • We’ll all keep moving forward toward improvement and healing.
      And you’re right, it could have been so much worse.
      “It ain’t over ’til it rains.” That will be my mantra, Randy. So true.

  2. Marcie Vega says:

    And I read these articles, and I cry. . . . .

    • Marcie, It must feel so weird for you and your husband, to move away after living her for so long, and then see this happen. I know your heart will remain here for a while, and it’s hurting.

  3. Eleanor Townsend says:

    Yes! Thank you, Doni Chamberlain, for putting into (your very well stated) words what so many of us are feeling. That ‘Wait. What?’ thinking. No clue what day it is and yes, our go bags remain in the hallway. If this can happen once………..?

    Now I don’t feel so all alone in my thinking, or lack thereof.

    • Yup … we’re all dazed and confused, but I think it helps if we admit it, and know we’re not alone, and this abnormality is our new normal, for a while.

      Keep that (cute) bag packed. 🙂

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      May I second your comments, Eleanor?
      Yes, Doni, again you so brilliantly articulated this experience for us. (Was just remembering the first time you articulated our trauma so well that we knew we were not alone- when our sons went off to war.)

      You have such a gift and we are all so grateful you share it with us.

      I evacuated to family in Roseville, and realized how “gone” my brain was when I couldn’t remember which way the card went in at the Costco gas station here. When the kind Costco employee there came over to help, and chatted and even pumped the gas for me, my eyes started leaking.
      I, too, left everything in the living room when I returned home. ?
      So, as you say, we need to just realize this is our new normal, for a while.
      And we are not alone.

  4. erin friedman says:

    In our retail business, we’ve shared more hugs and offered more tissues this last week than in the entire last twenty years. Redding has a long, hard road ahead – but I am very heartened by the community’s caring response. I am going to have to figure out how to love the emerging landscape at Whiskeytown — because I’ve loved that place for 20 years, and I won’t stop now. Lots of shifting perspectives – and songs I didn’t want to have to write. Sigh.

    • Erin, you’re so right about everything. And yeah, every place has become like a therapist’s office. Have plenty of Kleenex at the ready.

      I, too, am dreading seeing Whiskeytown. That’s going to be a tough one.

      (I love the song you wrote about what didn’t burn. Gives me goosebumps.)

    • Doug Mudford says:


      “I’m going to have to figure out how to love the emerging landscape at Whiskeytown” is such a great line…walking away is simply not an option.


      • erin friedman says:

        Thanks, Doug. I recently found some photos I took near Turtle Bay in 2008 – in the Springtime, after an awful fire. The vibrant green sprouts against the blackened earth was striking and lovely. I’ll take the joy wherever I can find it – and I am sure I’ll find it again on the trails at Whiskeytown. Cheers.

  5. Judy Smith says:

    Doni, this is one of the best pieces I have ever seen! You truly nailed the emotions, the lack of focus, the strange choices made. And I am so grateful for your continuing coverage and human stories faithfully posted throughout this terrifying event.

  6. Mary Speigle says:

    The most challenging aspect of the evacuation process was trying to wrap my head around the possibility of dealing with the loss of my home and belongings. Fear of the unknown is powerful! I feebly tried to prepare myself for the worst. Even though I was evacuated for seven days I was fortunate to have a neighbor who hiked into our neighborhood the day after the Carr fire tore through our subdivision and reported that our homes were saved although there was damage in our yards. That information provided incredible relief and stress reduction. Now my heart goes out to all those whose stress continues as they try to accept and adjust to overwhelming loss.

    • Mary, I know what you mean about those hard choices. I’m a collector of dishes and baking stuff, and I had to just let it all go, and when I thought about how precious that stuff was to me, I felt a little silly.

      Even the photo albums and stuff. My own kids aren’t really into them, and who knows if my grandchildren will be. I have no photos of my mother’s family’s side, and that’s just the way it is. Would my life be worse without those photos and papers? No, not really.

      I’m glad for your angel neighbor who kept you informed, and was able to give you peace of mind.

      It’s a huge adjustment for us all. Hang in there, dear Mary.

  7. William Keller Jr says:

    Thank you, Doni, for truthfulness and writing.

  8. Doug Mudford says:

    Doni (Chamberlain)

    Vodka and jello
    Thank you for your reminder to trust our own instincts.
    I watched the firestorm from a nearby subdivision and elected to wait for the official word…a numb and dumb decision.
    The many agencies, firefighters, law enforcement personnel and volunteers did and are doing a phenomenal job…but their priorities are rightly for the safety of thousands…mine is for my family.
    I wish I had a magic potion to make you (all of us) feel better but I don’t.
    I do have a perfectly adequate shoulder.
    We need you to help us get through this…

    • Thanks for recognizing my true name 😉

      Your Vodka and jello made me laugh. Shots, or separate? I’ll add that to the list. (I should do an entire column about the foods that people confessed to eating … I call it disaster cuisine.

      I wish, too, that there were a magic potion, but I kind of think that in some ways, we’re seeing it: it’s about staying connected, and sharing our stories. Your last Reflections piece was a great example of that. In a way, your column is a shoulder. Thank you! is absolutely honored to do our part to bring stories and information to help with that process.

      • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

        Oh, my gosh, I Love it. “Disaster Cuisine” would be fabulous. Shared bonding over our curious food choices. I had Watermelon beer and peanut butter on Ritz crackers for dinner one night.

  9. Vicki Gallagher says:

    Doni, you have captured this experience perfectly. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were writing about my own personal experience! Thank you for yet another wonderful article.

    P.S. Anyone else having a lot of anxiety about leaving their pets home?

    • Doug, thanks for recognizing my true name 😉

      Your Vodka and jello made me laugh. Shots, or separate? I’ll add that to the list. (I should do an entire column about the foods that people confessed to eating … I call it disaster cuisine.

      I wish, too, that there were a magic potion, but I kind of think that in some ways, we’re seeing it: it’s about staying connected, and sharing our stories. Your last Reflections piece was a great example of that. In a way, your column is a shoulder. Thank you! is absolutely honored to do our part to bring stories and information to help with that process.

    • Vicki. As a writer, few things make me as happy as when what I wrote speaks to what they’re going through. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, but you have lots of company. (That’s a good question about pets. I bet there are others who feel that way, too.)

      • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

        I am definitely having some issues leaving my pets at home when I go to work, although I live close enough that if all hell breaks loose, I can make it there in 2 minutes flat as long as there’s not a train blocking the way. I brought them to work with me that Thursday, but so did one of my colleagues. Her dog attacked my dog, and I had to pry its teeth off of Olive’s face by squeezing its jaw (and am probably lucky I didn’t get bit, only scratched up). It was just another story of that crazy day that I completely forgot about until you mentioned pet anxiety.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:


  10. Jennifer Arnold says:

    This article is so spot on. I live off Bechelli and never ended up having to evacuate, but we packed bags and they sat in our kitchen for over a week. Our kids had a really hard time understanding why our bags were packed but we weren’t actually going anywhere.
    I am so thankful our area of town was spared but I have survivors guilt big time.
    I don’t think I slept for more than two consecutive hours until a few days ago, and for days I was afraid to leave the house for longer than it took to run to the store. The thought of a spot fire popping up in the neighborhood while I was gone freaked me out. It still does.
    So grateful for a supportive community that “gets” that it will take a while to heal from this.

    • You’re right. Dang, I meant to mention the insomnia. That’s another part of it, and the survivor’s guilt. Hang in there, Jennifer, and I’m glad you’re here in his community of

      • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

        Definitely insomnia. And weird TV show choices- I binge watched Father Brown murder mysteries.

  11. Mary Hoehn says:

    Thank you Doni, you made me cry
    I feel heartbroken, sad, thankful. I’m feeling anxiety and grief. I recently lost my 6 year old granddaughter and my heart is so broken for the family that lost three family members and their home. May God Bless them with strength. Thank you for all the wonderful columns on anewscafe

  12. Richard Christoph says:

    As I sit here wearing my “Stronger Than Carr” T-shirt, it is easy to identify with so many of the thoughts and feelings expressed in Doni’s poignant story. Overwhelming sorrow for those who have lost so much, gratitude for being safe and having an intact home, and despair in knowing what we are likely to see once the smoke clears.

    Bogle is our favorite mid-grade wine as well, but because of a 92-day summer abstinence from alcohol each year, a paraphrase of the recurring line from the movie Airplane seems spot on: “I picked a helluva time to give up drinking!” Looking forward to September…

    I’ve collected at least a dozen backpacks over the years, and they certainly were useful as we categorized and packed essentials on that fateful Thursday night of July 26th. Finally unpacked yesterday, but with a degree of reluctance. Remain vigilant.

    • I can relate, completely, Richard. Congrats on unpacking. I’m not fully there yet … but eventually. (Bogle Chardonnay is one wine that I think is good super-chilled. Wow. 92 days. Good for you.)

  13. Matthew Grigsby says:

    The first night back in my house solo, I worried quite a lot about what could happen if the fire blew up again and I was sleeping. Seeing the videos of how massive the fire was and how quickly it moved makes me truly appreciate the danger we were in, which is incomprehensible even now.

    I’ve unpacked all my stuff but when I have a little time I’m going to start getting rid of things that don’t matter and consolidate the things that do. I left *my* trunk of family photos and history behind but I brought three pairs of jeans. I’m going to make a list of stuff to take in an emergency so I don’t have to panic like this again. And my “bug out” bag will always be packed and ready.

  14. I can relate to it all, dear Matthew. And you and your family have inspired me with your bug-out bags. Great idea. And it’s a super idea to use this time – and these time of stress – to cull and sort.

    Hugs to you, my friend. See you in the ‘hood. xo d

  15. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I guess I’ll speak up on behalf of those of us who haven’t been made to feel overwhelmingly sad and anxious by the Carr Fire, but rather are feeling something akin to a deep sense of melancholy and malaise. I’m not feeling bowled over by the catastrophe—Doni’s article doesn’t make me want to cry—but I am experiencing a feeling that this is one local event against a backdrop of everything going all to hell.

    I’d trade that numb pessimism for something like sadness, but I got what I got. I look out at the smoky sky from my dining room, and it’s all I can do to take the 100-foot walk from my house to my office in the morning. I have to force myself to water the garden boxes because the voice in my head says, “Why the f*** bother?” Getting exercise always helps me through these moods……but meh. Our tennis leagues and clinics have been canceled since the fires started and won’t resume until the AQ Index improves considerably. I’ll probably turn 60 (early October) before that happens.

    Yesterday I visited our house in Sunset Terrace and encountered two spotted fawns bedded down below one of the plum trees in the front yard, probably after gorging on dropped plums. Kind of bittersweet, knowing that they’re likely hanging out in the yard after being burnt out of the greenbelt along Jenny Creek. Maybe I’ll go there today and shake the plum trees for them. As a plan, it beats day drinking.

    • I love this, Steve. (This would have been a good column, too, but that’s what I like about your comments. It’s like your column is within the comments. I’ll take it!)

      Your melancholy comes through loud and clear. I’m sorry about your losing your tennis outlet, in particular.

      I have the same sense about watering my plants outside, too, or mowing.

      I like the day-drinking line .. it made me think of day-trading. And that’s a sweet image about the fawns. (I wonder where their mom is.)

      Hang in there, Steve. You’ve got a party to plan. 😉

    • Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Steve, thanks for telling me that Shasta High was okay. My son here in Phoenix was asking about Shasta and it felt good to tell him some good news since he had to cancel his trip back there.
      My wife’s brother and family have moved back to Lewiston from Weaverville. His RV park is standing and in good shape as a contingent of firefighters from Fresno were camped out there and took care of the place.

    • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

      I think I’d feel compelled to do some day drinking while shaking the plum trees.

    • Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

      I know you’re intelligent and are a man of action. You could help me by wading through all the California OES and Fema STUFF to tell me if I can get help to clean up the ash pit that used to be my home. Where are those thousands of burned refrigerators, ovens, cars, boats and toasters going to go? Lots of people have volunteered to sift through the ash for gold and silver, but I’m more concerned about the big junk! My car for example.

  16. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Extraordinary article Doni. The first time I felt free to cry was when I saw you standing in the lobby of the Redding Post Office! I’m still sleeping in my clothes and our two vehicles are parked facing out in case we have to run again. It’s a relief to know we’re not alone. Thank you Doni!

  17. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    In the last two weeks (or has it been three . . . no . . . wait . . . maybe it’s only been a week) since the fire started has been the first time in my life that when I hear a siren I pray that it’s an ambulance.
    I also thought I was the only one, and only because I am consummately lazy, that hadn’t fully unpacked my car yet. And, BTW, you just reminded me that I had two ice cream sandwiches left in the freezer . . . I think I’d better finish them tonight in case we have to evacuate again!!

    I read back at what I’ve just written and it all seems so flip and banal but I think it’s just my way of whistling in the dark.

    More seriously, I want to thank and bless all the contributors to over the past two weeks. We are part of an extraordinary community . . . . and Doni is the mayor!!

  18. George Koen says:

    The mind or psyche is at once a wonderful and horrible thing. It glues us together but also rips us apart. It heals and it hurts. At the end of the day I imagine that without it we would essentially cease to be. I am happy you and so many others survived this. For many just barely and sparingly and that sadness will be present for quite a while.

  19. Peggy Elwood says: told my story almost exactly and I’m sure the story of thousands of us. You have reached Anne Lamott status in my opinion with this piece. Anne has the most marvelous ability to say what we are all thinking and feeling and such a talent for saying things with humor and compassion. Wonderful and I do love ANC

  20. Francesca Huntsman-Siemer says:

    Doni, I’ve been gone for awhile, but have to share this nugget of rational thinking. I was three days into the evacuation when I realized I had grabbed an entire garbage bag of shoes. But I left behind various important documents!

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