They're starting to feel normal again. But it's been a challenge to put together the pieces of their lives that fell apart in the wake of the most destructive wildfire in
Monte, a second-year nursing student at
The college bought a one-bedroom trailer for Monte and his family to live in after the fire and staked out an area for them to park it on the school's
"I have my own room now, and it doesn't move when someone walks around the house, so that's good," Monte said. He had been sharing a pull-out sofa in the trailer with his younger sister while his mother and stepfather shared the bedroom.
Monte missed only one day of class during the fire. His teachers were sympathetic, he said, and even encouraged him to take time off, but he didn't want to lose any progress toward his nursing degree.
"I went to clinicals the next day," he said. "I asked my friends if I could borrow their scrubs, so when I showed up in the parking lot at the hospital, I had to change in my car. My instructor was asking me, 'Why are you here? Do you need anything?' I said, 'Yeah, I need a pen. I don't have a pen to use for today.'"
Monte is set to graduate in May. He feels blessed by the support he's received this past year. His family, which came to the
"It's still in our minds," Monte said. "You can never really move on from it."
'Everything will be alright'
Everybody at the care home was fast asleep when Monte's mother called him around
Monte, a live-in caregiver at the facility, assured his mom that everything was fine. But he soon noticed the glow of flames coming from the building next door.
"At first, I thought it was just an electrical problem that caused the fire next door," Monte said. "I thought it was kind of unusual, so I called 911."
A dispatcher told him there was a fire in the area and that he should evacuate immediately. Monte asked if anybody could help get his five clients out of the building.
As the neighborhood around him went up in smoke, Monte struggled to get residents at the facility out of bed and out the door. Police officers soon arrived and helped usher the elderly women out of the building. Three of the residents left with officers in squad cars. Monte sped off with two others in his backseat and his small dog riding shotgun.
"They were confused," he said. "I turned back and said, 'Everything will be alright.' They didn't know what was happening."
Monte drove around town, not knowing where to go. Eventually, he met his mom and stepfather at a nearby evacuation center, where they reunited with their three clients who had been evacuated by police officers. Monte's sister had been out for the night. The family spent the next day reuniting those clients with their own families and later drove to
Monte found a new job in January, working as an emergency room technician at a
"The hardest part is normalizing everything," Monte said. "Not really forgetting, but trying to get back to that kind of life that you were so used to for years, that was hard."
"I had my fire gear on and my chief's vehicle," he said. "I was going door to door, rescuing people from their houses and driving them to safety. ... My first instinct was save lives. How do we save as many lives as we can?"
Four of the 23 fire-related deaths in
Welch's wife and two kids evacuated the area around
"Obviously it's a super traumatic event to lose your house," Welch said. "But it's even more traumatic to lose it during a conflagration where you know your neighbors are dying."
The Welches stayed with family members near
The chief said he's moved on, for the most part, from the emotional aspects of the experience.
"We've pretty much closed the book on the whole incident," he said.
But what he learned from losing his home in a fire has stuck with him.
"It's taught me some real lessons on the other side of the coin," he said. "Often times, first responders, when we respond, we do what we were trained to do and then we leave and go on to the next one. But there are a whole bunch of things that occur after the fire, and I've had a front-row seat to that entire operation."
The chief's biggest takeaway and advice to others, he said, is that fire victims, when facing the unthinkable, should always lean on their communities.
"Stuff is just stuff," Welch said. "Family is first, friends are first, people are first. There's a network of people out there we were fortunate enough to know to help us get through this."
The chief is now working to create in
The proposed regulations would require
"The fuel that drives us is to make sure nobody has to go through what my family has gone through," he said.
When the rebuild is complete, Ferro said he will offer jobs to the 90 employees who worked at the hotel before the fire.
Crews have cleared hazardous materials and rubble from the 5-acre site, but Ferro is still working with contractors on plans to rebuild. He said he's been fortunate with the insurance policy he had for the hotel.
"Everybody wants to know when you're going to rebuild, but it's not that easy," he said. "Building a hotel is not a simple thing."
How to help
Monte said his family's needs have been taken care of. They're not asking for any help. Those who still want to extend a hand, he said, should focus on the future.
"People who want to help could just exert all their efforts and their energy into advocating for a good emergency alert system that could be implemented not just in our area, but in other communities, too," he said.
Though he helped in successfully evacuating all the residents from the care home, Monte said it was too close a call. If his mom hadn't called to check on him that night, he said, he might have slept through the fire. He was never notified by any emergency alert system that his neighborhood was burning.
The nursing student said those who want to help should also turn their efforts to the teams that respond in emergencies.
"People could also reach out to first responders and advocate for them," he said. "Because without them, we wouldn't be here."
(c)2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.