North bay fires tough on staff, students

Teacher’s mom evacuated, teen’s stepfather fought fires

Michaela Edlin, Managing Editor

The devastating North Bay fires that swept through Santa Rosa and other counties reminded math teacher Jennifer Brady of a fire 15 years ago in her former neighborhood.

It was the Fourth of July, and kids on her street had accidentally started a fire after setting off fireworks. The entire field at the end of their cul de sac was ablaze.

“If the wind had been coming east, it would have taken out that entire neighborhood,” including her own childhood home, she said.

Though the fires that have devastated Sonoma, Napa and Santa Rosa counties are mostly contained, students and staff at Branham are dealing with their aftermath, including Brady and junior Natasha Mills, whose stepfather is fighting the blazes.

Other students and staff have been affected by the fires. Junior Jocelyn Pierce’s aunt and uncle’s home burnt down. In Santa Cruz County, where Social science teacher Brett Johanson lives, a wildfire burned several hundred acres, forcing him to take a different route to school.

When the fires started Oct. 9, Brady, who teaches IM1 and AP Calculus AB, received news that her mother was supposed to evacuate.

Combined, the fires have killed over 40 people, displaced over 75,000 people and burned more than 5,700 structures and 217,000 acres in Sonoma County, Napa County, Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas. Fires in Santa Cruz have also begun in addition to the three large fires in the north.

Brady recalled the stress she felt when news of the fires reached her.

“Part of the distress at the time was I had a kid at Dartmouth in band and then we had the fire and then later that day another child had an asthma attack,” she said.

Brady grew up in Santa Rosa, and the recent fires had burnt down the homes of her friends and family in Santa Rosa, and her mom’s neighborhood was ordered to evacuate.

“The fire actually came up to where my Junior High was and we lived right behind my junior high.”

Despite the evacuation order, her mother initially refused to leave, though she eventually complied.

Brady was stressed and worried about her mother’s safety as communication was an issue at first and it’s still unsure where her mother will be located before the fires come to an end. She said, “It was just the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what is going on.”

Brady said that with her mom evacuated and family homes and memories lost, it was difficult to teach calculus.

The fire also hit home for junior Natasha Mills, whose stepfather, Todd Lyons, was fighting the fires. She said that with him gone, it’s been rough on her younger siblings who miss their dad, and on her mom, who worries about his safety. With him gone, Mills has had to run most of the errands and help out her siblings more.

“It makes my mom a bit nervous, but as a Christian family we pray for him a lot and put our faith in God that he’ll be safe,” she said. FaceTime calls every night and the generosity of the community giving the firefighters food, water and access to showers has assured MIlls and her family.

“The community has been so giving,” she said. “They’re a tight-knit community up there.”