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9th Circle of Hell

Posted on Tue, 10 October, 2017

The Northern California fires of 2017 have been a personal experience with the 9th circle of hell for those involved.  We in California are no stranger to the danger of fires, and being more common than earthquakes – our other famous natural disaster – we are accustomed to dealing with them.  Not this time.

This is the first time in my life I have been personally affected by the fires and it is so hellish it is apocalyptic.  Not just in the lunar scenery left in the wake of the fires, but the seemingly never-ending threat of the fire.  We are nearly 72 hours in at the time of this posting, and there is zero containment to any of the major fires ripping through Northern California.  ZERO.  It is horrifying.


The hellish scene of Napa ablaze


According to a Cal-Fire radio report I heard around noon, there have been over 40 aviation missions to suppress the fires with retardant, water siphoning from reservoirs, etc.  Seven of those missions include the new 747 Super Tanker – it’s first mission.  And still ZERO containment.

The smoke is thick, oppressive and scary.  It truly is necessary to wear the masks or scarves to protect your airways.  I wore it today when I went with my husband and mother-in-law to see if our family home in Silverado Country Club was still in tact.  We needed those masks, cause the 9th circle of hell is no joke.


Taken as we drove along Big Ranch Road – the lovely Atlas Range (for which the fire is named) is usually viewable as a backdrop to Silverado Resort


The mask saved my lungs but still came out of there with a wicked headache from the smoke


As we tried unsuccessfully to get into our home, I realized the true impact of this monumental disaster: there’s no foreseeable end.  In terms of trauma theory, this is the worst case scenario.  Think about when you experience something difficult, even anticipating something you don’t want to do – often you can talk yourself into coping because it’s only for a little while.  I think back to when my kids get shots at the doctor and I soothe their anxiety by explaining it will all go away in a minute.

This will not go away. Recovering from the effects will take a decade as people struggle to recoup from the devastation.  I have very good friends who lost their home and there’s nothing to say to ease the pain because it won’t end in a little bit.  The urgency will eventually end, but that’s the rub, we can’t tell when.  The fires are so big there is still very little effort going toward containing them – the focus as of this posting remains life and safety.

We could not get close to our residential property today due to police blockades over a mile away.  They are preventing people from entering the Silverado Resort area we are in due to potential flare ups and known looters in the area.  Police have dispatched SWAT patrols with assault rifles and flack jackets to protect what’s left.  So our plea to go in and retrieve medication for my in-laws was turned away because of looters and the fact that this fire is still so unpredictable that it’s too dangerous.


A home on Silverado golf course burning down, captured by KQED


Yet it seems we are part of the resort that is still in tact. Miraculously, we seem to be still standing.  Our friend’s home up the street is not.  Another friends home also up the street is unknown.  I’ve dealt with trauma for many years as a therapist specializing in EMDR.  I know about survivor’s guilt, and have a deeper appreciation for it now.  Our home may be safe, but our friend’s is not.  I feel awful simply for the random “hows” of it all.  How the fire touched one house and left a neighbor’s unharmed. How the firestorm can create it’s own weather!  How this thing spread to the 6 massive fires it now is allegedly because of the hurricane-forced winds driving the embers up to half mile distances.

I posted last week on vicarious PTSD and realized I was experiencing just that from staying glued to the TV all day yesterday trying to learn news of the resort and our neighborhood.  I couldn’t tear myself away, partly because the news refused to make any mention of the resort.  It was a lot like the days immediately after 9/11, until I finally put the remote down and turned off my phone.  There has to be a point at which you give up trying to control it.  Such is the nature of our species, to strive for control because it makes us feel safe, powerful. And power is safety.

In the wake of the urgency the shelters and crisis response provide basic needs.  What you don’t realize until you go through it is that anything familiar also brings that sense of safety.  The comfort of routine, structure and familiarity is another thing our species unconsciously strives for in all things.  We need it as children to feel safe and as adults it translates into dealing with crisis and problems with sanity and security.  A solid base of structure and routine allows us to cope better with adversity.  If our home is truly still there, there’s not much around it anymore.  Entire streets around our neighborhood were devastated, burnt to the ground with only chimney’s remaining. How will this feel going back to in the weeks and months to come?  How can we get back to a sense of familiarity and safety when nothing looks the same?  When our friends have no home?


This blur is a snippet from a video taken of Westgate Drive in Napa, where our friend’s house used to be, and where no homes made it. Just the chimneys.


I was just at our house Friday for a Weezer concert after the Safeway Open, held annually at Silverado.  I had fun, like I usually do there, relaxing with my friend.  We went to her home afterward for a surprise birthday party in her honor, at her almost-fully-renovated home.  Two days later it burnt down with all their possessions.  I am so sad. So so very sad.

We drove around the rest of Napa, taking stock of what else we could.  Other properties we are invested in are in tact.  Many friends still have their homes and businesses.  My office is unharmed. We keep learning of those that don’t and the heat of the 9th ring flares up again.

Pray for rain.

Pray for it to end.


Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties. She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in ADHD, trauma and anger/communication skills. She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is a wife of 18+ years and the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on her website or


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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

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