Emma Migliacci helped pull the dead from rubble after an earthquake struck Mexico City. It was the second quake she’d witnessed in two weeks. During the aftershocks, she saw buildings collapse just down the street from where she had lived with her mom for the last 10 months.
She needed a reprieve from the trauma, and wanted to visit her dad in Northern California. She arrived in Santa Rosa days before the wildfires began.
Migliacci, 32, had just begun to create a survival kit stuffed with important documents — her birth certificate, diplomas, a First Communion certificate, her parents’ marriage certificate. Emergency preparation was on her mind.
On Sunday night, her pet goldendoodle Lou came inside covered in ash. Moments later, she heard a police officer shout “get out now!” over a megaphone. The fire had jumped the 101 Freeway. She was given only minutes to grab the dogs, collect her documents and wake her father.
“We saw our street start to blow up in front of our eyes.”
By her count, they evacuated with only seven minutes to spare.
“Just as we made it through the evacuation traffic, we saw our street start to blow up in front of our eyes.”
Two days later, she and her father returned to Hopper Avenue to see what was left of the house they’d left behind.
“It was as if we were on Mars,” Migliacci said of the scorched land.
Her dad called it “a war zone with no bodies.”
When they finally found what they’d been searching for, reality struck.
“At first we didn’t even recognize our lot until we saw my father’s tool bin charred in what used to be the garage,” she said.
They sifted through the ash in search of whatever was left of their home. Five pairs of scissors, two melted safes, two army helmets that belonged to her grandfather — a World War II veteran. And of all things, a wooden eagle he had carved.
Migliacci and her father have already begun looking for places to live. But she knows they aren’t the only ones now looking for permanent shelter. Thousands evacuated the areas, and the amount of damage is still growing.
She calls the last month one of the worst in her life. Still, she considers herself lucky. She lost material items, but reminds herself that she still has the memories.
“Everyone affected by this fire is, quite literally, a lucky phoenix — from the ashes we shall rise again.”
We first learned of Migliacci’s story through a call-out. If you have a story to share, we want to hear it. You can reach us here.