She flew to Puerto Rico to aid relief efforts. Then she found out her home was in the path of a wildfire

Cyndi Evans was in Puerto Rico volunteering as a nurse when she found out about the fires back home in Santa Rosa. She found her house still standing, and now she hopes to help the displaced here.
(Soumya Karlamangla / Los Angeles Times)

Cyndi Evans was moved by images she saw on TV of people suffering in Puerto Rico and the mayor of San Juan asking for help.

An intensive care unit nurse at the Kaiser Permanente San Rafael hospital, Evans flew to the island Oct. 6 with a group of doctors and nurses. There, she was greeted by devastation. People who’d gone days without water. Downed power lines. Black mold spreading. Infections caused by a lack of sewage system.

A friend offered her their internet connection one day, and 64 text messages popped up on her phone.


One from her daughter: “Mom, I need you to come home.”

She was worried their house, just south of downtown Santa Rosa, would burn down in the wildfires sweeping through Northern California wine country. Evans and another nurse got on the first flight back to San Francisco.

Evans spent the plane ride fretting about her home. The home of the other nurse, who lived in Calistoga, burned down.

“It was such a different plane ride than the plane ride to Puerto Rico,” said Evans, 49.

When they landed for a layover in Newark, N.J., Evans got another text from her daughter: “Our house is there.”

Still, her drive from San Francisco International Airport to Santa Rosa was terrifying. She couldn’t see the opposing traffic lanes on Highway 101. She couldn’t see even a few feet in front of her because of the smoke.

“I felt like I was going into hell,” she said.

Though relieved, she hasn’t slept well since she got home. She was still worried a new fire could destroy her house. The block where she lives is bookended by big, yellowed fields. It still smells of smoke.

The morning she got back, Evans and a friend tried to find a place to volunteer, but most were overwhelmed with assistance.

Evans knows this is what happens in disasters — the help pours in at first, and then it fades. She took two trips to volunteer during Hurricane Katrina, also organized by the National Nurses United Registered Nurse Response Network that coordinated the Puerto Rico trip. So she waited and visited a shelter Sunday where nursing home evacuees have been staying.

“I’m going to just be sitting with people, holding their hands,” Evans said. “I could use that, too.”