An East Bay retreat opened its doors to about 150 Camp Fire evacuees, hosting them for the holidays so they could relax, reconnect with nature and perhaps even share their stories of survival.
The San Damiano Retreat, a religious refuge in Danville that usually closes for the holidays, has provided a much-need breather for the wildfire survivors who have been living with friends or family or at shelters for more than six weeks since the fire started. It has helped with some of the healing.
"Looking at the birds, everything because everything counts," said Mirna Trettevik of Concow. "And we don’t know if today’s going to be our last day."
Trettevik relayed her story about facing the flames and fleeing for her life.
"I burned my hand, nose, ear, hair. And I didn’t have oxygen, and I thought I wasn’t going to make it," Trettevik said. "And the first thing was, I wish I could call my husband and tell him that I love him and that I won’t be able to make it. Somehow I saw my kids in the car, and I jumped and I drove through the flames, and we made it and we’re here."
Rev. Charles Talley of Franciscan Friars wanted to help evacuees begin healing.
"I saw a family come in this morning and look pretty shell-shocked," he said. "Really this place has been transformed from a retreat center to a de facto village for people to find a place where they can rest, they have some peace and quiet, enjoy the restorative qualities of nature."
For Paradise’s Hannah Farris and her family, Mother Nature can still trigger traumatic memories.
"When we first got here, we looked up in the mountains, and we thought oh, that’s a lot of trees there," Farris said. "Now, it’s just an overwhelming sense of peace. It’s been really relaxing, a sense of solidarity because there’s so many other people like us, you know?"
Farris says survivors don’t know what day-to-day life will ever be. But for now, they’ll take it one breath at a time.
"It blows me away," she said. "Human compassion is amazing to me."