Memories of the Tubbs Fire bring grief and resilience for Santa Rosa couple

It was late into that fateful October night when Jeff Jackson and his then-girlfriend, Diana, hurriedly packed their car full of their essential belongings. They grew increasingly anxious by the minute, working faster and faster to prepare themselves for what they knew might be coming. The power to their home was lost one, two, then three times-- the final outage leaving them in complete and consuming darkness. By flashlight, Diana collected her mother’s armoire full of precious memories in an attempt to preserve some of the essences of her childhood home. Jeff opened the front door to be taken aback by harsh winds, debris, and the ominous smell of smoke. A grim orange glow blanketed the horizon, and an approaching police car began to announce that immediate evacuation was necessary. It was time to go. The couple, along with a family member’s dog they had been watching, got into their car and left. It was 1:14 a.m. when Jeff and Diana left their home for what would be the last time. 

Jeff and Diana Jackson are now married and grateful to be alive. Jeff, who has worked for nine years in the Sonoma State culinary services department, was able to keep his job and continues serving SSU students through his work. The night of the infamous Tubbs Fire is one that Jeff will never forget. “It honestly sounds cliche,” he says, “but it really just didn’t feel real. We were just numb to the pain at first. Our minds shifted into survival mode, and ‘what do we need to do next… contact insurance, find an apartment, clothing, essentials and when can we get back to the property’. We couldn’t really begin to process it until we were allowed to see the property in person. It was as if our minds couldn’t comprehend the vast loss without physical proof.” There were some items lost forever in the fire, and since the house was Diana’s childhood home, some dated back to long before she was born. Baseball cards from her childhood, a picnic table made by her great grandfather, handwritten recipes from her great grandmother, and a pine chest made by her father was just a few items that could not be saved. Since the two both work in the culinary industry, they had removed their wedding rings for work, and sadly, they too were burned in the fire. “Our minutes, days, and even weeks afterward were spent in a state of suspended numbness while we tried to rewrite our day to day lives with new objects, places, and habits,” Jeff recalls. 

While many precious items were lost in the fire, there are also treasures that Jeff and Diana were able to save. A classic San Francisco Giants jacket, trinkets from Diana’s mother’s armoire, and a beloved childhood quilt are among the belongings spared from the flames. Most importantly, the two escaped with their lives and with each other.

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Through all of the pain and loss, Jeff and Diana have endured at the hands of the infamous Tubbs Fire, they have also found gratitude and new perspectives. “I think I can speak for us both when I say that we have a new appreciation for our belongings,” Jeff says, “I believe we have an easier time deciding between a desire to keep an object out of obligation rather than an actual need or for enjoyment.” Conversely, Jeff says that their experience with the fire has also led the couple to treat themselves to more leisure purchases. “We remind ourselves we work hard and now that we are all too familiar with the thought that our life and world can be flipped upside down…why not enjoy even the smallest detail when you have the chance?"