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The Kincaid Fire

Our beautiful California has been looking more and more like Tierra del Fuego. We thought 2017 had hit the Top of the Charts as the worst case scenario, but 2019 has proven to be an unfortunate contender. Some of us were impacted by the fires directly with evacuations, but we all were affected by the fallout of unhealthy, smoky skies and black-outs. Here are some impressions by our own Pacific Masters Swimmers of two weeks of stress and turmoil.


evacuation zonesAside from the impact of the fires, evacuations and black-outs had a huge impact on my team. My house didn't lose power during this time and we did not have to evacuate. I live in East Santa Rosa, but my whole team in Sebastopol and West County and going all the way out to the coast, was under mandatory evacuation. I housed one of my swimmers for two nights since he had to be evacuated. Another one of my swimmers, a winemaker, lost a 150 year old barn due to the Kincaid fire. The fire however, did not burn the vines on his property.

Basically, that weekend of the fire consisted of sleepless nights for everyone in Sonoma County. Every time you'd get a Nixle text alert in the middle of the night, you'd be hoping it wasn't your house that has to be the next Zone to be evacuated in the middle of the night. Then, after a few days CalFire was starting to get things under control, Sebastopol was reduced to "evacuation warning." People could go home if they wanted but wouldn't have power. As power was slowly restored, at Ives Pool (where my team practices) the pool heater broke. Our pool, along with the rest of the pools in Santa Rosa, and even Petaluma remained closed for the remainder of the week. No coaching or swimming for a week for everyone here. As a teacher, all the Santa Rosa city schools remained closed for the week as well. We are very thankful the fire did not cross Highway 101 because if it did, it was predicted to have wiped everything out in its path from Sebastopol all the way to Bodega Bay. Here is a satellite image showing where the smoke was blowing and the potential path the fire could take.

On the right is a screen shot of the evacuations near my area. I live in the small grey area where the green circular bed is. The squares represent the fire itself. So as you can tell, everyone had to pretty much up and leave in the middle of the night.

Donita Flecker, Substitute Teacher, CalStateTEACH Student Teacher, Montgomery High school Head Swim Coach, Sebastopol Masters Aquatic Club Head Swim Coach and Founder


I don’t know one person in our community and surrounding communities that wasn’t impacted… SO Many of our members lost their homes in the Tubbs fire 2 years ago and fortunately I only know of one of our members who lost their home this time around. Both events we have done our very best to open our facility and our pools as soon as possible knowing that our members really need it!

Lori Ennis, Group Fitness Director, Airport Health Club


Gail Roper, 1952 Helsinki Olympian, lives in Healdsburg. Fires have ravished acres near her home before, “But I never really thought it would come.” This time, the fire did come. All of the city of Healdsburg was evacuated. Gail’s daughter and grandchildren helped her pack up some essential items. She had a “go-bag” ready with her medications. With only a little time, she tried to collect important papers, and take down favorite pictures and paintings that were on the wall.

Previously, after the 2017 threat of wildfire, Gail had packed up her Olympic memorabilia and sent it to the Headquarters of the Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, for safe-keeping. She had also sent all her National Championship swimming records, awards, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia to the new Hall of Fame Museum in Ft. Lauderdale, in Florida.

The caravan of four cars decided to head north. Most of the other evacuees were heading south, resulting in a monumental traffic nightmare. Heading north turned out to be the smart thing to do. This was early afternoon, but they still found all the hotels and motels had been quickly filled.

Gail’s daughter had a friend who generously lent the family their home in Ukiah, where they spent four days. The Safeway was open and packed, so they had food. No electricity at the house which meant no news of the fire’s advancement or of their homes, but at least they were safe. The house came with a friendly dog. His wet nose and wagging tail kept everyone calm.

During the course of all this excitement, Gail had forgotten her “go-bag". Without her medication, she started to feel dizzy, and was taken to Emergency. She had vertigo, which she wouldn’t wish on anyone, and was dehydrated. The highlight of the trip to the hospital was her doctor noticing her Olympic tattoo, and asking if she was an Olympian. When Gail mentioned Helsinki, the Doctor told her that he was Finnish, and also a swimmer who used to train at Santa Clara! Gail was in good hands and is now recovering back at home, surrounded by all the things she loves, thankfully still intact.

The other day, she felt well enough to return to the water and headed to the pool for a few laps. She was joined by her friend and fellow Olympian, Claudia Clevenger-Hernandez (‘72 Olympics, 200 breaststroke). After her swim, a soak in the hot tub helped her feel that life was slowly returning to normal.

Gail Roper, 1952 Helsinki Olympian, National Champion, Swimming Hall of Famer, Masters Swimming Hall of Famer and renowned Coach, lives in Healdsburg.


I'm a member of SMAC (Sebastopol) and evacuated Sunday morning with my boyfriend to Redwood City to stay with his parents. The highlight of my time away? I was a guest at the Bay Club at Redwood Shores and did a midday workout in their amazing lap pool. This was followed by a nice soak in the jacuzzi.....A lovely respite from the stress of displacement.

Kate Matwychuk, Editor for Pacific Masters Update Newsletter

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