Beau Barrington had always heard of natural disasters wreaking havoc around the world, but never thought there was a real possibility he’d become a victim of one.
That all changed around 1:15 a.m. Monday when his mom abruptly woke him and said they had to leave immediately to escape an approaching fire.
“I threw open the blinds and I could see the red haze coming down the hill,” said Barrington, a star quarterback at Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa, Calif.) High School. “I literally grabbed my football, my yearbook, my computer and ran out with the clothes on my back.”
Over the last three days, California wildfires have killed at least 15 people and destroyed more than 80,000 acres, according to the Santa Rosa Democrat.
“It’s devastating,” Barrington said. “I can’t believe what’s happened to my family and my friends and the school I’ve been at for four years.”
The firestorm burned roughly half of Cardinal Newman High School, according to Barrington.
Cardinal Newman’s longtime basketball coach, Tom Bonfigli, said that all sports in the area have been cancelled this week.
“Our permanent buildings are OK, but our temporary building, including the administration building and the library, with all its servers, were destroyed,” Bonfigli said. “We got hit hard, but we’ll rebuild. We have 630 kids (at Cardinal Newman). I know all the kids. You have generations of people who went to that high school. Our alums are stepping up and the whole community will really pull hard together. We’ll make it through.”
Former major league baseball player Jonny Gomes played baseball, basketball and football for two years at Cardinal Newman and also played baseball at Santa Rosa Junior College. He said the area’s tight-knit spirit will help in rebuilding efforts.
“There’s a real drive there for people to buy local, from the bakeries to the wineries to the boutiques,” Gomes said. “There are some towns there where chain stores are banned. All of my buddies are still there and some of them are in the police and fire departments. I’m going to head up there and tour the area with my buddies who have boots on the ground.
“These are hard-working, blue-collar people. I’ve already reached out to them. They are still in saving-lives mode.”
Barrington and his family are now staying with his grandparents in Ukiah, Calif., about an hour north of Santa Rosa.
In all, six players on the Cardinals’ football team lost their homes as a result of the wildfires, according to Barrington.
“We were able to get to the house Monday and there’s nothing,” Barrington said. “Literally, there’s nothing. It’s just burnt to the ground. I don’t have anything left.”
Barrington’s teammate Kyle Carinalli can relate.
Like Barrington, he was awoken by his mom about 12:40 a.m. Monday alerting him of the approaching wildfire. Instinctively, Carinalli jumped on the family’s tractor and began building a firewall in hopes of protecting their 14-acre property.
After about 30 minutes he realized that the nearly 80 MPH winds were too intense, so he raced into his house to “grab what I could.”
“My dad was away on a hunting trip in Wyoming, so I was just trying to step up and do what I could,” said Carinalli, a running back for the Cardinals. “I loaded things up in our trailer and in our trucks and we got out of there. I came back the next day and my house actually burned to ashes. Wow. It just doesn’t seem real.”
Barrington said he’s hoping for some sort of return to normalcy to keep him from dwelling on the devastation. The Cardinals football team met Tuesday at 8 p.m. about plans for the season.
Ironically, the football stadium and field were untouched by the fire.
“It’s amazing,” Barrington said. “I don’t know how that happened. I think it will be good to get back to a routine, whatever that looks like now. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”
Carinalli said the situation changed his perspective “totally.”
“I love football, but I’m just thinking about my family and how I can help people,” Carinalli said. “You just see how fast you can lose everything and it makes you see what’s really important. I’d always see different hurricanes and things like that on TV destroying everything. Now I’m living in that reality.”