BY PANCHALAY CHALERMKRAIVUTH email@example.com
August 3, 2019
Robert “Priest” Morgan hasn’t slept without a cocktail of pills since the night he says God kicked him in the head to wake him up – the night he opened the front door of his Santa Rosa mobile home to see a fire engine, a few people running up and down Sahara Street and screaming.
“The sky looked like the Fourth of July,” he said. “The entire park except for my street was an inferno.”
It wasn’t Independence Day – it was Oct. 9, 2017, and the Tubbs Fire had broken the Santa Rosa city limits.
A wiry, Harley-riding jack-of-all-trades – he’d spent a year and a half with the Diamond Springs fire brigade – Morgan grabbed a hose firefighters passed him through his fence and helped them battle the blaze back from the 44 last standing homes in Journey’s End mobile home park.
But last November, when smoke from the Camp Fire blew into Santa Rosa from 150 miles away, Morgan got into his car and bolted.
He’d considered himself a tough man – and looked the part, too, with slicked-back hair, a sleeve of tattoos and a thick, neat mustache – but the Tubbs Fire broke him.
“I went full-blown PTSD, I panicked – I ran as fast and as far as I could. And the only thing I could think of was to go someplace where there were no fires.”
He roamed around Northern California, frantic and aimless, but the fire was inescapable, the omnipresent subject of gas station conversations and TV newsreels.
Finally, he headed to San Francisco International Airport and bought a ticket to Minneapolis, where winter was already entrenched. He checked himself into a hotel, holed up indoors by day and wandered around in freezing cold weather by night.
He now lives in Wisconsin with his ex-wife. “(The counselor) I’m working with said, ‘You’ve been hit so hard by this, you go back where fires happen on a regular basis and it’s gonna happen all over again,” he said.
“I consider me leaving California a medical emergency.”
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