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‘Enjoy the little things’

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Almeda fire survivor writes book recounting her experience with the fire and the recovery process
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSandra Phoenix in her home office with the cover of her book about surviving the Almeda fire displayed on screen behind her.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSandra Phoenix in her home office with the cover of her book about surviving the Almeda fire displayed on screen behind her.

Sandra Phoenix has a pillow proudly displayed on her couch embroidered with the phrase “Enjoy the little things.”

After surviving two fires — a 2013 electrical fire that leveled her home in Ashland and the Almeda fire in 2020, in which she lost another home — she strives to live by those words.

“Don't take anything for granted, because life changes in an instant,” said Phoenix, who wrote a book about the Almeda catastrophe called "Firestorm 2020.“ “Take the moment to hug somebody, take the moment to sit out in the garden and watch the birds for a couple minutes.”

“Firestorm 2020” is Phoenix’s fifth book. Two are children's books, one details her grandfather's experiences in WWII, and one is about her family's history.

She said she wrote “Firestorm 2020,” , which includes a firsthand account of her experience with the Almeda fire that leveled two towns and left thousands homeless, for two reasons: to highlight the devastation caused by the fire and to broadcast to other survivors that life gets better.

“I hope that other survivors realize that they're not alone and that you can put a positive spin on it, that there is hope at the end of this,” she said. “And that the people who haven't gone through it might get a slightly better understanding of the fire.”

Phoenix knows the difficulty of the recovery process better than most.

When her home burned down in 2013, she lost 400 years of family history in antiques, memorabilia, family heirlooms and photos that had next to zero monetary value but were priceless to her.

“It's the most painful thing,” she said. “How do you put a price tag on the last letter your grandfather wrote you? You can't do that.”

In the Almeda fire, she lost nearly everything again when the blaze tore though Pacific Village mobile home park outside of Phoenix. She ended up living in her friend's trailer for a while before the two of them decided to pool their resources and buy a house.

There are packing lists pinned up throughout the house so that if a fire threatens them, they will know exactly what to grab.

She said she still has nightmares about the fire nearly every night and feels some survivor’s guilt because she was able to escape with her pet cat and all of her important documents.

Writing the book was cathartic, said Phoenix, because it allowed her to sort through and express the trauma the fire caused.

“There's gifts in anything, a traumatic event or a disaster. It's just another way to find out what's important to you, learn to grow and evolve,” she explained. “If everything was just great and wonderful all the time, why would we bother to change or do anything better?”

“Firestorm 2020” can be purchased by emailing Sandra Phoenix at toadstone57@gmail.com or online at https://amzn.to/3eQdeN5

Reach Mail Tribune news intern William Seekamp at wseekamp@rosebudmedia.com.