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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's Friday and time for StoryCorps. Firefighters in California say they've contained the Mendocino Complex wildfire. It burned over 400,000 acres of land. It was the largest fire in California history. Monique and Cody Walker understand how devastating a wildfire can be. Last fall, they evacuated their home in Santa Rosa when the Tubbs wildfire swept through Sonoma and Napa counties. Two months after the Walkers fled, they sat down at StoryCorps.
MONIQUE WALKER: When we left that night, we already had the glow of the fire behind us. You're hearing on the radio all the places that you can go to, but nobody's telling you which way to go.
CODY WALKER: And people start driving up onto the sidewalks and the front yards because the street is currently packed.
M. WALKER: You're like an ant with a magnifying glass chasing you. And you're just randomly going, but you don't know if it's going to be safe ahead of you.
C. WALKER: We were able to get back to our house right away after the fire.
M. WALKER: It looked normal until you got closer to the railroad tracks, and then you'd see one house burned, and then two houses were fine. And then all of a sudden, you got past the railroad and everything was gone. And you don't know what street you're on because everything looks the same - burnt and twisted metal and just ash everywhere. Our oldest daughter almost fell over when she saw the house. She cried, and we just held each other for a long time.
C. WALKER: It just was a numbing feeling, you know? It's like, what do you do? I mean, it's gone. I just wanted to punch stuff, really. But that doesn't do anything.
M. WALKER: It's hard not thinking that maybe there was a chance that you could have saved something else, and I keep going back there. And I'm like, OK. Maybe I should sift one more time, and I might find my wedding ring. Or maybe if I look, I can find my daughter's rock that she really liked. And you're Native American, and we had these beautiful baskets for each one of our children.
C. WALKER: Yeah. You'd have designs weaved into the basketry. So when we lost all those things, it was the hardest part to deal with. You don't want to let go of the past because that's how we learned how to live and be who we are. It's hard to say, OK, all we have carrying forward, really, at this point is our DNA, you know?
M. WALKER: Yeah. Friends and family call us and ask how we're doing, and they don't want to hear that we're not doing OK.
C. WALKER: There's always the talk about getting back to normal or getting over it, but I think everything will forever be different for us.
MARTIN: Cody and Monique Walker. The 2017 Tubbs Fire destroyed more than 4,000 homes in eight Northern California counties. Their full StoryCorps recording has been archived at the Library of Congress.
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