SANTA ROSA, Calif. - To say that Michella Flores, 51, has had a bad week doesn’t give what she’s been through really any justice.
She witnessed the Las Vegas mass shooting at the Jason Aldean concert just as the spray of gunfire hit the crowd, killing 58 country music lovers on Oct. 1. And this Sunday night, she grabbed a garden hose, trying to fight back flames ravaging her parent’s home on Sullivan Way in Santa Rosa to no avail: By the next day nearly everything was gone.
“Last Sunday, I was running from bullets,” Flores told KTVU. “This Sunday, I was running from fire.”
Remarkably, Flores is holding it together, despite the fact that most all of her belongings – including a special bike she loved – have vanished into smoky air, and her parents, who are in their 70s, have no place to live and are poised to move across the country to Idaho.
“I was really shook up after Vegas,” Flores said. “I was shaking and I couldn’t calm down. When I was fighting the fire at my house, I was more in a ‘task’ mode, and so I compartmentalized it.”
That said, she has her highs and her lows.
When she spoke on Thursday, her voice was unwavering. When she spoke early Friday morning before the sun came up, she welled up. “Mornings are harder for me,” she said.
The reason Flores is able to compartmentalize, at least better than most, is because she has had several high-stress jobs. She’s been a firefighter, a paramedic and she now works part-time as a flight attendant and as a customer service representative at Kaiser Air in Santa Rosa.
She left the airport on Sunday night to return to her parent’s rental home, where she has been staying because she had been planning to move to the west side of the city. Approaching her parent’s doorsteps, she saw an orange glow from the hillside. She knew from fighting fires, that the glow was not good. But she thought it was far enough away so that she didn’t panic. She took her dog, Baylee, for a walk. Just in case, she told her parents, pack your bags.
And because she’s been a first responder, she decided to tune into Redcom, a dispatch service. All of a sudden, she heard the dispatchers say “Sullivan,” her parent’s street. She called her mom. “The fire’s here!” her mom told her. She raced home. Her parents had gotten out, and together with Sebastopol firefighters “Hunter” and “Randy,” she fought the flames with a garden hose until 4:30 a.m. At that hour, some of the flames had licked the frame, but the house was still standing.
With the neighborhood under siege, her parents went to sleep at the Finely Community Center. Flores didn’t sleep at all. She hopped in her car and drove to Oakland, where she has been driving for the last week or so for customer service training at the airport.
When she returned home to Santa Rosa that evening, she knew something was wrong. A fire truck was still on her street. She pulled up to her parent’s driveway. “And the house was gone,” she said. “The fire crews were just mopping up,” she said. The trees behind the house had caught on fire while she had been at work.
“Almost everything I own is gone,” she said. “My bed, my bike, my clothes, my flight attendant uniforms.”
She had worn those flight attendant uniforms last week on her flight from the Bay Area to Las Vegas, where she had booked a night at Hooter’s Hotel and watched the Route 91 Harvest Festival from outside a fence.
She ran, along with everyone else, fleeing from the spray of bullets on Las Vegas Boulevard until she flew back home, shaken and upset.
But despite it all, Flores haskept moving.
She has not taken a single day off work. And it was on Wednesday night at the airport – after she had completed a full day of training – that she met KTVU anchor Ken Wayne and photographer Sean Drummond, doing a live report from her place of work. She wasn’t even formally scheduled to work. But she showed up anyway.
“I knew we were short-staffed,” Flores said. “We were getting fuel loads for Cal Fire and we need to keep those trucks moving.”
It was getting dark and it was very cold on Wednesday. Wayne and Drummond said all the restaurants in the area were closed, even the pizza delivery shops.
“Ken said they had been there since 11 a.m., and I said, ‘That sucks,’” she said. “They looked so cold. I asked them if I could get them any coffee or water. We had some cookies. I had a yogurt and we had some hot chocolate in the vending machine.”
Flores’ kindness was not lost on Wayne and Drummond, who had heard part of her story.
During his live news report, Wayne gave a shoutout to “Shelly,” thanking her, and saying he realized that that he and his photographer would be able to go home and sleep in their own beds that night, and she wouldn’t be able to.
Wayne choked up on camera a bit, while thinking about Flores’ situation. "She was so kind and helpful, and it turned out in talking to her, we found out she lost her home," Wayne said in the newscast. "It really makes you appreciate what you have."
She didn’t catch all of his report because she had turned back to help some crews, but was touched when she heard he mentioned her by name on TV. She also laughed off how he pronounced her name; many people aren’t used to saying “Michella.”
Flores said she is still bracing for when the effect of double tragedies, both of which have grabbed international headlines, that she has personally suffered will inevitably set in.
“Believe me. This will hit me,” she said. “And it will hit me hard. Right now, I’m in this space where things need to get done. And I’ll deal with the rest later on.”
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