STAYING SAFE Boulder Creek native Harmony Perna and her family had to evacuate from the Panther Ridge Fire on Jan. 19.

Panther Ridge resident Harmony Perna describes Jan. 19 evacuation

After a restless night, still recovering from surgery, and concerned with Covid-19, Harmony Perna was not in an ideal condition to evacuate her home on Panther Ridge Road in the morning of Jan. 19. 

The Boulder Creek native had barely caught a wink between her dog spooking at the wind, an uncomfortable post-op sleeping position, and trees crashing unexpectedly throughout the night. 

“It was really loud,” Perna said. “Noise was echoing through the living room, where I was trying to sleep. The dog would wake me up a few seconds before the big gusts of wind and maybe 10-12 trees fell in the middle of the night.”

If that night wasn’t bad enough, morning came with worse news. Close neighbors knocked on the Pernas’ door at 9am and reported fire creeping over their property line.  Harmony had no choice, but to pack quickly and leave her childhood home. 

“When we opened up the door, we could taste and smell the smoke,” she said. “When they came to our door, we decided to leave. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

The experience was familiar to Harmony, as the Pernas evacuated in late August from the CZU Complex fires. According to the 21-year-old evacuee, there’s a bright side to evacuating twice in the past five months. 

“Packing went quickly as we knew what to grab from the last evacuation,” she said.

However, this evacuation was made much more difficult by her health. 

“I’m recovering from a chest surgery and not allowed to lift or move anything more than seven pounds, bend forward, or push and pull,” Perna said.  

Luckily, her parents had time to help her pack as well.

Within an hour, the Pernas were set to go, just in the knick of time.

“As we pulled away, [deputies] were at the house because a tree fell on Highway 9 right at our gate. They were cutting through it just as we left,” Perna said. 

She reported similar road conditions throughout San Lorenzo Valley. 

“We originally went to the Scopazzi’s parking lot in Boulder Creek to figure out where we should go,” she recalled.  

Where to go turned into how to leave, as more roads closed. After another hour, the Pernas traversed several back roads into Scotts Valley. From the Scotts Valley Square Shopping Center, they decided to stay at the Chaminade overnight, as the only dog-friendly shelter they could find. 

Driving also posed a problem, since Perna’s doctor had yet to clear her for the task.  

“Evacuating was the first time I had driven since the surgery,” she said. “Luckily, I was able to do it. I was definitely struggling, but able to get through it.”

Despite their stay at the Chaminade, Perna didn’t feel on vacation. 

“I was really concerned with Covid, especially as I’m recovering from surgery. I’m supposed to be quarantining from everyone,” she said.  

“The worst part of evacuation is getting to your destination, thinking about what you forgot, and the possibility of not having a place to go home to. This is my parents’ dream house. They spent 15 years building it and they’ve invested a lot of time, money and hard work into this place. For them it’s a real emotional attachment that could be taken away.”

Fortunately, the Pernas were able to return home by Thursday evening and Harmony has continued to recover from her surgery and returned to her college classes. The Panther Ridge Road resident shared her thanks “to everyone who helped fight the fires and kept everyone safe. I feel like our community has done a really great job, by setting up so many different fundraisers and food banks and ways to help evacuees.”  

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