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CHP cop works overtime to take care of neighborhood as wildfires ravage Wine Country

Like many first responders battling the Wine Country wildfires, officer Tracy Ross has all but forgotten what day it is


By Marissa Lang
San Francisco Chronicle

NAPA, Calif. — There’s a rule in evacuated parts of Wine Country: Once you leave, you can’t come back.

Police cruisers, cones and orange-and-white barricades stand between residents and their homes. Officers hold the line and answer questions from anxious homeowners.

No, you can’t go down that road, they tell them.

There’s a downed tree. A power line in the road. A fire burning just over the hill.

Most conversations end there.

Not for California Highway Patrol Officer Tracy Ross.

“Give me your phone number,” she urges them. “Tell me where you live.”

Ross, who lives in Napa, has been stationed at a cutoff road near the Silverado Country Club, which was ravaged by fire Sunday night.

The area was under a mandatory evacuation order for five days. Holdouts who refused to leave their homes were cut off from everything. They couldn’t leave to get food or to fill up their cars. Some had animals or sick relatives to care for.

In a thick notebook typically reserved for accident diagrams and crash reports, Ross jots down names and numbers. She knows who has pets and who raises cattle. She knows if someone’s relatives have been hospitalized or evacuated. And she knows where everyone who stayed lives.

All week, residents and visitors have been dropping off food and water for first responders.

On Tuesday, the second day the neighborhood was in lockdown, Ross made some food drops of her own.

She bought bags of groceries with her own money and sent her husband to fetch specialty items. She brought food to two families, cat food to another. In the afternoon, she dropped off doughnuts at the home of Matt Bishop, an attorney who owns a ranch on Monticello Road.

Bishop couldn’t ignore the irony.

“Oh wow,” he said, laughing. “I’m getting doughnuts from a cop.”

Ross, who patrols Napa regularly, said she’s gotten to know the neighborhood where she’s been posted. She knows who lives where, and she’s written notes of passage that allowed certain residents to go through the barricades.

When cell phones weren’t working and no one could find reliable information, Ross said, they would come to her and ask.

“It calms them down if you just talk to them and tell them what’s going on,” she said. “In times like this, I just treat people how I would want to be treated if it were me on the other side.”

Like many first responders here this week, Ross has all but forgotten what day it is. She got called out of bed Monday about 2:30 a.m., when the fires began engulfing the Napa and Sonoma hills. Since then, she’s been working long hours, up to 18 in a shift, blocking off roads as roaring wildfires continue to burn on three sides of Napa County.

Still, she takes time to take care of the community.

On Wednesday, when a crying mother called her cell phone saying she hadn’t seen her hospitalized daughter in three days, Ross got in her patrol car and took the woman to Queen of the Valley hospital. She waited, then brought her home.

On Friday evening, after a couple dropped off a box filled with hot, home-cooked food, Ross notified the neighborhood.

Within minutes, pickup trucks and SUVs were pulling up to her checkpoint. The residents each walked away with a foil-wrapped plate, grateful grins on their faces.

“This lady right here is the real hero,” said Kyle Bishop, Matt Bishop’s son.

Ross smiled beneath her face mask, shaking her head.

“We all have to work together and help each other out if we’re going to get through this,” Ross said. “I’m not doing anything special. Just helping Napa residents who need help.”

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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