Nicole Sallak AndersonBooks Fire Recovery 

Wildfire: Losing Everything, Gaining the World | New Book by Nicole Sallak Anderson

Compelling CZU Fire Memoir a Gift of Resolve and Remembrance

By Julie Horner

Nicole Sallak Anderson lived for thirteen years in her hamlet in the woods, under the “Big Trees” in Bonny Doon. Out from the burbs of Chicago to follow California jobs, Nicole and her husband Walt and their two youngsters found their dream. The main house with its drafty construction and resident fairy; a charming guest cabin that became the author’s hideaway; a garage with a well-enjoyed ping-pong table. Big Doug, D’ougal, the two-trunked Douglas fir, goats in a pen, two hives of bees, chickens, dogs, and Sebastian the Siamese cat on two lush green acres of forest. A place of magic and sanctuary that played host to family feasts, joyful visitors, and the writer’s muse. 

The fire, everyone said, was miles away, but ash dusted the property bringing a nagging tickle of unease. Alone with her youngest teenage son while her husband and the elder son were away checking out college options in the Pacific Northwest, she was forced to shut the windows on the stifling air even though it was cooler to be outside. A fitful sleep on a sweltering midnight, something told her to get out of bed and check her messages. The text to evacuate was already over an hour old. 

Anderson’s memoir, Wildfire: Losing Everything, Gaining the World, tells the story of the CZU Lightning Complex fire on the mountain during the darkest hours — urgency obscured by disbelief — and the days following as despair, grief, guilt, and the feeling of failure etched into consciousness. Presented as a folio of introspective essays, Anderson chronicles the first year after the fire, how she transitioned toward a forced new reality; reflections about the disaster, the love of the land, the frustration and absurdity of starting over with just the clothes on your back; revisiting fond memories already clouding with time. Written with an intimacy that resonates with anyone who has lived through a fire disaster, and through the pandemic, and how we all have changed in some way from these times, the author takes the reader on a journey of loss and determination, bitterness, irony, and coping after extreme trauma.

Wildfire: Losing Everything, Gaining the World – a new book by Bonny Doon resident Nicole Sallak Anderson

Damage Control

Each individual will react to disaster in their own way. The book is meant to sift through loss, especially losing a home; but it’s more than just about fire. “I began writing the book because I’m an author. I write about what’s going on in my head, to get it out of my soul, Anderson said. “It was my way of healing.” The chapters boldly voice Anderson’s stream of consciousness, topics that might feel uncomfortable, or seem counter to popular sensitivity. The night of the lightning — how it all began — she describes with awe and wonder. She knows people who are still very shell-shocked. “For some there’s a shine that’s lost. I can’t speak for all fire survivors. It’s devastating, and it’s also liberating. I love opening up my cupboards and having them be empty.” Losing everything offers a fresh start. 

“The debris of our lives is complicated” 

Wildfire: Losing Everything, Gaining the World touches on the raw truths about our changing climate, the California housing crisis, insurance companies, and the failure of those in leadership roles, and examines the unbidden shifts in the way the fire survivor interfaces with the world. “I’ve come to learn that after trauma, the traumatized change,” she writes, describing the relationships between those who have lost all and those who can’t truly understand that loss, as empathetic and supportive as they try to be. “I’ve changed in a way that can no longer tolerate superficial relationships.” Like many fire survivors, she wants to be seen. But, she writes, “Don’t ask me how I’m doing unless you have the time to listen.”

Her heart still belongs to Bonny Doon, and her family continues to tend the land. Deciding not to rebuild, they live half the year on the property in tiny homes. “I know what I lost and I know it won’t return,” she writes in the final chapter of Wildfire: Losing Everything, Gaining the World. “I look for what’s coming and each day am delighted by the newness of this life.”

Available at

UPDATE: Nicole will talk about her experiences losing her home in the fire and the crafting of her book on Wednesday, April 17 at 5:30 pm at Scopazzi’s Restaurant and Lounge at 13300 Big Basin Way in Boulder Creek. The event is hosted by the San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce and will feature time for networking and refreshments. RSVP to

Julie Horner writes about art, music, and culture in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Reach out to Julie at

Photos contributed by Nicole Sallak Anderson


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