Escaping California wildfires, couple comes back to Franklin County

  • Wendy and Terry Kennedy, with their 7-year-old Pomeranian, Mia, are back in Franklin County after living in Mendocino County in California since the early 1990s. The couple sought to escape the increasing threat of wildfires. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Wendy and Terry Kennedy, with their 7-year-old Pomeranian, Mia, are back in Franklin County, having purchased this home on Vernon Street in Greenfield. The couple sought to escape the increasing threat of wildfires surrounding their ranch property in Mendocino County, Calif. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The view of red skies and smoke from wildfires as seen from Terry and Wendy Kennedy’s driveway in Mendocino County, Calif. Contributed Photo/Terry Kennedy

  • Smoke from wildfires nearly blackens the sky in the afternoon as Terry and Wendy Kennedy travel down the driveway of their property in Mendocino County, Calif. Contributed Photo/Terry Kennedy

  • The sky turns red and smoke fills the air as wildfires move over the mountains from Potter Valley and descend on the town of Redwood Valley in California in October 2017 Contributed Photo/Terry Kennedy

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2021 6:03:07 PM

GREENFIELD — After decades living with the increasing threat of wildfires that lit up the horizon from their ranch property in California, husband and wife Terry and Wendy Kennedy sought refuge in their former home of Franklin County.

The Kennedys bought a house on Vernon Street in Greenfield for about $275,000, after they saw the home listed on Facebook Marketplace during their cross-country drive to Massachusetts. Wendy said they originally anticipated having to rent temporarily, but jumped on the opportunity to purchase the home when they saw it, noting the current competitive state of the housing market nationwide.

“We moved in just a week ago,” Terry said, sitting in the kitchen of their mostly still unfurnished home.

A majority of their belongings are still with movers, the couple said. Construction workers and landscapers made their way in and out of the house, working on final touches, as Terry and Wendy sat in their kitchen and flipped through photos on their iPhone of the numerous wildfires they witnessed while living on the West Coast since the early 1990s.

Wendy and Terry are both licensed psychologists. Terry lived in Colrain in the 1970s and ’80s, and Wendy grew up in Peabody. She attended Fitchburg State University and “kept moving more and more west” before landing in Franklin County. Terry, who studied psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the 1970s, said he is “really interested in consciousness work” and this interest is part of what drew him to move to Mendocino County, Calif.

“I read this interview in New Age Magazine, out of Boston, and it was with this Jungian psychoanalyst in California that people were going to for training,” he recalled, referencing one of the two major schools of psychotherapy named after Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. “So I went out there to study with him.”

Both Wendy and Terry became licensed in California and built private practices. Wendy is a licensed marriage and family therapist while Terry is a clinical social worker. They are both licensed in Massachusetts now, and hope to start their own practices again when they find fitting office space.

They lived on a 40-acre ranch in Willits, a city in Mendocino County, Calif. While they did not farm, Wendy said their 7-year-old Pomeranian, Mia, loved the space.

“It was gorgeous. … Mendocino County is like a vacation county, but now the environment has crashed,” Terry said. “It’s all dried up. The lakes are dried up, the rivers are down to a trickle. We had fires so close to our house that we had hot ash dropping on the roof. Five miles away, we had fires.”

While living in California, there were multiple times when the couple evacuated due to risk from wildfires. They recounted driving with their headlights on in the middle of the day to retreat through blackening clouds of smoke. Twice, one time as recently as 2019, they evacuated to sleep on the sofa in Terry’s office in Ukiah, Calif.

Wendy recalled driving through neighborhoods and seeing the aftermath of fires, and how some houses were destroyed while neighboring homes were barely touched by the flames. They had been noticing worsening fire conditions in recent years as heat waves, droughts and dry thunderstorms increase in frequency with climate change, beyond other human causes.

Last week, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body convened by the United Nations, sounded a “code red for humanity” that states humans are “unequivocally” to blame for the impacts of climate change. Locally, two weeks ago Franklin County fire departments alerted residents that the haze and slight smoky odor in the air was due to the jet stream carrying smoke from the western and Canadian wildfires.

The Kennedys referenced the 2018 “Camp Fire,” which was reportedly sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric company equipment, burning much of Paradise, Calif., and killing 85 people. It is considered one of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history. Just this month, the “Dixie Fire” has burned more than 480,000 acres, and more than 400 homes and commercial buildings across Greenville, Calif. It is now considered the second most destructive fire in California history. It is again suspected the fire was caused by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment.

Terry shared pictures of “fire in the sky” as a blaze in October 2017 burned across mountains on the horizon from their property in California, and pictures from the next day after the fire burned down the mountainside and through the neighboring town of Redwood Valley. The “Redwood Valley Fire” destroyed more than 36,000 acres in Mendocino County and consumed more than 540 homes and structures.

“People died, people were fleeing their homes in the middle of the night,” Terry said. “I’m still treating people for PTSD who have lost their homes and neighbors. That’s one of my specialties is post-traumatic stress disorder. A lot of folks have got it from those fires.”

Beyond escaping the threat of wildfires, Wendy said she and Terry wanted to move in part because of the noticeable change in seasonal weather patterns.

“Last year, there was six months of summer and six months of winter, with no spring and no fall,” she recounted.

While their daughter, Azura, still lives in Venice, Calif., the Kennedys said they also moved back to Franklin County to live closer to Terry’s oldest daughter from a previous marriage, Dawn, who also lives in Greenfield.

The Kennedys still have some refurbishing work to do on their Vernon Street home, but after just one week they said they are “loving the village life again” and enjoy being within walking distance to downtown.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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