A year after this California couple’s home burned down, leaving only their scorched wedding rings in the ashes, they’re sharing words of wisdom to others who may be affected by devastating wildfires in the state this summer.
Samantha and Monica Brinkeroff of Santa Rosa lost their home along with all their belongings last October after wildfires hit their neighborhood.
Monica was five months pregnant at the time, and they had just purchased their home two months prior with hopes of starting their new family there.
“In every way possible, it seems like just yesterday,” Samantha told InsideEdition.com.
Today, the Brinkeroffs are rebuilding their home and acclimating to life with their new 5-month-old baby, Lourdes.
“She said 'mama' for the first time a couple of days ago,” her wife Monica said. “We’re really just enjoying being parents, learning how to be parents."
Sam added, “She’s an incredibly good baby. We are so fortunate and so lucky."
They explained they have been lucky the insurance companies are cooperative, and are starting to lay foundation for a home they plan to move into next February.
While they have a positive outlook into the future, the Brinkeroffs explained they weren’t as hopeful just months ago.
"It was really hard waking up in the mornings, because you had to mentally prepare," Monica said. "You’re like, 'Oh wait, this did happen to us.'"
Monica explained her routine was to start her day with daily affirmations to herself, in an effort to stay stress-free for the baby.
“In hindsight, [my pregnancy] helped me cope with it better, because I could not let the stress get to me,” she said. “Maybe if I wasn’t pregnant, I would have [had] anxiety, depression. I knew I couldn’t. I had to fight for our family, the baby.”
Immediately following the fire, the Brinkeroffs stayed at a shelter before transitioning to temporary housing.
They also attended fire victim support gatherings, where they said the community banded together and helped them feel less alone.
"At first, we didn’t want to bother anyone; we didn’t want to inconvenience anyone," Monica said. "People were more than willing to [take] four hours out of their day, two hours out of their day to drop off food, clothing, anything to us. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s definitely humbling — people want to help."
Nearly a year after the fire, they continue to deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it has to do with new wildfires affecting nearby neighborhoods.
“[I] hear about the fires in the county, and I can’t sleep," Monica said. "I wake up every hour or so. We were in this constant state of fear. Is this same thing going to happen? How are the winds? Is the baby OK? It’s just this constant state of anxiety that you have to deal with and for me, that’s the most difficult part."
The Brinkeroffs said they’re now developing a plan of action in case their home is threatened again, but they are sticking to what helped them survive the last time: "Gather the dogs, gather the baby and let’s go," Samantha said.
There is still despair over what they had lost, but the couple sees hope in their daughter.
"That’s another way Lourdes changed our perspective and way of life in general," Monica said. "As long as she and the dogs are safe, everything else doesn’t matter."
"You go through times, like little flushes of [sadness]," Samantha added. "I would just let myself know everything is going to be OK. Everything is going to work itself out. Just ride the wave."