Bri Parsons grateful for Oregon family after fire destroyed her Santa Rosa home
BERKELEY, Calif. -- It was supposed to be another ordinary Monday: class at 9 a.m., homework to tackle, teammates to see.
Instead, Bri Parsons, a defender on the Oregon women's soccer team, awoke to 50 text messages from friends and an ominous voicemail from her mom, Julie. Some five minutes after they smelled smoke and lost power on Oct. 9, the Parsons family fled their home in Santa Rosa, California, taking only essential belongings.
At first, Julie didn't have all the answers for her daughter, 500 miles away in Eugene, Oregon. She was unsure if their house -- built from a bare parcel to a dream home just eight years earlier -- still stood. Parsons knew she needed to see her family.
In a time where I was hysterical, they were there to keep me calm.Bri Parsons
Oregon head coach Kat Mertz and other Ducks administrators took swift action. They tapped into the school's emergency fund for student-athletes and booked a same-day flight to Oakland, about 70 miles from her home. Parsons was back in the Bay Area around 11 p.m.
"In a time where I was hysterical, they were there to keep me calm," Parsons says. "That was really nice knowing that my next step was to be able to go home and be with my family."
The family took shelter from the smoke with Julie's brother, who works as a nearby battalion chief. They scoured the local news for clues about their home -- any news was something. But the outlook was grim. The fires in Wine Country had swept the terrain at a blistering pace, leveling entire neighborhoods without mercy.
When the update came that their home and two cats had not survived, Parsons tried to process the news. But in reality nothing had prepared her for the shock. It was disbelief. The neighborhood that had groomed her into a Division I soccer player looked more like war zone -- not a hometown.
Parsons savored the time with Julie, her dad, Guy, and sister, Courtney.
"It was wonderful to be together," Julie says. "We needed that."
Her dad cut in.
"It was a grieving moment," he says.
It didn't take long after the news spread for Parsons' Oregon teammates to brainstorm ways to help. They spearheaded a GoFundMe page, which quickly raised thousands. They organized a photo album stacked with team mementos, and one of her closest teammates, Mia Costa, pieced together a gift basket.
Costa had a personal connection to the fires. Her high school, Cardinal Newman, was ravaged. Many of her high school teammates lost their homes, too.
To show her support, Costa has worn Parsons' No. 22 jersey in the games since. The two played for Santa Rosa United, a local club team, before taking their games to Oregon.
"I love the Parsons; everyone loves the Parsons," Costa says. "With everything they've lost, they still have smiles on their faces. ... Bri's been so strong. That really inspires everyone else to keep positive and definitely be grateful for what you have."
Before last weekend's road games against Cal and Stanford, Oregon athletics delivered yet another surprise -- a care package with team-exclusive hats, jackets, shoes and socks for Guy, Julie and Courtney. All Oregon themed, of course.
"It was like head to toe," Julie says. "Opening the package, it felt like each thing had been hand-picked."
Some five days after the fire broke out, on Oct. 14, Parsons returned to Eugene, where she's now busy studying for midterms. She has a routine once again.
She also hasn't played much soccer recently, resting from a head injury that has caused migraines. Mertz said she was off to an impressive start.
"Bri is just an unbelievable young woman," Mertz says. "She plays with her heart. She's just a true competitor. We've missed her these last couple of weeks."
Before the Parsons' inevitable rebuild, they plan to park a fifth wheel camper in their driveway. But they might not have full, unrestricted access to their property until January.
Thanks to Guy's expertise as a contractor, they could perhaps expedite the construction. That won't change much in the short-term, though. Much of Parsons' hometown is charred; it's the new reality for so many in Santa Rosa and surrounding cities.
"The unfortunate thing," Guy says, "is that it wasn't just one house that burned down. It was an entire community. I can't go anywhere and not be reminded of it every day, all day long."
In the toughest of times, Parsons is regaining a sense of normalcy alongside her Oregon teammates and coaches. Soccer is reprieve from the chaos -- an opportunity for routine again.
This month, more than ever, she's grateful she picked the Ducks and Mertz back in high school. Now they're picking her up.
"I knew from the second I stepped on campus that this is where I wanted to spend my four college years," Parsons says. "If anything, this experience has proven to me that I for sure made the right decision -- on all aspects."