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California Fires Have Shattered the Tight-Knit Cycling Community

The fires displaced approximately 100,000 people and destroyed more than 240,000 acres.

Kelly Silberberg, 56, was in Los Angeles on Oct. 8, competing at the UCI masters track cycling world championships, at the time the hillside near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., caught fire. His wife, Lorraine Jarvis, 58, a two-time world champion in her age bracket who had taken the year off from competition, bore witness to the horrifying sight from their bedroom window. "Looking at the ridge north of us, I could see a red sky," Jarvis says, "and then I saw flames, and then I saw bigger flames."

Jarvis grabbed their Great Dane puppy, Mya, and fled west in her car. There was no time to find the couple's two cats, to think about their 19 bikes or collect their medals and memorabilia. She drove to San Anselmo, just north of San Francisco, where Silberberg met her the following day.

Silberberg and Jarvis were just two of the 100,000 displaced people in northern California, where flames have destroyed more than 240,000 acres this month. The fires, which raged for two weeks, claimed an estimated 7,700 homes across Sonoma and Napa counties, a region that is home to many in the pro cycling community.

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Former pro and Olympic bronze medalist Levi Leipheimer lost his house in Santa Rosa, as did Silvano Rastelli, the bus driver for the powerhouse Cannondale cycling team. As the brush fire tore through the city, Rastelli left his home, carrying just his laptop, phone and passport. A decade ago, he had moved to the U.S. with just a backpack and a suitcase. Now, Rastelli says, "I have less than when I moved from Italy." His bikes are gone, as are a cherished pair of cycling shoes from his childhood.

Five days after Jarvis evacuated, Silberberg returned to the place where their house once stood. "Pretty much everything is just reduced to ashes," he says. The only identifiable remains were a couple of steel bike frames. "There was nothing left of anything else."

The fires had largely been contained by Sunday, but the scorched earth and the thick shroud of smoke remained. "The coming months and years for my community will be extremely difficult," Leipheimer wrote on his Facebook page. "[But] together we will rise from the ashes."