BODEGA BAY, Calif. — Sue Ann and Wynne Herron come here at least three times each year, to recharge with strolls on the secluded, unspoiled beach, their dog Maxx by their side.
Isau Sandoval comes regularly to clear his mind after a week’s work scrubbing vehicles at a car dealership, casting his fishing line in the calm water.
“We always feel that the longer we stay, the better it is,” Mr. Herron said on Friday. “But not on this occasion.”
This week, the Herrons, the Sandovals and hundreds of other people used the beach for a different kind of escape. Chased from their homes by the region’s epic wildfires, they turned an idyllic strip of shoreline just a few hundred feet wide into an ad hoc evacuation center and a micro version of the Northern California menagerie.
Immigrant farmworkers, who slept in cars and tents, lined up to receive free hot meals next to lawyers who came in brand-new recreational vehicles. Children from upscale neighborhoods of Santa Rosa and Sonoma snapped together donated puzzles with kids from blue-collar enclaves.
About 70 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles west of Santa Rosa, Bodega Bay is a fishing hamlet of about 1,000 year-round residents, where Dungeness crab is trapped several months of the year. Despite the vacation homes sitting atop cliffs overlooking the bay and a golf course, it is an unassuming place not much changed from when Alfred Hitchcock filmed some scenes from “The Birds” here.
It also sits off Route 1 on the coast — a short drive from the fire zone, but far enough away to offer clear air and safety.
Mr. Herron, a civil-rights lawyer, and Ms. Herron, a psychology professor and “person-centered” arts therapist, drove down with their cat, Mai Lee; Maxx, the dog; and three parakeets, who were in a huge blue cage in the middle of their comfortable recreational vehicle, which also had a beige couch and two sofa chairs.
Also along for the trip was their 16-year-old grandson, D.J., who has a little asthma.
“The coast is the only place without fire pollutants and with fresh air,” Ms. Herron said. Their home in Sonoma had not burned, but fires were still raging not far from it.
The caravan of cars began streaming to Bodega Bay in the wee hours of Monday, packed with families — fathers, mothers, children and even newborns, and many pets.
“At 2:30 a.m., I noticed a convoy of headlights heading to the beach,” recalls Patty Ginochio, a restaurant owner and community volunteer, “and it just didn’t stop.”
Winds howled and temperatures dipped to the 30s. Frost collected on dashboards and the sides of tents. “It was cold as hell,” said Sara Jordan, an evacuee, who said that she and her three friends who shared a tent had come “totally unprepared.” They had arrived without winter attire or enough blankets.
By the time James MacMillan, a park ranger who was also forced to evacuate his home, arrived with his family at 5 a.m., dozens of vehicles were parked along the seafront at Doran Beach, a nearby county park. Many of the people were Spanish-speaking immigrants, he said, including some who he believed were afraid to check into shelters because they were in the United States illegally.
He decided not to charge evacuees the $ 35 nightly camp fee and tried in his broken Spanish to inform people that they were safe there.
Some who came were familiar with the spot, like the Herrons and the Sandovals, who pitched two small tents to accommodate their family of eight.
“Because of the smoke we came here,” Mr. Sandoval said. He said he believed his home in Windsor, near Santa Rosa, was undamaged, but he did not know for sure. On Friday he was sitting outside his tent under cypress trees, just a stone’s throw from the shimmering sea, as his four children played nearby. “I knew we would be safe,” he said.
As word spread of the evacuees’ arrival, local residents began showing up with tents, blankets, sleeping bags, coats, firewood and toys. A nonprofit, Ceres Community Project, began delivering hot meals.
Nearly 200 breakfasts were delivered the first two mornings, said Amanda Bryant, who owns a curio store and took it upon herself to run the volunteer operation at the beach.
Officials began urging people to go indoors. On Wednesday, the Sonoma County sheriff, Rob Giordano, said at a news conference that everyone was welcome in shelters, and that no questions about immigration status would be asked. Lynda Hopkins, a member of the county board of supervisors, paid a visit to the beach Thursday, bringing the same message.
Many people who had been sleeping in their cars or in tents began relocating to a community hall and church, and to shelters in nearby towns. On Friday, only about 45 people showed up for breakfast at the beach.
Some of the holdouts said they preferred to brave the elements than go indoors.
“We don’t want to deal with all that shelter drama,” said Lonnie Gerolaga, standing beside a white Chevy van where he had spent two nights with his wife and two daughters.
Kristie Alvarado, who lost her home and everything she owned in the wildfires, said that she would not countenance relocating to a shelter either.
“Being near the water is healthy and having my own space is serene,” she said. Her only planned move was to an area closer to a firepit grill so that she could prepare her own meals.
But Mr. MacMillan, the park ranger, said that vacationers who had reserved one of the 137 spots on the campgrounds for this weekend would get priority over the evacuees. Already, some of them have had to decamp to another spot. But no one has been evicted, he said.
Two months ago, Don Chan of Stockton, Calif., an avid camper, booked enough spots to accommodate eight tents for 20 family and friends. When they arrived Wednesday, they realized that vacationers were outnumbered by evacuees.
Mr. Chan said he was saddened by their plight. But the children in his group were delighted when volunteers came around distributing gigantic, fluffy teddy bears.