Six days of fire in Sonoma…

Everyone in Sonoma has a story to tell about their experience with the 2017 firestorm. Here is ours…

Monday, October 8th, around 1:30am, friends visiting from Indiana were staying in another room when they awoke to see fire out of their guest room window. They ran over to our bedroom window and pounded furiously. In a matter of minutes, we were all up, dressed, and formulating plans. This was the view from our backyard in the very first minutes of the firestorm:

We should have been evacuated, but the systems for determining evacuation were not in place for a couple more days…

As the sun rose that morning, we found ourselves in a total news blackout. The fires had just started all over the Sonoma and Napa wine country. The fire was so fast and hot, there wasn’t really any time for first responders to address it. By the time a command-and-control center was in place, the first responders concerned themselves primarily with life safety, mostly in Santa Rosa. So for the first 48 hours of the fire, we never heard a siren, or saw a fireman or a firetruck. We rushed to fill our cars with all the family photos and our computers, opended the garage doors manually, and parked the cars facing the street ready for a quick getaway if the fires jumped onto the ranch.

Click here for a video of the fire and wind in the early moments

The fire raged across all of Arrowhead Mountain at the southern end of the Sonoma/Napa County line. Power went out in the first few hours of the firestorm. On rural properties like ours, and our Hyde Burndale neighbors, that meant no water (water wells became non-functioning and therefore no water pressure to the hoses), no septic (and therefore no toilets), no phone or internet and therefore no news.  And our cell phones – the only way to stay connected to the outside world – quickly ran out of charge as texts and calls accelerated. This is a good note of caution in the case of earthquakes too.  We charged our phones in the car with the engines running, and that’s how we kept up with the news. This was the view on the morning of day 1:


Here is a map of the fires close to the Hydeout Sonoma. The yellow patchwork and solid yellow line show just how close the fires approached from the east and south. On the map below, between Napa Road and Highway 12 is where the homes in our neighborhood were lost.

And this is a view of the same fire from the Napa side on the same day:

And below is the best technical explanation I have seen of how the firestorm exploded onto the Coffee Park and Fountaingrove neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, and everywhere else that homes burned including Glen Ellen, Warm Springs, Kenwood, and Bennett Valley:

By day 2, I had a war-room of sorts set up in the kitchen. This included binoculars, flashlights, headlamps, bottled water, keys to all the ranch gates, doors, tractor and vehicles, wallet, passports, and a Grundig windup AM/FM/shortwave radio:

So when night comes, we are prepared. Here we cooked with gas, enjoyed the tomatoes and basil from the garden, and an old bottle of La Honda wine, our former winery in Redwood City:

The fire on day 3 continues burning east to west across Arrowhead Mountain, while the wind drives the smoke and flames south:

On day 4, the fire had burned its way along Arrowhead Mountain, reaching just above our vineyard and winery neighbors – Nicholson, Scribe, and Gundlach Bundshu wineries:

By sunset on Day 4, the air around the ranch was pretty rough. We went hunting for the N95 particulate masks, but in the interim, bandanas had to do:

We posted signs to help the fire crews get onto the ranch if the fire jumped the road:

The fire continued to burn:

Around day 5, the Nunns Canyon Sonoma fire joined the Partrick Road Napa fire, and gave off this ominous mushroom cloud looking straight up Broadway into Sonoma town:

Ash fell continuously as our trusty Kubota stood watch after being busy for days building firebreak:

The ‘calvary’ arrived in the form of several awe inspiring aircraft, and the attack on the fire from the air began around Sonoma town, grabbing water from reservoirs, dropping their loads, circling back, and returning :

On day 6 at 3:30am, with fire once again jumping lines and charging down the mountains, this time from the north, first responders drove through our neighborhood announcing over the loud horns “get out now” so we briefly, sadly, left the property, with this sign in the driveway:

But we returned before sunrise and never left after that.

By day 7 the fire threat in our area was pretty much diminished, although many neighborhoods remained under mandatory evacuation for several more days. Our power was restored, and we happily housed several fire evacuees, both human and canine!

We finally got a chance to look around a bit:

And as the smoke began to fade and everyone busied themselves getting back to normal and helping others, we never expected to find this on our mailbox:

Next week: an up close and personal view of the firestorm’s impact to vineyards and wine.


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