New wildfire forces evacuations, more homes lost
Sheriff Deputies waiting for assignments at start of Kenwood evacuation.
It’s a slow motion repeat of October 2017. On a Sunday night, Sept. 27, an ill wind has again blown a north Napa wildfire all the way to the Sonoma Valley, torching homes in Sky Hawk, all along Melita Road and Highway 12 to Pythian Road, and along the Mayacamas to Mt. Hood and Sugarloaf, down into Adobe Canyon and a little further south.
Now big enough to earn a name, the Glass Fire forced evacuation of thousands in the Santa Rosa area, including Oakmont, Kenwood and a good part of Glen Ellen. All we know, as of Tuesday, Sept. 29, is that Oakmont losses were few, many homes in the Skyhawk, Los Alamos, and Melita areas are gone, and that at least seven homes were lost up Adobe Canyon and Pearson Road. No structures have been lost at Sugarloaf, according to park manager John Roney.
At this point there isn’t an actual count of how many homes have been lost along Highway 12, Adobe Canyon Road, Annadel and west, as the fickle winds turned it toward Bennett Valley and possibly Rohnert Park.
I watched from the Palooza Patio as the first two fire trucks from Kenwood roared up Highway 12 at 8:30 Sunday night, sirens wailing and lights flashing. It wasn’t long before the firehouse was cleared of personnel and equipment, as the high winds that had kicked up in mid-afternoon sent burning ashes racing before it, setting off hundreds of small fires that grew and attacked homes in Skyhawk.
From 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, the Napa fire near Angwin had tripled in size to 36,000 acres. A combination of wind direction, fuel load, and slope alignment allowed the fire to race southward, covering over four miles in six hours, according to Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nichols. It moved through Calistoga and over the densely forested hills to Skyhawk, Rincon Valley, Oakmont, Adobe Canyon, and was last seen heading toward Bennett Valley and Rohnert Park.
As for the response by local firefighters, “There is never enough,” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said. Twelve pre-designated evacuation zones were activated and enforced, with plenty of warning. Even so, some residents of Los Alamos Road had to be rescued. Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro said that over 130 of his officers were helping with evacuation and traffic control and would soon transition to security patrols in the evacuation zones.
Everyone reading this paper likely knows what’s been happening since, but none of us know when this lurching disaster will even come close to being contained.
By Monday, Sept. 28, there was no power on the east side of Highway 12, and while Kenwood Village had power, there was no Internet.
A trip to the fire house on Monday found Joe Benguerel and Kenwood Fire Protection District Chair Daymon Doss staffing the radio room, handling calls and anything else that was needed while all the regular personnel and volunteers were on the fire lines.
Doss said the station had been cleared out by 9 p.m. Sunday night, with the two big Type 1 engines, the Type 2, the water tender and a bulldozer all fully staffed and out fighting fires. As I was there, Engine No. 3182 pulled in for a quick fill-up and a brief rest for the crew before heading out. All were tired and dirty and just had a few minutes to clean up, grab a bite and head out. I could see the stress in their eyes and a fervent desire not to talk about it.
The fire station parking lot was filled with white and green Sonoma County Sheriff SUVs. Seven sheriff’s deputies were sitting in the day room, with the incident commander Sgt. M. Baraz, an 18-year veteran of the Sonoma Sheriff’s Department who was keeping an eye on his computer and an ear on the radio, tracking people, cars, incidents and all the oversight demanded of a major evacuation.
A couple of Kenwood Fire Explorers were out picking up food and supplies for the station
Sgt. Baraz said he was in charge of the Sonoma Valley area but didn’t have time to talk. The deputies were waiting for their next assignments, which weren’t long in coming.
Sam and Lakhwinder Singh kept the Kenwood Market open, having snuck into the evacuated area via the back way, and said they would be there until 5:00 or so and hoped to get back in on Tuesday.
And as usual, Kenwood’s finest announcer was back on the air at KSRO keeping us all informed about what was happening.
Pat Kerrigan is a local treasure whose outstanding work during the 2017 fires earned her national recognition. She’s doing it again and we are a better place for her clear reporting and fine sensibilities about the communities and people of the Valley. We’re all proud of you, Pat, and thankful for your calming presence.
No doubt there are many, many people helping with the thousands of things that need doing in a situation like this. Thank you all.