Kenwood Press


Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

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10/15/2020

The fire this time


Artists Caryn Fried and Wayne Reynolds stand with their daughter Maya in the ruins of their home after the Glass Fire. Caryn and Wayne lost not only their house but their art studio and the trees on their Christmas Tree farm at the Highway 12 property. Photo by Ando Pndlian


Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office

Sunday, September 27, 2020, 05:33 a.m.

Advisory:

Heavy drift smoke and light ash are coming into Sonoma County from the Glass Fire in St Helena. No threat to our county at this time.

Well, that time came within 24 hours, bringing a firestorm into Sonoma County, turning homes into rubble, burning wide swaths of open space and local parkland, and causing all too familiar heartache for families and communities.

The 67,000-plus acre Glass Fire traversed from Napa County to Sonoma County with deliberate and frightening speed, and is expected to be totally contained by Oct. 20, thanks to dedicated firefighters who were determined to contain the conflagration as best as possible.

In Sonoma County, 334 single family residences were destroyed, 80 damaged, and 253 other structures incinerated in the areas of St. Helena Road, Skyhawk in Rincon Valley, Los Alamos Road, Melita Road, Oakmont, Sonoma Highway, Pythian Road, and Adobe Canyon Road.

Was this event the same as the 5,000-plus homes lost in 2017? No, but the pain is just as bad.

Among the fire victims trying to pick up the pieces are people you know – a couple with a popular art studio and Christmas tree farm, a winemaker at a Kenwood winery, well-known long-time organic farmers, the leader of a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring kids through equine therapy, the owner of a winery in Kenwood and Glen Ellen, a newspaper editor, the head of a project to protect wildlife in Sonoma Valley, a historic Sonoma Valley property owned by the same family for 60 years, another Kenwood winery owner, a retired priest of a northern Sonoma Valley Church. The list is long.

A few outdoor sculptures survived the fire that destroyed Caryn Fried and Wayne Reynold’s property. North Eagle statue

A few outdoor sculptures survived the fire that destroyed Caryn Fried and Wayne Reynold’s property. 

“We’re really hit hard by this,” said Wayne Reynolds. “All of our work, love and passion, all the projects we planned for the future. Everything is gone.”

Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, lost a lifetime of work when their Valley of the Moon Pottery property burned off of Sonoma Highway. For 33 years, the property was their home and studio, where they created pottery, sculptures, paintings and more, a favorite Valley of the Moon stop for art lovers. All their inventory lies in pieces, save a remnant here and there.

The location was also a well-known Christmas tree farm, where generations of locals roamed around, finding and cutting the perfect tree for the holidays. Reynolds and Fried were always there with a warm smile and warm cider. Over 1,000 cars would arrive in any given December to purchase a tree.

Three decades of good feelings have been coming the couple’s way, with one woman even offering to give them a bowl she bought so they could have something left. The studio’s pottery sits in countless homes. When they walked into their current rental in Oakmont, one of their pieces was there.

“The outpouring of love, kindness and generosity from the community is almost overwhelming,” said Reynolds. “It’s been helping us through this tremendous loss.

Photo by Rick Hill
This doorbell is one of the few things that survived the fire at Marna Hill’s house.Marna Hill with doorbell

Photo by Rick Hill
This doorbell is one of the few things that survived the fire at Marna Hill’s house.

Down the highway lies another home destroyed by fire, with all its valuable art and collectibles, antiques and music equipment.

“31 years. That was our life,” said Marna Hill, an artist and designer who lived with her husband Rick on property about a half mile from the highway. “Everything is gone. Not a shred remains.”

The two had spent years working to protect their property. Just two months before, fire officials had complimented the Hills for their fire safe work, saying the property was highly defensible.

So the Hills were fairly confident when they evacuated at 11:20 p.m. on Sept. 27. There was little wind, the power was on, they had wet things down all day, they had large water tanks and a swimming pool, and they turned on their roof sprinklers.

Marna Hill said that no fire personnel came.

“We came back and it was like a moonscape,” said Hill.

A total of five homes burned on their road.

(Many fire victims in Sonoma and Napa counties need financial assistance, with friends turning to the GoFundMe website to as a vehicle to help. Go to www.gofundme.com. Searching for “Glass Fire” will get you started.)

Oakmont came frighteningly close to a catastrophe in the early morning hours of Sept. 28, as an army of firefighters successfully stopped flames from enveloping Oakmont and its 3,200 homes. Three single-family homes and a triplex were destroyed.

“We feel tremendously indebted to the first responders who risked their lives to save Oakmont,” said Steve Spanier, president of the Oakmont Village Association Board of Directors. “If it had gotten into Oakmont proper, into the interior, I shudder to think of what would have happened.”

The Los Guilicos Complex off of Highway 12 was threatened, home to a number of facilities such as juvenile hall, the Los Guilicos Village homeless shelter, the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center, and various county buildings.

Sonoma County First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said there’s an estimated $8 million of damage to the campus, much of it to the multiple solar panel arrays and campus infrastructure. At least one storage building was burned.

The Los Guilicos Village homeless shelter lost four of its small pallet homes to effects of fire, basically melting in the high heat.

Jack Tibbetts, the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, which runs the shelter for the county, said residents were evacuated smoothly between 10:30-11p.m. Sept. 27. They eventually were taken to a shelter at the Sonoma County fairgrounds, where they remain, still waiting for the county OK to return.

“They want to get home like everybody else,” said Tibbetts.

Also still displaced as of press time are the children and staff of the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center. The fire burned within a few feet of the center’s structures. Nine children and staff at the foster care facility were evacuated according to established emergency plans, said Nick Honey, director of Family, Youth and Children’s Services for Sonoma County. He said they hope to return soon after dealing with expected smoke damage.

“There’ll be a thorough cleaning,” said Honey.

Fire threat to Sonoma Valley continued through the first week of October, as another Red Flag Warning was issued. Fire crews had created substantial primary and secondary containment lines on the southeast flanks below Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and there was fear fire could jump those lines and head into Kenwood and Glen Ellen.

Thankfully, high winds didn’t materialize and the lines held.

In general, the fact that the winds died down and we didn’t have gusts in the 80 mph range like in 2017 made a big difference this time around, said Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach.

That, and the fact that there was plenty of warning that trouble was coming, so there was plenty of time to evacuate and begin to prepare to defend structures.

“I want to thank the overall community for evacuating and being prepared. That was huge,” said Bellach.


Editor & Publisher
Email: alec@kenwoodpress.com