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Six days of fire in Sonoma

Written by Ken Wornick

Backed by 20+ vintages and many dozens of wines produced, Ken is a Sonoma-based wine consultant and founder of Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery.

October 26, 2017

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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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32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    What a journey you and Cynthia experiences. Thank you for opening your home to us during our journey during these fires. I always wanted to sleepover in your guest house just not under these conditions. Even under these conditions we broke bread together, laughed together, cried together and hugged each other. True Friends. Peter and I can’t thank you and Cynthia enough. PS: if we ever go to war I am coming to your bunker! Love you both so much. Your friends: Holly, Peter and Lulu

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      It was our pleasure of course!

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    WOW! Amazing photos and a thorough account of a harrowing experience. Looking forward to following your blog!!

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Love to have you follow along Gail.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Ken – so glad that you, Cynthia and that beautiful ranch/home survived the fires!

    Be good – quite certain the area and people are resilient and wish both the best.

    Brian and Zada Clarke

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Brian – Thank you so much for the good wishes. Right back at you of course.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    A truly remarkable story. Our family, like yours were truly blessed with safety and our home. We live in Windsor our kids were evacuated from the Rincon Valley area. So many of our friends and loved ones have endured truly horrific experiences. But fortunately all have lived to tell their tale. Ken I applaud your gift of documenting your experience. So many can identify with your experience and will be thankful for your collaboration of events. Most importantly, you offer a guidance of how to move forward in a chaotic situation. Blessings to you and the lives you have touched.

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Phyllis – What very kind, thoughtful words you have offered. Thank you so much.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    Wow! I know what you guys went through, having watched the fire on Norrbom get pretty close to our house. Sure glad I was able to stop by your place one day during your vigil and see all was well. Good write up. Glad that is a page that has turned…

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Bob –
      Seeing your face coming through the smokey haze that day gave us both a real lift! So glad you are my buddy keeping an eye from on high, Mr. Snow Leopard!

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    I am so glad you warriored through this successfully. I told a visiting Craig Morton of your ordeal today. Lawrence kept us up on news during your dangerous time. Blessings on you both!
    Trev

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Trev – thanks for man for checking in, glad you are still Lawrenzo’s main man, he needs you!, say hey to Craig too please, and Donna Joe; ahh, the old hood still resonates with us, esp with the boys who were born there and romantic it like it was Lonesome Dove! Hugs to you all.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    What an incredibly horrific experience for all of you! The photos are shocking and frightening, yet, Hydeout Bunker seemingly never sacrificed on style and comfort [ I’m guessing there were truly scary and awkward moments]. You guys are the salt-of-the-earth, sticking it out ’till the end. I’m imagining that your Hydeout Seminars on catastrophic Disaster Skills & Survival are fully booked, so we’ll have to reserve a few spots for the next seminar. By-the-way, we were delighted to see that our old Kubota tractor made it through. Cheers to you! xo Karin and Mark

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Karin –
      Sorry for the delay in replying to your very kind note. The Hydeout survived unscathed! And awaits the return of the ‘sexy Petaluma fiddler’
      And the Kubota cut fire breaks all that week; thanks to you guys we had is standing by for any flame up!

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Stressful, harrowing, nail biting and really reminds you of what matters to you as well as who you are. I am grateful for the two of you!

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Are you kidding? How do you think I got a gas powered water pump into the pool? That was all you!

      Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Indeed harrowing, and your words are too kind. Glad we all back to normal around Sonoma. See you soon…

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    KEN; YOU ARE A GREAT BLOGGER. I THOUGHT MY DAUGHTER WAS GOOD; YOU GET THE PRIZE.
    SO GLAD TO HEAR YOU MADE IT THROUGH THOUGH, YOU TWO WOULD. IT HAS BEEN HORRENDOUS FOR SO MANY. MY COUSINS IN REDWOOD VALLEY LOST OUT BUILDINGS AND SCORCHED ORCHARDS; HOUSE INTACT. THEIR GOOD FRIENDS OF FREY WINERY LOST ALL AS DID MANY NEIGHBORS. STILL AWAITING WORD OF SANTA ROSA FRIENDS WHO EVACUATED. ALSO FRIENDS IN MEXICO CITY. (EARTHQUAKE) WE HAVE A WOMAN WHO JUST MOVED INTO MAGNOLIA. SHE NOW HAS NOTHING. HER HOME AND BELONGINGS GONE PRIOR TO BEING MOVED HERE.
    I KNOW YOU TWO WILL BE IN THE FOREFRONT TO REVITALIZE YOUR DEVASTATED NEIGHBORHOODS. PRAYERS AND SUPPORT FROM ME.
    HUGS ! YOUR FORMER NEIGHBOR, NANCY

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Nancy! So great to hear from you. I did not know about Frey, very sad. Yes, many natural disasters lately. The good news is that random events happen in bunches as a matter of mathematics (i.e. non-random events occur on a regular schedule), so maybe we will get a rest now. Glad you are well. Love. Ken

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    I can’t even imagine what all of you lived through, this was your 9/11, what a frightening experience. I am so happy you all survived this horrific event, love to all of the Wornicks.

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Linda, thanks for taking a peek a my blog, and for the kind comments; see you for Turkey!

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    Best neighbor ever! Thank you for the up close and personal updates and videos of our beloved Gremlin Vines and Farm. As scary as it was being away, I appreciate it was exponentially more terrifying being on site. #SonomaStrong.
    XOXO,
    Lori

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Lori – very sweet, and right back atch ya!

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    So glad you are well. Must have been surreal. My hearts and prayers go out to all who have suffered through this terrible tragedy.

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Lynn – thanks for your very kind words, please say hi to all the gang in old B’game!

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    I had no idea you were going through this! So glad you and your family and your home made it through. God is good!

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Joanne – how do I get in touch with you? Send me your email please, we need to chat about da bronx! Ken

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    Ken,
    I had no idea you lived in Sonoma! We went to high school together in Burlingame (time warp). I’ve called Sonoma home for 26 years and these past few weeks have reminded me over and over of why I love this little town so very much. I’m so relieved you and your family are safe. Same goes for us. Many were not as fortunate. When I saw your post, I had to reach out and say hello.

    Reply
  15. Avatar

    What an amazing account of this incredibly horrible event. Thank you for letting everyone get inside. It’s hard to explain to our family and friends who aren’t here. Frank and I look forward to getting together with you both to celebrate only wonderful things! Love, Michèle

    Reply
    • Ken Wornick

      Michelle – Thank you for having a look at the blog. Yes, we need to see you and Frank, and Ross and Terry very soon. Let’s make it happen.

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    Love you guys

    Reply
  17. Avatar

    It makes my heart thump to hear your personal fire story, Ken & Cynthia.
    I have not seen any picture quite like your mushroom cloud one. Incredible! So glad you and your property were spared!

    Reply

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