There has been much written about the wild fires that damaged our community last October. Opinions on how the fire was responded to by our police and fire services range across the spectrum from heartfelt thanks, to those who can only voice bitterness that there was not enough done fast enough or done more efficiently. One caller on a radio talk show asked why they couldn’t post maps of where the fire was and where to escape to safety. He may have been suffering from the trauma of losing his house or worse. How could anyone predict the path of something we have never experienced? No fire on record moved at such a furious pace, hot, murderous flames grew as the fire consumed everything in its path Sunday night Oct. 8 and into the wee hours of Monday the ninth. The Tubbs fire was the one that started over on Tubbs Lane near Calistoga. There were others that began that same night, the Adobe Fire to the south menaced the Valley of the Moon communities. The Atlas fire burned out of control in Napa County, destroying homes and businesses as it went from tree to tree. The Pocket fire chewed its way through the dry foliage north of Healdsburg and into Alexander Valley.
Jim and Sue Frizzell lived and will again live on Mark West Springs Road, Jim said, “No one knocked on my door and no phone call. The traffic at 12:30 a.m. woke me, there were sirens and explosions going off. I got up and looked out the window, cars were zooming west and there was a glow to the east. I dressed and walked outside, the back end of my place was already alight. I woke Sue and we grabbed a few things and our dog Annie. Sue had gone on a ride with friends Sunday and the big truck was still hooked up to the horse trailer and left pointing down the driveway. We worried that the horses might get burned and I ran out to round them up. They were too scared and paid little attention to me. By then the fire was on us in high gear, I’ll never forget the roar it made. The trees were burning, flames were shooting high in the air as that crazy windstorm whipped it into a frenzy. Burning embers rained down on us, I told Sue we had to leave and left the pasture gate open in the hope that the horses would find a way to escape. We tore down the driveway with the trailer gate flapping and drove west for the highway. We took the southbound ramp and drove through fires on both sides of the highway. It looked like the whole world was on fire. That fire had me more scared than I can ever remember. We made it to my daughter and son-in-law’s house, Christine and Mike Rosenberg. They took us in with open arms and provided a safe haven for us. Later that day we started out to get horses out of danger. Mike is a farrier and he and Christine both know the ‘horse loving’ community. There were many, many people who jumped in, the efforts by the equestrians in the county were a shining example of neighbors helping neighbors. We worked in Bennett Valley and out by Oakmont off Highway 12. We brought a lot of horses to the fairgrounds that week. Somehow our side pasture did not burn, someone moved our horses into it and closed the gate. We don’t know who did it but we would sure like to thank them.
The authorities allowed me to go home briefly, ahead of many others, the house was gone, the fences, trees, the water pump burned and fell into the well casing. The water well experts came up from Petaluma and fished out the old motor and hooked it all up after the power was back on. It was a miracle that the barn was only slightly burned, the neighbor’s house was still there but the wooden bridge to get to it was burned to a crisp. I had a nice collection of guns in a ‘fire proof’ safe, they’re all gone. My work van and all the specialized tools are gone, Sue’s car is gone. We have what we had on our back, all the things that we’ve collected all our lives are ash” Jim said that his property was into its final testing phase, the debris is gone and they may be given a green light to rebuild.
Story after story of brave homeowners fighting the conflagration are legion, they worked with garden hoses, shovels and rakes stamping out small fires and ultimately saving homes, at least for the stories with a happy ending. One man, Matt Schofield of Glen Ellen evacuated his parents to safety. He returned against the advice of the first responders, they told him, “we won’t be able to come back to save you if it comes to that.” Other neighbors stayed and they fought together to stamp out embers and small flare ups. “We were there alone, fighting for our homes. People cleaned out their freezers, things were melting anyway and had big bar-b-cues each night. One group made it in, looters. They had to put up sentries at each end of town to keep them away.” Matt said, “Looking back it was unwise to stay and risk our lives. We saved homes but it could have gone the other way.”
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.