Watching fire come down the mountain 09 Oct 2017
california santarosa opinion

The insanely strong gusts of wind would not stop clattering the tin roof panels over the back patio. Begrudgingly, I awoke, dressed, and tried to secure the roof panels before the neighbors got too ornery. Stepping up the ladder, I noticed an orange glow north of the house. Just after midnight, I had not heard any sirens, I jumped into the car on the assumption that one of those houses by the park was burning and had not yet been reported.

Wearing a flannel, jeans, and my flip-flops, I speed off into the night. Not entirely sure what aid I could render, as a mostly-useless person wearing inappropriate fire-fighting footwear.

Passing the park, seeing nothing, I figure it’s the neighborhood behind, and continued driving. The next neighborhood doesn’t show any fire but I smell smoke, so I continue on towards Fountaingrove Parkway which crosses one of the highest ridges in Santa Rosa.

Atop Fountaingrove Parkway, I see the hills to the north, an area I later learn is “Shiloh ridge”, are glowing.

I do not see flames, but they’re glowing. I turn my hat backwards so the gusts of wind don’t blow my hat from my head. Not more than two minutes pass and flames crest the ridge.

“Oh shit” I exclaim to nobody in particular.

Walking back to the car, I stand on the bumper for a better view and see the flames already pushing more than halfway down Shiloh Ridge. In a matter of minutes, the ridge glowing against the smokey night sky had erupted in flames.

“Oh fuck this!” and I scurry into the car and speed off.

Driving back to house, I call my wife, who is rather surprised to learn I’m not sleeping beside her. She puts a kettle on, and starts preparing the go-bag. I arrive home around 1:00, half the sky is clear with a full moon, the other half smoke filled with an orange backlight.

While preparing some stuff to go, we start listening to the scanner, and begin to watch Twitter.

Within 30 minutes the evacuation notices are rolling out.

Within 60 minutes the fire jumps over US Highway 101.

We voluntarily evacuated to Sebastopol at 3:00.

Between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, the air foggy with smoke and ash, we are able to see fires raging on the hills to the southeast of Santa Rosa. Arriving in Sebastopol at 3:45, everybody had already been awoken by the smell of smoke.

By 10:00, significant chunks of northern Santa Rosa have burnt to the ground. The neighborhood from that glowing ridge, which I saw around midnight: gone. The valley below, where I watched the flames flicker down the hill: gone. The ridge I stood atop for all of five minutes, is now also on fire.

It is still uncertain how the fire will develop throughout the day, how long the fire will burn, and how scarred the beautiful Sonoma and Napa Valleys will be when it’s all over.