Saturday, October 21st
By the time Day 6 came, everyone who was still in wine country was exhausted, sleep-deprived, and brutally sick of two things: helicopters and sirens. Both make you flinch, stop what you are doing, and pay attention. We all want them to just go away. But the Partrick fire had another agenda last night for Sonoma.
Image: A couple watches as their home burns in Santa Rosa. Happy to be alive. Source: ClickIttefaq.
I’m home alone, and the text messages start coming at 2:35am – great, 3 ½ hours of sleep. Ellen’s phone call was, “What is going on up there?” She was awakened in Menlo Park by a text and a phone call from a friend in Brown’s Valley, on the eastern edge of the Partrick Fire. I had received the same text; just hadn’t looked at it yet. Mandatory evacuation three blocks away from our house. Well, isn’t that special? Damn. And within two more minutes the unmistakable corresponding sounds begin.
Image: A CalFire helicopter and truck on the job trying to save as many homes and lives as possible. Source: Press Democrat.
At night, the standard operating procedure for mandatory evacuations is to fly a very large very large Army helicopter over the area that needs to be evacuated, then have squad cars with lights and sirens blaring speed through neighborhoods shouting over their bullhorns to “Get out now!” Their goal is to panic you into instantly leaving. Ok, you win. This is before they go door to door and then seal off the area with roadblocks. I understand they don’t want folks to sleep through the evacuation, but in reality you have absolutely no chance at sleeping within ½ a mile to a mile of a door to door evacuation. Maybe farther.
Image: Members of the community watch as a fire grows along the ridge near Highway 12, getting closer to the Sonoma town. Photo Source: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle.
Like me, my friend Don and our winemaker Erich are just outside the mandatory evacuation zone. And like me, we’re all awake and on our phones instantly. I walk outside and see the familiar glow of the nighttime fire but it definitely looks closer. Substantially closer. I head over to Don’s house, and immediately the power goes off. Maybe PG&E turned off the power in their neighborhood as a precaution? That’s not a very comforting thought. Erich spends time with neighbors in his street watching the glowing fire get closer and closer. Erich has been up all night, again, and says the wind is blowing 30 mph in the hills from the north fanning the fire towards just east of the square in Sonoma. The question of course of how long will the winds blow …
Image: Nearly vineyard is in flames in the hills near Sonoma. Photo Source: Peter DaSilva, SF Chronicle.
I help Don with a few last things, and then we all head to my house for some TV/Internet. At 4:30 am one of the local stations starts their news broadcasting from a residential area in Sonoma, and at 5:30 am an airborne ember drops in a neighborhood ½ mile from the square setting some residences on fire. This is exactly how the Coffey Park fire started. We’re collectively super nervous and on edge – and thrashed from not getting enough sleep the entire week. As soon as daybreak comes, the winds die down, and seven helicopters start their all day assault on the Partrick fire. They use the large irrigation pond at the Gun Bun winery to reload and go. Since the fires are close by, they can execute a staggering number of drops per hour per helicopter. I grab a power nap around 8am for an hour or so.
Image: A helicopter pulls water from a pond by the Gundlach Bundschu Vineyard to reload and head back out to battle the Partrick Fire. Photo Source: Press Democrat.
And by the afternoon, they have the fire knocked down and nearly out. TKO style. We’re not really sure how and we don’t really care either. And instantly, the mood in the town changes from despair to cautious optimism to elation. We know there are other fires burning out of control further up valley in Oakmont and Kenwood neighborhoods and also in Napa Valley, but for now for in Sonoma, we have the first piece of good news in 6 days.
As happy hour arrives, the news online for the Partrick fire continues to improve, and it’s time to blow off some steam. Don and I get busy. Very busy. Don’s wife helps by drinking 2-3 glasses in total. The tide is turning, and it’s time to dance in the end zone, if even for a brief moment.
Image: Saturday night wines.