Rain Arrives to Quench the Fires

Penny Contemplates the Rain

Penny Contemplates the Rain

The photo above shows one of our cats, Penny, sitting in the window alcove of our bedroom yesterday afternoon, contemplating the rain that had just begun to fall.

The rain intensified yesterday evening, having been forecast the previous week. We’d been anxiously awaiting its arrival, because, despite the extraordinary efforts of firefighters from all over the US, the wildfires were still not fully contained. Even after a fire has been quelled, it can sometimes continue to smolder and can then flare up again later. Falling rain should extinguish any remaining embers and prevent further flare-ups.

The Rain Begins

The Rain Begins

Contrast the photo above, taken yesterday afternoon looking over the park from our balcony, with the same view in my earlier post. At least this time, the gray skies are due to rain and not to smoke!

Having grown up somewhere it rains year-round (Britain), and now living where it rarely rains during the summer (California), I sometimes find that, by the end of summer here, I’m missing the rain, and look forward to the first shower of the season. Nonetheless, I’ve never welcomed the first rain as much as I did this year, because it will hopefully put an end to the local wildfires!

Smoky Sunsets

Although the smoke has gradually cleared during the past week, we’ve still been having smoky sunsets, with unusually red skies, as shown below, looking west from in front of our house.

Smoky Sunset

Smoky Sunset

Oakmont Fire

Last weekend, a new wildfire erupted in the hills above Oakmont, which is a large retirement complex to the East of Santa Rosa. This led to further closure of Highway 12, and the evacuation of the Sky Hawk and Mountain Hawk neighborhoods.

I took the photo below last Saturday, looking East along Highway 12. In the distance, you can see smoke billowing from the Oakmont fire.

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

A little further along Highway 12, the road was closed. People were being let out of the evacuated zone, but not into it. The photo below shows a police roadblock across Highway 12, at the junction with Calistoga Road.

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Fountaingrove Still Evacuated

At the time of writing, although most evacuation orders have been lifted, and people are being allowed back in to some fire-damaged areas, the Fountaingrove neighborhood remains evacuated.

The offices of my employer, Keysight, are in Fountaingrove, and are closed. Fortunately, the main buildings were not destroyed, but they were damaged by efforts to fight the surrounding fire. Details are shown in this fire damage map.

It’s also fortunate for me that I’m able to do my work from home (although I wasn’t doing that prior to the fire), and that’s what I’ve been doing since the area was evacuated. Keysight has been very supportive of us all, having made immense efforts to locate and ascertain the safety of all its employees, and to provide special assistance to those who need it. Many thanks are due to Keysight for looking after its staff.

I’m aware that many people have lost jobs or businesses as a result of the fires, and how lucky I’ve been to have avoided that.

The New Normal

The process of trying to get back to normal life is now just beginning. Even for those of us who were lucky enough to avoid any serious loss, things will never be quite the same again.

In one respect at least, I hope that things will be different, in that the lessons of the fire will be learned, leading to wiser land development and better protections in future.

Santa Rosa’s Surviving Round Barn

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

Amid all the tragic news from Wine Country during the past few days, I’m happy to report that the De Turk Round Barn in Santa Rosa, shown above, was not affected by the Tubbs Fire this week.

The Round Barn that did burn down this week was the Fountaingrove Round Barn. However, that barn was actually polygonal or multangular, rather than truly round. As you can see in my photo above, the De Turk barn is clad with curved planking, whereas the Fountaingrove barn had walls of flat planking.

The De Turk barn was built in 1891 by Isaac De Turk, as a stable for his racehorses (hence the horse weather vane visible in the photo above). It was recently restored by the City of Santa Rosa, and can be rented by the public for special events.

The red brick building visible in the distance on the right in my photo was the De Turk Winery, which is currently awaiting refurbishment as an apartment complex.

Here’s a link to the location of the De Turk Barn on Google Streetview, and here’s a link to the location of the destroyed Fountaingrove Barn.

Interactive Fire Damage Map

In my previous post, I mentioned that fire had consumed Cricklewood restaurant, close to the house that we lived in from 2011-13, but I didn’t know whether the house itself had survived. According to the latest interactive map of the Santa Rosa fire damage, the house does appear to have survived, although it was right on the edge of the burned area.

This was the house when we lived there, during the Fall of 2012:

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Wildfires Will Always Happen

There have already been some claims in the media that the fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric company’s (PG&E’s) power lines coming into contact with trees during Sunday night’s high winds.

Whether or not those claims turn out to have any foundation at all, playing this “blame game” will never solve the problem of wildfires. In a dry climate like that of the California Wine Country, there have always been wildfires and there always will be. Such fires can be started naturally by lightning strikes, or by somebody dropping a cigarette, or by a vehicle driving along with something scraping the road surface, creating sparks. There are many ways that such fires can start, and it will never be possible to eliminate all the possible causes.

What is needed instead are better building techniques, so that buildings are more effectively fireproofed. (For example, in the latest fires, flat-roofed buildings seem to have been particularly prone to burning. This is probably because flammable material can accumulate on the roofs for many years, just waiting for a falling ember to set it off.)

I can only hope that this disaster will lead to new ideas and laws for better building practices in future.

Fire in Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 8am yesterday morning, when I was getting ready to go to work. Unfortunately, the “threatening clouds” in the distance are not rain, but smoke. I was to discover a few moments later that I wasn’t going to be able to go to work, because my employer’s offices are within the evacuation zone of the fire causing the smoke.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, we have had serious fires in the Wine Country since Sunday night, and some are still burning. Shockingly, fire even spread into some parts of urban Santa Rosa, destroying many homes, shops and hotels within the city.

It is ironic that, in my previous post, I mentioned how, during the week of my return to the UK from my first visit to California, thirty years ago, there was a hurricane-force storm in Southern England. Now, thirty years later, these fires in Wine Country were fanned by hurricane-force winds that blew in this region on Sunday night.

I usually get up on workdays at 7am, but on Monday when I woke up it was so dark that I checked the clock several times, thinking that I must somehow have got up too early. It was only later, as I was preparing to go to work, that I discovered why the sky was so unusually dark.

Parts of Santa Rosa Still Evacuated

Much of the northern half of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation orders since early Monday, and thousands of people are in temporary shelters as far away as Marin county. Most of the evacuation orders are still in force tonight (Tuesday).

Fortunately, our house is not (currently) in the evacuation zone, so we’re still at home. The only inconvenience for us at present is that I cannot get to my employer’s workplace.

Only the media and emergency services are being allowed into the evacuation zones, so I cannot get close to devastated areas (and nor do I want to). Therefore, the only photos I can obtain currently are from a safe distance.

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

I took the photo above from the West side of the US101 freeway. It shows smoke still rising from the Hilton Hotel, on the hill in the center background. The tall building just visible across the freeway on the right is the Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated and is still closed.

Smoky Sun

Later in the day on Monday, I drove my normal work commute route, to see how close I could get to my employer’s offices. The photo below shows the closest I could get, Chanate Road near Hidden Valley Road. The sun is so shrouded by smoke that it looks like a hazy sunset, but in fact it was only about 3pm.

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Destruction in Larkfield

From 2011-13, we lived in Larkfield, a community just north of Santa Rosa, and outside the city limits. Parts of Larkfield were burned by the Tubbs Fire on Sunday night, and unfortunately that included our favorite restaurant in that area, Cricklewood.

Cricklewood Restaurant was named after the suburb of London, having been founded by a British expatriate. As shown below in my 2015 photo, above the bar was one of the name signs from the BR railway station, in its original London Midland maroon color.

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

Sadly, I doubt that the owners had time to save the sign when the building burned, and that probably was not their top priority anyway.

We don’t yet know whether the house we lived in in Larkfield was destroyed, but we hope not.

Status Updates

For updates on the constantly-changing situation, the best source seems to be the Santa Rosa City Emergency web site.

Autumn Then & Now

 

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

My father took the color transparency above, in Hackness, Yorkshire, during one Autumn in the mid-1960s. It’s a good example of an annual event that we always looked forward to: the “Turning of the Leaves” on deciduous trees. In the photograph, you can see my mother and my brother strolling through “Autumn’s golden gown” on the right.

Growing up in England, the onset of each Autumn brought a variety of both welcome and unwelcome events.

The school year always started in September, and, given that I always hated school, that was definitely not a joyous event. On the other hand, when I was at Primary School, our teachers would often organize some kind of Harvest Festival celebration, which I did enjoy. Given that the North Riding of Yorkshire had a heavily agriculture-dependent economy, harvest time was far from being just a symbolic event.

While out in the countryside admiring the foliage colors, we also quite often stopped to pick wild blackberries (brambles) from roadside hedges, where berries were in abundant free supply. It was also sometimes possible to find and pick bilberries in similar locations. I participated in that, but I must admit that I enjoyed the results much more than the actual task! The traffic levels on country roads in those days were generally light, so it was usually no problem to pull the car over to the side of the road wherever we spotted some fruit, as shown below, where my father had parked our Humber Super Snipe to let my mother sample some likely-looking brambles.

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Other autumnal events that I welcomed with glee included Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) each 5th November. At that time, Guy Fawkes was the only regular event in Britain at which fireworks were let off (the tradition of fireworks at New Year didn’t start until much later). Fireworks were sold to the general public because, given the damp climate and the time of year, there was little fire danger.

I also looked forward to the arrival of the Winter Catalogues. In those days there were few large stores in or near Scarborough, so my mother did much of her shopping via mail-order “catalogues”, such as Kays, Grattans or John Moores. There were two editions of each catalogue each year: for Summer and Winter. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Winter editions in September or October, because those editions included larger selections of toys, and I had Christmas and a birthday coming up for which to make my choices (or at least to dream about them!).

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

The image above is part of a page from the Winter 1966-67 Grattan catalogue. The pre-decimal prices shown are explained in my previous post: Old Money.

Fall in California Wine Country

The seasons in California are less pronounced than in England, but we do have noticeable autumnal changes.

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

I took the photograph above last weekend of a vineyard at Laughlin Road, Santa Rosa, just near Sonoma County Airport.

Unlike similar species in Britain, California native oaks are “live”, meaning that they do not shed their leaves during the winter (as shown in the photo). Nonetheless, the leaves of the (non-native) vines do change color, and you can just see that process beginning in the photo above.

Once the leaves have changed color, they tend to stay on the trees longer in California than in Britain (probably because California is less windy). The photograph below was taken in Moraga a few years ago, in mid-December. (The photograph is marred only by the bus stop sign in the foreground!)

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

I plan to write further posts about Autumn in California, as the season progresses.

Fetters Springs Railroad Depot

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

Last weekend I made one of my fairly regular visits to Napa. On the way along Highway 12, I stopped off at Fetters Hot Springs to view the remains of Fetters Springs Depot. The former railroad depot, which was constructed in 1913 but is now a private house, is the small building with the large overhanging eaves in the photo above. The railroad tracks that served the depot originally ran across in the foreground of the photo.

There are no longer any railroads in Sonoma Valley, but, a century ago, there were two competing railroad lines, both running approximately North-South along the valley floor. The two railroads crossed each other several times along their routes, and were eventually consolidated into one, which makes tracking their courses today particularly complex.

The two railroads were:

  1. Sonoma Valley Railroad (which eventually became part of the North Western Pacific, NWP)
  2. Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad (which eventually became part of the Southern Pacific, SP)

Fetters Springs was a stop on the NWP line, as shown in the map below.

Railroads near Sonoma

Railroads near Sonoma

From the 1880s up to the 1960s, several hot spring spa resorts along Highway 12 were popular destinations. The first of those was Boyes Springs, which is now the location of the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. Incidentally, the founder of that resort, Captain Henry Boyes, was originally from Hull, England. The development of the Springs area is detailed in the book: Springs, The: Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley.

Until the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the most convenient way to get to the resorts from San Francisco and most of the rest of the Bay Area was via ferry and train, but railroad ridership was already declining by the early 1930s. Passenger trains north of Sonoma were discontinued in 1934, and then, in 1942, all the remaining tracks north of Sonoma were ripped up for wartime reuse in Oakland.

Most of the railroad buildings were of wood, so, even if they didn’t burn down, they were easy to demolish or just let rot away. The depot at Fetters Springs, however, had a tile roof and was sheathed in terrazzo, so it survived and was even worth renovating as a house.

In 1975, the Fetters Springs resort hotel itself burned down, and the ground on which it stood is only now being redeveloped, as shown below.

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

The Fetters Springs Apartments (visible in the background above) have been built on part of the site.

Napa Reconstruction Continues

First Street Development, Napa, nearing Completion

First Street Development, Napa, nearing Completion

Amid recent reports of many natural disasters around the world, it’s easy to forget one local disaster that occurred in 2014; the South Napa Earthquake. The photo above shows the current state of reconstruction, on the North side of First Street.

I visited Napa again a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased to see that recovery seems to be continuing in the city. Many downtown properties were made unusable by the quake, and have had to be torn down and rebuilt.

The photo below shows another view east down First Street, towards the river. You can see how the brick and tile frontages of some of the previous shops have neatly been incorporated into the new hotel and shop development.

First Street, Napa, looking East

First Street, Napa, looking East

During my previous visit, in January of this year, I photographed the same shop frontages, but before the new Archer Hotel had risen behind them, as shown below. The more modern shop frontages on the left have now been torn down.

First Street Shop Frontages, January 2017

First Street Shop Frontages, January 2017

Goodman Library Building

On the South side of First Street, the stone-built Goodman Library Building (which housed the local history society) was very badly damaged by the earthquake, but is now being renovated.

The photo below shows the Goodman Building before the earthquake, in Spring 2008.

Goodman Library Building, Napa, in 2008

Goodman Library Building, Napa, in 2008

The following photo shows some of the damage to the building, with the street being protected by scaffolding, in 2015.

Goodman Library Building, 2015

Goodman Library Building, 2015

Reconstruction work has now begun.

Things to Come

Ironically, the redevelopment of the rather dreary 1980s-era shopping center on the North side of First Street was already planned before the earthquake. The rebuilding necessitated by the earthquake encouraged a more ambitious redesign.

Hopefully, when the new development is complete, it will have the intended effect of reinvigorating downtown Napa.

The Speeders of August

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Ten years ago, my wife Mary and I spent an enjoyable afternoon traveling on a short stretch of what at that time was the disused North Western Pacific Railroad line in Santa Rosa. The small “Speeder” in which we rode the rails is the dark green vehicle shown in the photo above.

At that time, a group of enthusiasts used to bring their rail speeders to Santa Rosa annually, to ride the derelict line one day per year. The event took place at Santa Rosa’s North Western Pacific Railroad Depot, which, amazingly, has survived from its construction in 1904 (just before the major earthquake of 1906) to this day, as shown below.

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

The depot building also featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie Shadow of a Doubt, which I described in a previous post.

Although the last regular passenger service on the line ended in 1958, freight service continued after that, and the counties bought the track and right-of-way during the 1990s (via the North Coast Railroad Authority). In contrast to the fate of many railway lines abandoned and lost forever as part of the “Beeching Cuts” in Britain, this fortunate act saved the railroad’s right-of-way for its modern renaissance.

That day in 2007, the Speeder owners were offering free rides to the public, so Mary and I hopped aboard. As shown in the picture above, we chose a green Speeder that had custom bodywork to make it resemble a San Francisco cable car. Given that the Speeders have only 4 wheels, the ride is quite bumpy, but it was a fun experience, and one that we will never get the opportunity to try again, at least on that line.

Below is a short video viewed from the Speeder as we were riding in it:

Railroad Renaissance

The good news is that this line is no longer disused, because it now forms part of the SMART line from San Rafael to Santa Rosa Airport. Test trains are already running on the line, and full passenger service is expected to start some time this summer.

The bad news about that is that, because the line is now occupied, we’ll never again be able to ride a Speeder on it as we did ten years ago!