Fire & Frost

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

It seems very strange to have to discuss both raging fires and frosty mornings in the same article, but that’s the way things are at the moment. Not only are we still recovering from the Wine Country fires here during October, but substantial new fires are burning right now in Southern California.

Last week, I was asked to go back the Fountaingrove site of my employer, Keysight, for the first time since the premises were closed due to the Tubbs Fire. The photo above shows how trees burned right up to the south side of Keysight’s Building 4, although the building itself was saved.

Nonetheless, all four main buildings suffered internal smoke damage, due to particles sucked in by the ventilation system from the fires outside. Therefore, we went into our former work site last week, with instructions to sort through everything and triage it as: personal items for removal, company-owned items for cleaning, or trash. Everything that will stay on the site must be cleaned before it can be reused, so eventually we will probably have one of the cleanest workplaces in the county!

The only buildings at Keysight that were completely destroyed by the fire were the two relatively small “Vista” buildings, the remains of which are shown below. Those were always relatively insubstantial structures.

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Complete Destruction… Almost

Next to the Parker Hill Road entrance to Keysight is a residential area known as Hidden Valley Estates. As shown below, the fire destroyed almost everything in the northern part of Hidden Valley; the entire neighborhood has been wiped out. This Google Streetview shows the same location before the fire.

Devastation in Hidden Valley

Devastation in Hidden Valley

There was also a satellite school next to the Keysight entrance on Parker Hill Road, but that burned down.

I say almost everything was destroyed, because, as shown in my photo below, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall on Parker Hill Road seems to have escaped completely unscathed.

Jehovah's Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

Jehovah’s Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

It will be interesting to learn why that particular building survived while everything around it succumbed. Did it have a fireproof roof, or did its isolation in a car park help to protect it?

First Frost of the Season

Moving on to a happier subject, I awoke this morning to the first frost of this Winter season, as shown in my photo of Village Green Park below. As you can see, nearly all the leaves have fallen now, but the church at the far corner of the park has just acquired a new spire, which is actually a covering for a cellphone antenna!

Village Green Park with Frost

Village Green Park with Frost

My photo below shows the antenna cover being mounted on the church, in the rain about a month ago.

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Our thoughts go out to those in Southern California who are now having to endure what many in our area went through in October. We hope that the new fires will be brought under control very quickly.

Devastation in Larkfield

 

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

The photo above shows Chelsea Drive, Larkfield, just north of Santa Rosa, as it appeared yesterday. Google Streetview shows how this street looked before the fire.

As I mentioned in a previous post, between 2011-13, we lived in a house in Larkfield. That house just escaped the devastation of the Tubbs Fire, but elsewhere nearby entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. Chelsea Drive, shown above, is a few hundred yards south of the street in which we lived.

During the time that we lived there, our local grocery store was Molsberry Market. There are still a few items that I can get only there, so, yesterday, I visited the area for the first time since the disaster.

Fortunately, Molsberry Market itself, and the shopping center in which it’s situated, seem to have escaped unscathed. Yesterday, the sign below was posted on the store’s front door.

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

A Thankyou event for First Responders was taking place at the store, and presumably the poster was produced by local schoolchildren. On the bottom right of the poster, it says, “Thanks for Saving Molsberrys”.

Ramsgate Court

The Eastern end of the street immediately north of where we lived, Ramsgate Court, was completely destroyed. The image below shows the view looking East. Our favorite restaurant, Cricklewood, stood on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway, behind the stop sign in the photo.

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Here again is the Google Streetview version.

This tragic scene reminded me of some of those old photos we see of World War II battlefields. Although many of the tree trunks survived, I’m not sure how many of the trees are still alive. In some areas, many are already being felled.

Northtown Animal Hospital

From Larkfield, the burned area stretches south all the way down Old Redwood Highway as far as Fountaingrove.

The veterinary hospital that looked after our cats, when we lived in that area, was Northtown Animal Hospital. The sign in front of the building still seems to be in perfect condition…

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

…but sadly the building itself did not survive, as shown below.

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

The scene below shows the burned area on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway from the Northtown Hospital. The cables hanging from the trees are power lines that were downed during the fire. (Fortunately, in our housing development, all cables are “undergrounded”, so we don’t have aerial cables like these.)

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

There’s no question that it will take a long time to rebuild many of these neighborhoods, and that work is just beginning. Those of us who were lucky enough to escape the devastation can only do what we can to help in the rebuilding process.

Valley of the Moon Highway Reopens

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Yesterday, the road through Sonoma Valley (aka State Highway 12, or the Valley of the Moon Scenic Highway) reopened fully for the first time since the recent fires. The photo above shows my car parked at the Valley of the Moon Winery, near Madrone. The vineyard is undamaged, but you can see scorched hillsides in the background.

Assuming that I could get there, I’d been planning to attend the reopening of the Sonoma Depot Park Museum, but that has been postponed due to the fires. Thus my journey yesterday took me only as far down the valley as Madrone.

The photo below shows a closeup of grapes still on the vines in front of the winery, while the charred hillsides are visible beyond.

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Fire in the Hills

The distinctive Ledson Winery chateau, near Oakmont, was featured in recent television news reports of the firefighting efforts in Sonoma Valley.

My photo below shows the aftermath. The winery is apparently undamaged, but was closed yesterday when I visited. The fire-scorched hills beyond are clearly visible.

LedsonWineryBurnedCright

Ledson Winery with Charred Hillsides beyond

Fire in the Valley

Sadly, some parts of the valley floor did not escape destruction. My photo below shows a roadside area near Beltane Ranch (between Oakmont and Madrone), where houses and barns stood before the fire. You can see the charred ground and trees.

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

There is even worse damage alongside Route 12 elsewhere, but yesterday in those locations the police, and even the National Guard, were mounting a heavy presence, to deter looters or souvenir hunters.

More details of the damage are provided in this San Francisco Chronicle article.

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.