Outdoor recreation puts Sonoma Valley high on the livability index, but this week’s fires have shown the dark side of living close to nature.
State parks including Sugarloaf Ridge in Kenwood and Jack London near Glen Ellen have been in the thick of it, as have Sonoma County’s Hood Mountain and Sonoma Valley regional parks.
The fate of these regions vary, but common to all are stories of heroic human efforts in the face of natural disaster, with lives saved and precious environments salvaged – as well as heart-breaking loss.
Sugarloaf Ridge is one of the Valley’s signature natural areas, and at press time the park itself seems to have escaped with little damage. But the only access leading up to it, Adobe Canyon Road, has lost several homes, though the residents were safely evacuated, thanks in large measure to the quick action of park director John Roney.
Late Sunday night, as the winds picked up, Roney was told there were power lines and a tree down blocking Adobe Canyon Road. He called the Kenwood Fire Department, but they told him they had six fires to deal with, and weren’t sure when they’d get to Adobe Canyon. Realizing the growing gravity of the situation, Roney knew he had to take care of it himself.
“When we got to Adobe Canyon, there were fires on both sides of the highway,” Roney said. “We were able to squeeze past the tree, and head up to the park to tell campers they should get out because there was a fire coming.”
Returning to the tree with chainsaws were Bill Seiffert and other campground staff, who cleared the obstruction – the downed wires were telephone lines, not power lines – but by then the fire department was telling everyone to evacuate. He drove back up the road, horn honking to alert the residents, and with campground staffer Julie Meyers got all the campers and Robert Ferguson Observatory staff to flee.
On the way back down, he met state park ranger Erin Bram from Annadel who helped him knock on doors all the way down Adobe Canyon Road, telling people to get out. They finished about 4:45 a.m. Monday.
Several homes on the road in the low-lying area, in the first mile or so of the canyon on the right side leading into the park, were lost to fire that day, said Roney.
As far as the park itself, a slow-moving fire was at the top of Sugarloaf Ridge, on the north side of the park, but it was difficult to see its progress because of smoke, said Roney on Wednesday.
Not faring as well was the Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Bouverie Preserve, the 535-acre estate outside of Glen Ellen. According to Audubon communications manager Wendy Coy, “We’re eager to survey it but, at a glance, there are areas that were low-severity burns – some that we prepped earlier in the year with pile burns and 17 acres of controlled burns – and other areas that appeared to be high-severity burns.”
But the buildings on the property were for the most part lost. This includes the Gilman Hall Education Center which was a total loss, plus staff housing for three families and other office space.
Only two buildings were saved from the flames: former owner David Bouverie’s Old World manor, and the more modest cottage known as MFK Fisher’s Last House. “Quick-thinking efforts on the part of Sasha Berleman, our fire ecologist, and a couple of neighbors and relatives helped to save David’s house and Last House,” said Coy. The neighbors included Kevin Olson and Conny Gustafsson.