Along Highway 12 through Sonoma Valley, world-famous vineyards beginning to show off their brilliant fall hues are now juxtaposed against a jarring backdrop of mountains blackened by flames.
Majestic parklands ringing the valley have been scarred, including Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and Hood Mountain Regional Park near Kenwood, where flames Sunday continued to send a massive plume of smoke into the sky visible for miles, fueling fresh rivulets of anxiety for both residents and firefighters.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tom Siragusa, an assistant chief for the San Francisco Fire Department and Petaluma resident who has worked in the fire service for 40 years, said Sunday morning while standing watch with members of his strike team at a home at the end of White Circle Drive in Oakmont.
The hillside home borders the eastern edge of Trione-Annadel State Park, where flames chewed through the undergrowth and came dangerously close to the neighborhood of exclusive estates.
Elsewhere in Sonoma Valley, the rampage continued unabated. Along large swaths of territory and in pockets of small, historic communities, dozens of homes and other structures have been lost and landscapes distorted. This is the new reality, and with evacuation orders still in effect for much of the area, it’s one relatively few people have yet seen.
It will be shocking.
The valley normally hums along on an economy largely built on winemaking and tourism. Both are likely to suffer as a result of fire damage.
Winemaker Steve Ledson said late Sunday his castle-like Highway 12 winery, which has not been damaged by fire despite flames drawing close, remains closed due to power outages. The same is true of his Sonoma hotel and crush facility, which also are closed.
Ledson said his crews have been unable to harvest 100 tons of cabernet grapes hanging on vines on Cavedale Road due to emergency response to fires there. He is working on plans to help his 150 employees financially through this period of unexpected upheaval. But he acknowledged the unavoidable impacts of going without a paycheck for any length of time.
“When they’re not working, how do they pay for their rent and gas? It’s a chain reaction,” Ledson said.
Outside his Highway 12 home near Kenwood on Sunday afternoon, Will Carpenter still appeared dazed as he looked eastward across vineyards at a massive plume of smoke rising above Sugarloaf.
Speaking through a mask covering his mouth, the registered nurse expressed “heartbreak” over the scarring of the beloved parks he and countless others escape to for recreation and quiet.
The sound has been replaced with sirens, the whir of firefighting aircraft and someday soon, hammers and chainsaws.
“It’s going to go from a sleepy little place to a construction zone,” Carpenter said.
On Adobe Canyon Road leading to Sugarloaf, numerous homes have been destroyed by the inferno. Flames still coursed along the hillsides Sunday, bringing fresh anxiety for Harry Trembley.
The Emeryville resident said he spent more than three years building the 2,600-square-foot home on Adobe Canyon Road where his 83-year-old mother lives — and where she has remained despite evacuation orders.
“I’m going to do what I can to defend it,” Trembley said.