The impact of this month’s fires on the Sonoma Valley are emotionally incalculable, but the numbers are starting to come in: though specifics on the actual number of houses destroyed or damaged are difficult to ascertain, the latest number is 5,791 structures county-wide – a number that, thankfully, has not changed since Wednesday.
Fifty people remain missing – down from initial counts of over 2,000 – with half of those, 25, outside of the City of Santa Rosa. Despite repeated efforts to get a count of the missing in Sonoma Valley, again, no specifics are being released.
So far, there is only one known Valley fatality, Lee Chadwick Roger, 72, of Glen Ellen.
One telling figure: Alex Young, the geographical information systems manager at the Sonoma Ecology Center, calculates that 28.5 percent of the Sonoma Valley has been burned.
When presented with that number, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Kirk Van Wormer didn’t bat an eye. “Basically, the entire east side of the Valley is black, from Oakmont all the way down to 121,” he said.
At times, it seemed the fire would never end. Almost a full week after the first blazes swept up Mark West Springs from Calistoga to Santa Rosa – and almost simultaneously, blazes erupted in Nuns Canyon and elsewhere in the Valley – that a new arm of the Nuns Fire reached into the residential area east of Sonoma, driven by renewed high winds.
Early on Saturday morning, Oct. 14, emergency mandatory evacuations along Castle, Lovall Valley, Thornsberry and Old Winery roads were called, though most residents had already left under the advisory evacuation called days earlier.
More than a dozen fire engines rushed to the area, and crews were dispatched to protect properties, including the historic Buena Vista Winery, known as the birthplace of the Sonoma Valley wine industry.
“Crews experienced some very intense, some very difficult fire conditions. They did an outstanding job,” said Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Steve Akre, who estimated hundreds of homes in the fire’s path had been saved.
A few were lost, however: a couple buildings on Castle Road, another on Half Moon Street, a house and garage on Seventh Street East, several more along easternmost Lovall Valley Road.
Saving Buena Vista was a drama that unfolded on live TV, as the iconic winery was well-covered by Bay Area news teams. “We watched it on KTVU Channel 2 as the fire swept to the edge of Buena Vista, right up to the buildings,” said Megan Long of Boisset Collection, which owns Buena Vista. But slowly, agonizingly slowly, things began to return to normal. On Monday some evacuation orders were lifted along Arnold Drive, south of Eldridge; Tuesday more people began to return to their homes in the Lovall Valley area; by Wednesday blue skies returned to the smoke-socked Sonoma Valley.
Fortunately there is now little doubt that containment is on the way, and the long process of recovery has begun. As of the latest Cal Fire update on the Central LNU Complex, Thursday, Oct. 19, the 36,432-acre Tubbs Fire (Calistoga to Santa Rosa) is 92 percent contained, the Sonoma Nuns Fire, which now includes both the Norbbom (sic) Fire and the Partrick Fire, totals 34,398 acres and is 82 percent contained; and the Pocket Fire north of Geyserville is 16,552 acres, 73 percent contained.