Moon Mountain residents pay tribute to firefighters who defended Valley

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The plaque dedication is open to the public and will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 849 Moon Mountain Road. Parking is very limited.

Sometimes the words “thank you” are sincerely expressed along with a hug and a smile, or shared in writing in a heartfelt note on beautiful paper. Other times the need for something more dramatic arises.

When firefighters save your home, and every home on your entire street – by creating a firebreak that ultimately saved a large section of the Valley – there’s a desire to express appreciation in permanent way.

Longtime Sonoma residents Gary and Marcia Nelson commissioned a monument in honor of the firefighters who fought the October 2017 wildfires that swept through Sonoma Valley. It will be dedicated in a ceremony on their property at 849 Moon Mountain Road on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2:30 p.m. Cal Fire firefighters, Mayor Amy Harrington and residents of Moon Mountain Road will attend. The public is welcome although parking is very limited.

Sonoma artist Jim Callahan created a sculpture of a firefighter that is mounted atop a large brass plaque. The plaque is mounted on a 7,240-pound boulder, and the monument is very clearly visible off the side of Moon Mountain Road. Sonoma artist Keith Wicks designed the overall structure and was the manager of the project.

“We are so grateful that the firefighters saved our home and for the professionalism they show working on behalf of the community every day,” said Gary Nelson. “What they did during the wildfires was amazing and heroic. We wanted to do something to show how much the people of the Valley appreciate their work.” (Nelson is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which publishes the Index-Tribune.)

The Nelsons had evacuated to Bodega Bay during the fires. While watching the local news, they saw a firefighter being interviewed standing right in front of new, barn-style building that houses a dance studio that they had recently built on the property where they have lived for many years. “It took our breath away.” Marcia said. She explained that the camera then panned back showing firefighters digging a long firebreak alongside their property. That firebreak may have saved Moon Mountain Road, and ultimately kept the fire from reaching Highway 12 and the Springs.

Cal Fire Captain Matt Ryan was the incident commander of that operation, and will be in attendance at the ceremony, along with Cal Fire commanders Sean Jerry, Steve Millosovich and Joe Buchmeier, who also fought the fires in the Valley.

After watching the news report the Nelsons were walking in Bodega Bay and noticed a monument honoring the Coast Guard. It was what initially gave them the idea of having a monument in Sonoma honoring the firefighters. Early efforts not long after the fires to perhaps have the monument on the Plaza or at the entrance to the Valley became bogged down in the “bureaucratic process,” Gary Nelson said, and they changed their focus to Moon Mountain Road.

“I’m glad it is somewhere where people can walk by and get a glimpse of what really went on up here,” Marcia Nelson said. “And that future passersby will feel the gratitude that we feel for this whole area being saved.”

Callahan, who created the sculpture of General Vallejo sitting on a bench on the Sonoma Plaza, said he truly wanted to create a public art piece recognizing the firefighters. “Ever since they put the mask on General Vallejo I’d been thinking about this,” he said, referring to a widely circulated photo of the statue wearing the white masks that were omnipresent during the fires.

“The firefighters are selfless, brave, strong people who show up and get between you and danger and this celebrates all that they do,” he said. He explained that the firefighter on the monument is giving the visual command for the establishment of a fire line.

The Nelsons are delighted that Callahan and Wicks took on the project. “Keith and Jim are the artistic geniuses of the community,” Gary Nelson said.

The words on the plaque thank the firefighters for their “tireless efforts” in the wildfire. “Establishing a fire line on this road prevented the Nuns Canyon wildfires from spreading to Boyes Hot Springs and Sonoma, thereby saving them. Over 150 brave men and women set up camps from 849 Moon Mountain up to the Christmas tree farm and Martini & Repris wineries to successfully extinguish the fast approaching wild fire.”

“I hope people come and get their picture taken by it,” Marcia Nelson said.

Although Moon Mountain is a road used almost entirely by residents, it is a popular walking spot, and many people are expected to walk by on foot, now and for generations to come.

Hopefully it will remind them to be thankful. For the beauty of the natural environment, the homes that exist there, and firefighters who protect it.

The plaque dedication is open to the public and will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 849 Moon Mountain Road. Parking is very limited.

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