We’d just had a party for all the volunteers who helped with Levi’s Gran Fondo. I went to bed early, and as I was headed upstairs I said, “There’s gonna be a fire.” It just felt weird…the static in the air, the dryness, the heat. The wind was weird. I’ve lived here for my whole life, I know what fire weather is like.
At midnight I woke up and I could smell it. The window was cracked open just a little bit so there was a really strong smell of smoke.
A lot of people were saying, “This fire took the same path as the Hanley fire in ‘64 so they should have known.” It took four days for that fire to burn as far as this thing did in four hours! So there was no model for what was happening.
I’m a ham operator, so I’ve got radios, and we were listening so we really had a good idea [of] the lack of control that anybody had over what was happening because we were hearing over the radio fire crews that were in certain locations, whether it’s Annadel or Calistoga Road or Fountaingrove. And constantly we heard things like, “We’re going to stand down on this one,” “We’re going to retreat on this one,” and “We're not going to touch this, we're gonna let it go.” And then we would hear things like, “Guys, we need an engine. Can you send an engine?” And there would be a pause. Then the woman on dispatch would say, “I’m sorry, guys, I have nothing for you. It’s gonna be a while.”
Then they lit a back burn. And I remember the panic on social media and people were texting me. They’re like, ”Dude, the whole park’s going up! It’s burning!” I had been listening on the radio, so I heard them talking about letting it go up. And as soon as I realized that they were actually lighting fires [to fight the fire] and how intelligent the approach was, it made me realize that the upper hand was being won. The tone on the radio changed to, “We’re controlling this thing.” The public still wasn't getting as much information as they wanted to feel comfortable. But for me, when they lit that back burn, it was the moment it seemed like we could focus on what we needed to do because this was gonna come to an end.
Don Winkle, my attorney, called me. I think it was Tuesday night and he said Natalie and Vinny, who own Russian River Brewing, want to partner with King Ridge Foundation. And they want to create a fundraiser for low-income displaced families. Within 24 hours, we had built a website. We had the board’s approval. We had direction on what we were going to do, how we were going to channel the funds. In the first three days, we raised about $120,000. The idea was that all of these breweries would come together and create a beer called Sonoma Pride. Basically, they’re giving their label away for breweries to make a beer with 100 percent of the proceeds coming back to King Ridge Foundation. And because we're here and because we're run by volunteers, and the board is run by volunteers, there’s no administrative overhead.