On the morning of October 9, 2017, I drove up to Pope Valley to take part in the dedication of the Pioneer Cemetery. It was a glorious day, soft and warm, as I drove up Suisun Valley and Monticello Roads to the cemetery. The ceremony, hosted by the Brothers of Calistoga Parlor #86, was in a lovely setting, in a vineyard and was well attended. After the ceremony, the attendees went to the historic Hubcap Ranch for a barbeque lunch. After lunch, I drove down Deer Park Road, through Angwin, to the Silverado Trail and then to a friend’s birthday party. As I was driving down the trail, I was thinking that there are times when our Native State and the Napa Valley are truly the fairest portion of God’s Creation. The next day, October 10, I spent at home, doing chores, and getting ready for the work week ahead.
After I went to bed, my wife, Jennifer, came in and said, “the Silverado Trail is on fire.” I said, OK, and went back to sleep. Little did I know that she had told me about the beginning of one of the worst wildfires in the history of Sonoma, Solano and Napa counties. When I woke up the next day, the air was sharp with smoke. The rising sun was dim and everything was enveloped in a haze. I knew then that this was no normal fire. In fact, there were four fires burning, the Atlas Peak Fire, the Tubbs Fire, the Nuns Fire and the Pocket Fire. I went to work and during the day the smoke became thicker and thicker. When I got home, areas along Silverado Trail and in Sonoma County were under evacuation orders. I made the decision to open the Native Sons Hall in Napa for evacuees. I drove up to Napa and stayed with Chris Adams until about 10 p.m. that evening. We discovered that Brothers Bob and Dottie Streich had been evacuated and as the fires worsened, I made the decision to cancel the Parlor meeting for that night.
The next morning, the smoke was still thick in the air. Chris was at the Napa Hall, keeping it open and I went to work. The news was not good. None of the fires were contained and CalFire was stretched thin fighting fires from Butte County to Anaheim. By then the Tubbs Fire had burned into Santa Rosa and destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood. Ironically, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District called for a “Spare The Air” day due to poor air quality. I was in touch with Chris Adams and Brother Stephani Stephenson, who was helping out at the Napa College evacuation center. Even though the fires were out of control, everyone seemed to think that things were under control, even though some wineries were damaged and Santa Rosa was severely damaged. Early in the afternoon, I got a call from Chris and Stephani asking if we could take “overflow” donations at the Hall and possibly open up the kitchen for cooking meals for evacuees. I said, yes.
The next day, I went up to the hall and found it full of donations. There was bedding, new and used clothing, food, pallets of water, toiletries, games, toys and numerous household items. I had been in contact with PGP Dean Zellers and Brothers Pat and Barbie Hoffman in Sonoma. Since both Highways 121 and 37 were closed, getting to Sonoma was impractical but they all seemed to be fine. That day, Calistoga was evacuated and the Atlas Peak fire had burned into Solano County threatening Fairfield. All of the area schools were closed by then. I held a brief meeting of the Napa Hall Association which ended early because PGP Clark Brandt’s neighborhood was put under an evacuation advisory.
By Thursday, CalFire announced that the fires were still not contained and were burning out of control. Much of southwestern Fairfield was placed under an evacuation advisory and the Napa Hall was still accepting donations. Brothers Chris Adams and Shelia Gentry were organizing volunteers to sort and inventory what we had. I went up to help and spent the day sorting clothes, bedding and getting rid of trash. By early afternoon, we stopped taking donations and began to find a way to distribute what we had to those who needed it. By Friday, the Hall was mostly cleaned out. The food went to the Napa County Food Bank, the cash and gift cards went to Napa Valley COPE, for those in need and we had found storage for the bedding and clothing.
We still had a distribution problem, however. Over the weekend, Shelia had found a commercial laundry in Sacramento to launder the used clothing and bedding, some 20,000 pounds of it. We arranged for a truck and trailer and that was accomplished. Grand Trustee George Adams arranged for a store front in Riverpark Shopping Center to become a pop up distribution center and Stephani and Shelia began work on designing and opening the space. Volunteers were called in, insurance obtained, and by the end of the week, the store front was opened with a second serving as a storage facility.
Currently, Napa Parlor, along with other community volunteers, is operating the distribution center for those in need on a volunteer basis. All of the clothing, bedding, and nonfood items are available to victims of the fires for free. The store will be open until the end of November, at which time all of the items left will be donated to local charities and the Salvation Army.
As I write this, I cannot tell you how proud I am of the Brothers of Napa Parlor for their efforts during this time of need. I know that this has been a departure from my normal Retro Ramblings as it has been more rambling than retro but the Napa Wildfires have been one of the worst disasters in our history. As I write this, the fires are still not fully contained, over 335 square miles have been burned, over 8000 structures destroyed, including several historic and local landmarks, damage has been estimated at greater than $3 Billion, nearly 100,000 people were evacuated, and so far 42 have lost their lives.
Napa and Sonoma will recover and once again become the wine capital of the state but this will be a memorable event in the history of our Beloved State.