Graham Rutherford PRINCIPAL,
CARDINAL NEWMAN HIGH SCHOOL, SANTA ROSA
I was at Lake Tahoe to celebrate my sister’s birthday and
my son was at home alone in Windsor and told me what was
going on. When I went online to the Press Democrat I saw a
picture of Willi’s Wine Bar engulfed in flames, and that is
on the corner right near Cardinal Newman and I thought,
“that’s not good.” When we got home we tried to get onto
campus but of course roads were blocked, but I was able to
see a video of the destruction of the front administration
buildings and the library and 20 classrooms, so I had kind
of an idea of what to expect. But to see it the next morning
was pretty shocking.
My office was a museum of my personal history from
being a child on up, all kinds of stuff important to me, school
things, and it was just a flat pile of ashes. But it was remarkable that we didn’t lose all of the school. Trying to process
it all and make a plan, I realized it isn’t just us that has had
a fire, it is everything around us. The utility poles and lines
are all down, burnt up, so when would we be able to come
back to campus? We just don’t know.
The fires continued all week and the evacuations continued
all week. So, you’re on edge, trying to scramble to do something, but you are also worried about, “do we have to move out
of our own homes?” We had t wo teachers who were burned
out. Multiple people had to evacuate. About 90 families, one-sixth of the school, have lost their homes. A significant number.
We wanted to make sure people felt supported. We were trying
to get our balance and plan for the school community, but it
was constantly shifting. It was chaos.
The next week we had a little more time to put some
plans together. We were able to set up two sites in Rohnert
Park and Windsor to create a retreat experience for the students where they could come together, see each other, write
thank-you notes to first responders, give our professional
counselors a chance to see who needed particular help.
Faculty and staff also got back together as a group at St.
Rose Hall downtown, so we got everybody together to restart
the school year and talk about working online and remind
everybody what we’re doing and how we can’t hold on to how
we always did things or prefer to do, but the number one thing
is taking care of our students because we understand that the
community is the people, it is not the buildings.
Peter Lang OWNER, SAFARI WEST
About 10 p.m. Sunday evening our ranch manager who
heard there was a fire came up to our home ranch, which
is about a mile away from Safari West, and got Nancy and
me out of bed, because he knew how urgent it was. We got
the dogs and Nancy grabbed a few items, but you know how
ladies don’t go any where without their purse: Nancy forgot
her purse, which tells you something.
Nancy took our dogs and drove with our ranch manager
out through the flames and I followed them. We got down to
the property and the sheriff immediately wanted to evacu-
ate everybody, so I just sort of let everybody go and I stayed.
We have a lot of spigots and hoses all around the property, which is 400 acres, around 1,000 animals. I used all
the hoses I could, connecting them, putting out fires wherever I could put them out, going back and forth around
the property through the night. I didn’t need a flashlight
because the fires provided all the light I needed. I never
wear a hoodie, but for some reason I grabbed a hoodie that
night so I soaked it with water and put the hood over my
head. It would last about 10 minutes before it would dry out,
so I would soak it again.
Fires were burning in parts of the hyenas’ area, so I would
put the fires out wherever they popped up. The hyenas were
a little freaked out. It burned up to the rhinos. And it burned
right up to behind our guest tents on the mountain. There
was a group of five Nyala antelope up on that side of the
mountain and they got burned into a corner. I climbed over
the fence and scared them until they jumped over an area
where the fire was just one foot high and were able to get
away. I used a forklift and moved large piles of wooden posts
away from the fire because it was so much fuel.
I was looking up at the mountain across the road and
watched the whole thing burn, four houses. I had to let my
neighbor’s house next door go because it was just too much.
I have been around fire, on ranches, but I have never seen
anything like this fire. I guess I got lucky, everything started
going for me. The big winds died down. It was a small breeze
encouraging the fire to creep down the mountainside above
us rather than roar down. We lost some vehicles but I was
able to save our buildings and all of our animals.
At 8: 30 a.m one of our employees was able to get through
to come up to the park. I was very happy to see him.
The fires continued all week, so we were concerned and
working on the property. In fact, I was not able to change out
of the clothes I put on Sunday night until the following Friday.
We talked about when we will reopen. I do not want
guests to have to drive up Mark West Springs Road and see
all the burned homes and fire devastation. We were planning to open in the spring but we reopened Thanksgiving
week due to hundreds of requests to see the animals.
Marie McAlpin FOUNTAINGROVE
NEIGHBORHOOD, SANTA ROSA
I couldn’t sleep; we had tremendous winds, up to 80 miles
an hour; and it was throwing our patio furniture around
ABOUT 90 FAMILIES, ONE-SIXTH OF
THE SCHOOL, HAVE LOST THEIR HOMES.
A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER.