Mariana Eakle, 11, woke to the smell of smoke seeping into her Fountaingrove house on Park Gardens Drive and alerted her parents, Lori Barekman and Wade Eakle, about 1:45 a.m.
“We could see so much smoke and all the reflections of the fire from our back deck,” Barekman said.
After conferring with neighbors, Barekman and her family decided to flee. All of her neighbors left, too.
“No one that I know of stayed,” she said. “We were on the top and it was coming toward you. All of our neighbors are out. … The main thing is we’re all safe. We’re all good.”
Fire from the glow she saw from her deck would soon reach the Fountaingrove area, bringing unimaginable destruction to the upscale hillside neighborhood.
While the toll of the firestorm has not yet been tallied, the damage is widespread. Flames leveled block after block of homes in Fountaingrove and destroyed or damaged several prominent businesses, including the Fountaingrove Inn, its Equus restaurant and several structures at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country.
For Tracy Weitzenberg, a peaceful Sunday evening spiraled into a sleepless, nightmarish night that would end with her beloved Fountaingrove home in ashes.
Weitzenberg and her husband, Todd, a physician at Kaiser Permanente, had lived there for 15 years and just sent their youngest son off to college at UC Davis. They got two weeks as empty-nesters.
“Now I have a real empty nest,” Weitzenberg said, a moment of levity at the end of a day of both strength and desperation.
She first caught the scent of smoke in the air when she went out on her deck around 10:20 p.m. but didn’t think much of it, believing it was from a distant Napa County fire. But around 11:30 p.m. they got a call from friends who were evacuating from their home off Porter Creek Road and urged them to do the same.
Her husband started packing furiously, but Weitzenberg remained less concerned, she said.
“I have a pretty positive attitude, so I still wasn’t thinking it was going to happen to my house,” said Weitzenberg, director of public policy for the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.
But when the power went out and she went to charge her cellphone in her car, Weitzenberg saw her Southridge Drive neighbors gathered in the street looking with concern at a sky glowing ominously. Her younger brother, who lives higher up on Fountaingrove, said he could see the fire approaching.
Worried they could be trapped in their hillside cul-de-sac, the couple scooped up their dogs, Trix and Puka, and went to help their parents evacuate from their homes in the nearby Hidden Valley neighborhood. They made their way down to her father’s law firm, Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery, where they huddled in a conference room around 4 a.m. and spent much of the day.
Though she was still optimistic that somehow her home survived, every new bit of information — the loss of a new fire station up the hill, the destruction of the shopping center near her home housing Sweet T’s — seemed to confirm her worst fears.
Then a friend of one of her sons swung by the street and sent a picture of what little was left. In one photo she could see the basketball hoop where her sons, who both played the game in high school, spent so many hours enjoying the only home they’d ever known. Then it hit her.