Residents of the bucolic Sonoma Valley found themselves bottled up in their narrow wine-growing region Monday between wildfires that raged across the parched southern hills of Sears Point and leveled lush estates and prized vineyards at the northern end of the valley near the quaint town of Kenwood.
And in the middle, in the heart of the Valley of the Moon, firefighters battled to save the landmark town of Glen Ellen, the historic home of Jack London, making a stand at key points in the village core as the hillsides around them erupted.
“We picked good spots we thought we could engage and make a stand,” said Bob Norrbom, battalion chief for Sonoma Valley Fire who helped manage the effort. “Glen Ellen is not out of the woods yet, but it’s looking pretty good.”
Sonoma Valley fire officials early Monday estimated a total of about 8,000 acres burned with the potential to spread to 20,000 acres. No update was available Monday night, by which time two smaller fires also had burned in the valley.
The Glen Ellen blaze, called the Nunn fire for its origin during the night near Nunns Canyon Road and Nelligan Road, spread down along Warm Springs Road to Sonoma Mountain Road and the Sonoma Developmental Center. By Monday evening, the most active arm of the fire was burning farther east, between Trinity and Cavedale roads in steep terrain.
“We just don’t have the resources. We have very, very limited resources because of the sheer volume of fires,” Norrbom said.
While firefighters tackled that front, another group battled flames in nearby Kenwood. That front moved west toward Bennett Valley and Monday night still was spurring evacuations on Santa Rosa’s eastern outskirts.
Large estate properties and beautifully manicured homes — along Highway 12, on Treehaven Lane and Court and parts of Greene Street — were reduced to rubble.
“This is the disaster we’ve all dreaded,” said Jay Gamel, who has lived in the Sonoma Valley for more than 35 years, and whose own home up Adobe Canyon Road — on the road to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park — remained under threat.
Kenwood was like a ghost town under slate skies, with most of the 1,200 residents evacuated and businesses closed down. A handful of people with dazed looks moved among the silent smoky streets in cars and pickups, checking on neighbors and searching for stray pets.
Caregivers helped safely evacuate six frail residents from a board and care home on Treehaven.
Homeowners on the east side of Greene Street saw the wildfire halted within a 100 yards of their homes.
Doug Clemo said he spent early Monday hosing down embers that touched his roof, while his neighbor, Ron Folla, fought off blazes that torched his trees. Both of their residences were intact in the morning.
“We were just up all night, running around yard to yard,” Clemo said.
The night’s mayhem was punctuated by exploding propane tanks.
“You could hear them blowing,” Clemo said.
Bijan Kazemi said he called in friends from Marin County and other places and pulled together a team that spent the night saving his home on the east side of Highway 12.
“I had a fire extinguisher, water stored and a generator,” he said, crediting two young firefighters from Bodega Bay, who his girlfriend had flagged down, with steering the fire around the house and saving it.
“I’m going to find you, Emily and Justin, and thank you,” he promised.
On the south end of Arnold Drive, Highway 121, flames crested Cougar Mountain behind the Sonoma Raceway as dawn broke. That fire was still visible to midday motorists on Highway 37, which had been closed earlier in the morning.
Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, issued a statement saying, “Our facilities team and a number of local fire companies have been battling grassland fires on Cougar Mountain and elsewhere around our property, and at this point it does not appear any of the raceway’s structures or other facilities are at immediate risk.”
Flames also menaced the end of rural Norrbom Road in the Schell-Vista fire district. That fire burned up to about 200 acres. “That caused a lot of consternation because it’s so close to the city of Sonoma,” Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Steve Akre said.
Yet another fire that started in Napa County burned south to Highway 121 near the old Stornetta dairy and damaged several structures in the area, Akre said.
Many roads in Sonoma Valley remained closed. They included Broadway east of Watmaugh in Sonoma, Arnold Drive in Agua Caliente and Calistoga Road in Rincon Valley, up to Mark West Springs Road.
An emergency shelter at Sonoma Valley High School on Broadway reported nearly 500 evacuees. A second center at Ramekins Culinary School on Spain Street was serving more than 100 evacuees.
Back north, Sugarloaf Ridge was almost completely cloaked in smoke most of the day. Flames ripped through the deeply wooded canyon, leveling at least 10 homes, Gamel said.
Chuck Easley, who owns a home and a small winery, La Rochelle, on Adobe Canyon Road, credited his dog with nudging him awake in the middle of the night and possibly saving his life.
“I woke up to Armageddon. This entire place was in flames. They were everywhere,” he said. Outside it looked as if it were the middle of the day. His brick and cinder block house survived, but his vineyard burned. Fortunately, he had already harvested his grapes.
“I pride myself on being a lucky person. But the fact we lucked out makes me feel guilty,” he said, lamenting that immediate neighbors were not so lucky.
The face of the historic Chateau St. Jean Winery off Highway 12 building appeared to be standing through heavy smoke cloaking the valley. Homes around the winery were destroyed, among them the picturesque Sonoma Lavender Farm and Barn just to the north.
Rebecca and Gary Rosenberg, who had developed the property over 30 years, were vacationing in Utah.
“We’re not lamenting everything that is lost,” Gary Rosenberg said. “The most important thing is our kids and our dogs and each other, are all fine.
“We’re going to rebuild. But for now our whole energy is going into figuring out where we’re going to live for the next two to three years.”
Staff Writer Kevin McCallum and Jason Walsh of the Sonoma Index-Tribune contributed to this report.