Roger Halverson sat on the roof of his Santa Rosa mobile home 53 years ago, his 8 mm movie camera trained on the westernmost edge of the Hanly fire raging in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains.
With the shutter whirring in the background, Halverson filmed plumes of white, brown and black smoke filling the sky, nearly blotting out the sun. Wildfire bombers roared overhead, dropping fire retardant on the flames.
His father-in-law, who also lived in the Redwood Village Mobile Park on Airport Boulevard, just east of Fulton Road, said something that now haunts Halverson five decades later.
“He said ‘When that comes over the hill, we’re leaving,’ ” Halverson recalled. “It never did. ... They backfired to stop that from getting to the county hospital. There wasn’t all the homes and stuff up there in those days.”
Halverson, who is now 81 and lives on Arbolita Drive in west Santa Rosa, said he never imagined that an even more devastating fire would take the same path from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, jump Highway 101 and reach deeper into the city.
“I thought we would never see something like this last one,” Halverson said, referring to last month’s Tubbs fire, which destroyed 4,658 homes.
The Tubbs fire, he said, was propelled by winds far greater than what he felt during the Hanly fire. He said he remembers seeing smoke rise “straight up” during the 1964 fire.
Halverson, a native of Minnesota, was in his late 20s when he and his wife, Maryln, moved to Santa Rosa, where his wife’s family lived. Halverson said he had gotten into making home movies and had an extra roll of film when the Hanly fire erupted.
Halverson’s son, Ryan, 37, said the film was among a number of home movies he has converted to a digital format. The younger Halverson said the event — immortalized on 8 mm film — had become the topic of numerous dinner discussions over the years.
“It had kind of been a family story for a long time. My parents had always talked about it,” he said. “People had evacuated from the hills and my mom would talk about people coming in from the hills.”
Ryan Halverson said he also recalled his grandfather saying, “once the fire gets to the top of the hill, that’s going to be our signal to get out of here.”
He said the Hanly fire did reach the top of the hillside but “the wind shifted” and spared the city.
“My mom and I had a conversation about that ’64 fire two months ago,” Ryan said. “I never thought we’d have an almost identical path that the fire took. ... This time it actually made it all the way to the city.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @renofish.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here