Michael Furlong hasn’t forgotten the feeling he had early on the morning of Oct. 9 when he had to evacuate his Glen Ellen home ahead of the Nuns fire.
Nor has he forgotten how it felt realizing that all his neighbors had left without a knock on his door or the honk of a horn to warn him of the peril.
“By the time I realized I had to evacuate, my neighborhood was empty,” he said Sunday. “My neighbors had left and I had no idea what was going on.”
Furlong doesn’t begrudge his neighbors, and he’s not stewing on it. Instead, he realized that if a community action plan had been in place neighbors would have been more likely to alert each other before fleeing the flames.
So he worked with the Glen Ellen Forum, a community group in the process of obtaining nonprofit status, to host a free turkey dinner Sunday for hundreds of Glen Ellen residents at the Valley of the Moon Winery.
Madrone Estate chef Sam Badolato, along with other local chefs and culinary students, cooked the dinner, which included stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and was large enough to feed 400 people. The 117 birds were donated by Costco in northeast San Jose and cooked on 30 kettle grills donated by Weber and later raffled off.
Rich Little, of Glen Ellen’s Little Vineyards Family Winery, and his band provided the soundtrack for the gathering, and Madrone Estate supplied the wine.
Nearly a quarter of Glen Ellen’s homes — 183 — were destroyed by fire, along with 192 other structures, and most residents were evacuated for nearly two weeks.
For the Glen Ellen Forum, the fires also caused a reappraisal of priorities. Two months before the fires, Furlong had presented the group a “Five-Year Plan” including such items as increasing its social media presence, developing a more pedestrian-friendly downtown area and initiating a village farmers market and community garden.
The immediate needs are more essential now, underpinned with the goal of building greater community engagement.
Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Steve Akre said greater communication between emergency responders and community groups is vital.
The Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority started providing fire services to Glen Ellen on July 1 after taking over a contract from the largely volunteer Glen Ellen Fire Department. Fire officials plan to hold community meetings and trainings in Glen Ellen in early 2018 to collaborate on future emergency planning, Akre said.
“It was part of our plan even before the fires, but now it’s taken on a new importance,” he said.
Stacey Vilas pointed to a large map of Glen Ellen spread across a table. Vilas is on the forum’s traffic and safety committee, which prior to the fire was focused on creating safe roadways for pedestrians. Now its focus is creating a community action plan for emergencies.
Vilas, a retired police officer, said if just a few residents on each street kept track of their neighbors and developed a specific evacuation plan for each resident, chaos and confusion could be averted if fire comes again.
Vilas and her wife, Sandy Strassberg, left Glen Ellen at 3 a.m. the first morning of the fire with their 15-year-old goat named Darkstar after hearing explosions in the distance and noticing Arnold Drive packed with traffic.