Cal Fire Battalion Chief Gino DeGraffenreid was about to jump back into his truck after loading a fleeing family into a police car when he thought he heard someone yelling amid the roaring wind and fire in the hills northeast of Santa Rosa.
He ran toward the voice and saw them: a couple wearing next to nothing, freezing amid an unprecedented fire belching smoke and raining firebrands.
“They were soaking wet,” DeGraffenreid said. “They had awoken to a smoke detector, jumped in the pool and for about an hour had been in the pool trying to stay away from heat.”
He wrapped them in T-shirts, put them into his truck and caravaned with police down Michele Way to Mark West Springs Road, a white-knuckle trip with fire and intense heat — a burning neighborhood already wiped clean of all that had once been so familiar.
“All of the landmarks — the houses, the fences, the goofy Volkswagen bug — all of the visual landmarks were gone,” DeGraffenreid said.
Gale-force winds fueled an unprecedented number of wildfires that started almost simultaneously after night fell Oct. 8 in places across the North Coast region, killing at least 40 people in four counties and forcing entire communities to evacuate, including about 50,000 Sonoma County residents.
The battle to contain fires covering more than 178,000 acres across the region continues still.
Tracing the start of what’s now called the Tubbs fire — named for its origin near Tubbs Lane just north of the Calistoga city limits — shows how one fire overwhelmed emergency personnel, erupting amid Diablo winds on a Sunday night when many were asleep.
In just over four hours, the Tubbs fire made a horrific 12-mile run from Calistoga, in the northern edge of the Napa Valley, into a dense city neighborhood in west Santa Rosa. It raced through ranches and rural communities, sweeping through million-dollar homes in Santa Rosa’s hillside Fountaingrove development and tract neighborhoods in Larkfield-Wikiup. At 2 a.m., the ferocity of the firestorm propelled it across Highway 101, an unprecedented leap that spread flames into a commercial district on Cleveland Avenue and hundreds of tightly packed homes in Coffey Park.
The fire traveled at a pace of about 3 mph, burning up about an acre a minute while spewing burning embers a half-mile or more ahead, forcing entire neighborhoods to flee in the middle of the night.
“For a fire to move that fast is incredible,” said Eric Hoffman, a retired assistant chief with Cal Fire who rejoined the state fire agency to help manage the firefight and later calculated the fire’s speed.
Authorities have said nothing about what caused the fire.
One week ago, as dry, strong winds began to buffet the region after night fell, fires began erupting in a chaotic pattern across Sonoma County, like bombs going off in every direction.
Flames engulfed a home on Mark West Station Road near the Sonoma County Airport. An electrical box was smoking on Maverick Court in the hills above Larkfield. Officers went door to door in Santa Rosa’s West End neighborhood as a Pierson Street home burned.
The 50 mph winds flung branches every which way and knocked drought-stricken trees off weakened roots, combining with downed power lines to block major roads from Highway 101 in Sonoma County to Highway 128 north of Calistoga.
California pot: Smoke it (or eat it) if you can get it
OAKLAND — It wasn’t exactly reefer madness Monday as California launched the first legal sales of recreational marijuana, but those who could find the drug celebrated the historic day, lining up early for ribbon cuttings, freebies and offerings ranging from cookies to gummy bears to weed with names like heaven mountain.
Jeff Deakin, 66, his wife Mary and their dog waited in the cold all night to be first in a line of 100 people when Harborside dispensary, a longtime medical pot shop in Oakland, opened at 6 a.m. and offered early customers joints for a penny and free T-shirts that read “Flower to the People — Cannabis for All.”
“It’s been so long since others and myself could walk into a place where you could feel safe and secure and be able to get something that was good without having to go to the back alley,” Deakin said. “This is kind of a big deal for everybody.”
Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo used a giant pair of scissors to cut a green ribbon, declaring, “With these scissors I dub thee free,” before ringing up the first customer at a cash register.
Sales were brisk in the shops lucky to score one of the roughly 100 state licenses issued so far, but customers in some of the state’s largest cities were out of luck. Los Angeles and San Francisco hadn’t authorized shops in time to get state licenses and other cities, such as Riverside and Fresno, blocked sales altogether.
Licensed shops are concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, around Palm Springs, San Jose and Santa Cruz, where the KindPeoples shop tacked up a banner Monday declaring, “Prohibition is Over!”
The state banned what it called “loco-weed” in 1913, though it has eased criminal penalties for use of the drug since the 1970s and was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996.
California voters in 2016 made it legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it wasn’t legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.
The nation’s most populous state now joins a growing list of states, and the nation’s capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
The signs that California was tripping toward legal pot sales were evident well before the stroke of midnight. California highways flashed signs before New Year’s Eve that said “Drive high, Get a DUI,” reflecting law enforcement concerns about stoned drivers. Weedmaps, the phone app that allows customers to rate shops, delivery services and shows their locations, ran a full-page ad Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that said, “Smile California. It’s Legal.”
Travis Lund, 34, said he’d been looking forward while working the graveyard shift to buy weed legally for the first time since he began smoking pot as a teen.
“I’m just stoked that it’s finally legal,” he said after purchasing an eighth of an ounce of “Mount Zion” and another type of loose leaf marijuana at Northstar Holistic Collective in Sacramento, where the fragrance of pot was strong. “I’m going to go home and get high — and enjoy it.”
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