Mark Douglas was worried about his house in Rincon Valley after he and his family evacuated the night of Oct. 8. But he was also worried about his baseball fields.
Douglas has been president of Rincon Valley Little League since July. And almost immediately after the fires shattered the peace of Wine Country, he started to get texts. One neighbor told him point blank: “Your park’s gone.”
How could it not be? Douglas had seen the massive flames descend the hills nestled by Riebli and Calistoga roads. The Little League fields were directly in their path. Sometime on Oct. 9, Douglas gathered a few other board members and headed to the facilities, expecting the worst.
“As we drove through the neighborhood around the fields, house after house was gone,” Douglas recalled. “We get there and we pull up, and we see a Jeep behind a fence, and two kids. Immediately, we were like, ‘trespassers.’ Then we see their faces, and I’m like, ‘I know these kids.’”
Indeed he did. It was Brady and Bryce Cannon, who had spent much of their lives haunting the ballpark in Rincon Valley. They and their mother’s boyfriend, Chris Carter, had spent the previous several hours busily tamping down hotspots and building impromptu firebreaks. Just the three of them.
The league suffered heavy damage to its equipment, losing the golf carts, mowers, screens for batting practice, etc., that were locked up in several metal storage containers. But the fields, grandstands and main buildings stand intact, defying the scorched earth that surrounds them. They are testament to Carter, the Cannon brothers and their determination to preserve a community treasure.
The Cannons’ recollection of the fire will sound familiar to anyone who was evacuated that night. Bryce, 15 and a sophomore at Maria Carrillo, smelled the smoke first and went into his mom’s backyard (the boys split time with their father in Lake County) just as the fire crested the hill and took aim at the city below.
He woke the rest of the household. They packed a few bags, banged on some neighbors’ doors and took off for a safe haven in Sebastopol.
Sitting around and waiting for news did not suit Brady Cannon, a 17-year-old senior. He is not a typical high school kid.
“When I walk into a building, I like to know where the exits are, what kind of people are sitting around me, focus on their eye movements and stuff,” Brady told me by phone from his father’s house. “You can’t let it consume you, then you become paranoid. But a basic understanding of where to go if you need to, that’s not paranoid. It’s just common sense.”
Part of Brady’s preparedness is a perpetually packed go bag. In it he keeps food, water, medical supplies, flares, compasses and other items that might come in handy in a crisis. He was far more ready than most when the fires hit.
Early on the morning of Oct. 9, Carter and the Cannon boys were stir-crazy. They were desperate to help in some capacity. Lisa Carter didn’t want her younger son to go, but Bryce, with much effort, talked her into it. The three men (it’s hard to call them boys when they have more or less formed a volunteer fire company) picked up Carter’s Jeep and drove into Rincon Valley.