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Wayne Reynolds, 81, and Caryn Fried, 72, sort through the remains of thousands of pieces of pottery they both created at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. The couple also lost to the Glass fire their home and Christmas tree farm on the 4-acre property where they lived for 32 years. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

’I’m starting over. But this time I’m 72’: Trio of homeowners share loss, hopes for the future after Glass fire

A week after the Glass fire swept down into the Sonoma Valley, Caryn Fried watched a TV news segment on an elderly couple, a pair of artists who’d lost their home and business to the flames.

Her heart went out to them. “I was like, ’Oh my gosh this is so terrible, what’s happened to these people!’ ”

Those people, as it happened, were her and her husband, whose house and business, Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12, were destroyed in the fire.

So overwhelming was her loss, Fried figured, that she dealt with the news segment by witnessing it “as an outsider looking in.”

“I’m kind of numb, to tell you the truth. I’m having a hard time processing that everything is gone.”

Wayne Reynolds, 81, and Caryn Fried, 72, sort through the remains of thousands of pieces of pottery they both created at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Wayne Reynolds, 81, and Caryn Fried, 72, sort through the remains of thousands of pieces of pottery they both created at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

While not quite numb to wildfires, many in Sonoma County have become inured as the catastrophes arrive with more regularity — a dreadful tax paid to live here.

But even as it faded in intensity these past few days, and more evacuation orders were lifted, the Glass fire was already an outlier in the grim continuum of infernos to ravage the county since 2017 — the third-most destructive wildfire in its history.

It has claimed at least 338 homes in the county — more houses combined than the giant Kincade fire last year (174) and the Walbridge (157) fire this year, and fewer only than the twin terrors of 2017, the Nuns and Tubbs fires, which together destroyed 5,334 homes in the county and killed 24 people.

Glass fire’s proximity to past fires in the North Bay:

(This map shows the major wildfires that have burned in the North Bay since 2015. The fires that were directly adjacent to the Glass fire include the Nuns and Tubbs fires in 2017 and the Valley fire in 2015. Most of eastern Lake County also has burned in the past five years, with the Rocky, Jerusalem, Pawnee and Ranch fires all connecting with each other. (Christian Hupfeld, Press Democrat))

In a cruel but predictable turn, the Glass fire climbed over and through the Mayacamas Mountains from Napa County into Sonoma between the burn scars of those 2017 fires, laying waste to much in its path.

No lives were taken in this fire, but the roll call of property losses kept mounting. These are the stories of three of the 338 homes left in ruins.

“I’m kind of numb, to tell you the truth. I’m having a hard time processing that everything is gone.” ― Caryn Fried

Starting over

Spry and vital though he is for an 81-year-old, Wayne Reynolds is nursing a bad back. Fried, 72, has had a rod in her wrist since fracturing it last spring in a badminton mishap. As a result, the couple didn’t pack much in their car when the evacuation order came down for the neighborhood along Highway 12 late Sept. 27, a Sunday night.

Caryn did grab the photo album of their wedding. They were married 41 years ago in Armstrong Woods State Natural Preserve, at Pond Farm, whose pottery buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wayne Reynolds, 81, finds a whole ceramic pot amongst the thousands of broken pieces amongst the rubble at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, also lost their home of 32 years in the Glass fire.  (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Wayne Reynolds, 81, finds a whole ceramic pot amongst the thousands of broken pieces amongst the rubble at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, also lost their home of 32 years in the Glass fire. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Both were students, then close friends, of the renowned master potter and ceramic artist Marguerite Wildenhain, who lived and taught at Pond Farm. After two summers of her intense, three-month programs, Reynolds dropped out of college. “I realized what I wanted to do was make pottery.”

So he has, for nearly 60 years. Fried, for her part, has been making pottery for 45 years. “She also does beautiful sculptures,” he said. Some of those large pieces, standing sentinel outside their house and main studio, were spared from the flames.

After selling their wares on the streets, among other places, they saved enough to buy a home in 1987 on 3.8 acres of land along Highway 12, on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. As Valley of the Moon Pottery became more established, they added buildings: a studio, a showroom, another studio, a pumphouse to irrigate the Christmas trees they planted on 2½ of those acres.

Maya Reynolds finds a self-portrait ceramic bust created by her father, Wayne Reynolds, 81 in the burned remains of the home where Maya was raised on Highway 12 near Melita Road. The Glass fire also consumed the tree farm and the Valley of the Moon Pottery business where Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, worked creating thousands of pieces of pottery over the past 32 years. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Maya Reynolds finds a self-portrait ceramic bust created by her father, Wayne Reynolds, 81 in the burned remains of the home where Maya was raised on Highway 12 near Melita Road. The Glass fire also consumed the tree farm and the Valley of the Moon Pottery business where Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, worked creating thousands of pieces of pottery over the past 32 years. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

They remodeled a garage, turning it into a classroom where Fried has taught pottery for nearly three decades.

In addition to thousands of their own works and equipment, they lost all of the art they’d purchased and displayed in their home, including a collection of Wildenhain’s pottery, the loss of which brought Reynolds to tears during an interview.

And the fire took still more:

“The thing that hit me hardest,” he said, “was the loss of our creative life. We work in our studios all the time. I had all these projects, ideas.” And the inability to work in that space now “is really hitting me.”

Fried agreed, then shared her fear that they’ve lost “an extended family” of thousands of people who cycle through the property every year, for classes or Christmas trees or just to shop.

They’re eager to rebuild, though their insurance, they fear, may limit their ability to come back.

Meanwhile, they’ve lost their home, sanctuary, gathering place. The property, said Fried, “was our total life.”

More than four decades ago, after teaching school in Michigan for five years, she had given away most of her possessions and then set out for California with a backpack. That was in 1975.

“I wanted to just concentrate on my pottery and just start my life over again.”

“And it feels like that’s exactly what’s happening all over again: I’m starting over. But this time I’m 72.”

Maya Reynolds comforts her dad, Wayne Reynolds, 81, as they walk past the remains of their Christmas tree farm and Valley of the Moon Pottery business destroyed by the Glass fire on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, also lost their home of 32 years where they raised Maya. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Maya Reynolds comforts her dad, Wayne Reynolds, 81, as they walk past the remains of their Christmas tree farm and Valley of the Moon Pottery business destroyed by the Glass fire on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Reynolds and his wife, Caryn Fried, also lost their home of 32 years where they raised Maya. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

A blessed man’

The 100-foot Douglas fir had snapped at its base during the firestorm, crashing down across Jay Gamel’s property just off Adobe Canyon Road, shearing off a corner of the roof covering his studio, but otherwise doing no damage.

While that stand-alone studio was spared, Gamel’s house, 20 yards away, burned to the ground.

A week after the fire, Gamel sat on the trunk of that same evergreen as if it were a park bench, ticking off all the different ways he felt “blessed.”

“The day I drove up this canyon, I thought, ’This is where I want to live for the rest of my life.’” ― homeowner Jay Gamel

The main house, he told a pair of State Farm adjusters, was “just sticks” to him. The things he really valued ― books, computer, old photos and other mementos ― were safe in the studio.

And Captain Midnight was OK.

That’s the name of the black cat that wandered out of the woods after the Nuns fire burned through this same canyon three years earlier. Though not a cat person at the time, Gamel adopted the Captain. And now, he said, “People who know me know you don’t mess with my cat.”

The people who know him in Sonoma County seem to outnumber those who don’t. Gamel, 76, is the founding editor of the Kenwood Press, the well regarded community newspaper serving Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont.

A former editor for CCH Publications, Gamel traded Chicago for the Bay Area in 1972. “The day I drove up this canyon,” he recalled, looking up at canopy above his home at the foot of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, “I thought, ’This is where I want to live for the rest of my life.’ ”

Jay Gamel, longtime publisher and editor of the Kenwood Press, photographs the remains of a house he owned for nearly 50 years on Adobe Canyon Road after the Glass fire raged through the area near Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Jay Gamel, longtime publisher and editor of the Kenwood Press, photographs the remains of a house he owned for nearly 50 years on Adobe Canyon Road after the Glass fire raged through the area near Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

He and his ex-wife were renting there in the late ‘70s when a neighbor — a pot dealer, busted by the FBI and headed to prison — asked him, “You want to buy a house cheap?”

Gamel did. That house was threatened by the Nuns fire, but saved by firefighters. Underinsured at the time, Gamel beefed up his coverage at his agent’s advice — a decision that would prove expensive to State Farm, he cheerfully pointed out to his adjusters, who were good sports about it.

Gamel is unsure if he’ll rebuild. If he does, it will be a smaller place for “a bachelor,” as he calls himself. When he sells the property, as he intends to, eventually, he fears the new owners will just tear down his place and start over. At the moment, he’s undecided.

In the meantime, the adjuster told him, State Farm would call a housing vendor, to help him find a long-term rental.

That would be great, he replied, “Although I’m pretty sure I’ll find something, ‘cause I’ve got everybody in town looking for me.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, I am a blessed man.”

Allison Sanford and Patrick Emery, with their dog, Lola, lost their home at the top of Plum Ranch Road to the Glass fire. The couple plan on rebuilding, but are disappointed for their grandchildren, who loved to explore their ranch property. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)
Allison Sanford and Patrick Emery, with their dog, Lola, lost their home at the top of Plum Ranch Road to the Glass fire. The couple plan on rebuilding, but are disappointed for their grandchildren, who loved to explore their ranch property. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Nature comes back

High on a ridge east of Santa Rosa, Patrick Emery walked past the skeletons of his burned fruit trees — lemon, orange, plum, persimmon — and stopped at the scorched remains of a tractor.

“There’s my John Deere,” he lamented, like Hamlet talking to the skull of Yorick.

Emery’s diction, spare yet eloquent — think of actor Jimmy Stewart — has served him well as one of Santa Rosa’s best-known trial attorneys over the last four decades. He and his wife, Allison Sanford, moved into their dream house at the end of Plum Ranch Road on the Fourth of July, 1995. Emery said goodbye to that place around 11 p.m. on Sept 27. He’d spent the previous two hours watching the Glass fire advance south and east along a nearby ridge.

Around 10 pm, he recalled, “It was like somebody said ‘Column right, MARCH,’” — recounted Emery, a former Army reservist — “and it started heading toward Oakmont.”

And toward his house, which burned in the night.

Allison Sanford and Patrick Emery, and their dog, Lola, lost their home along Plum Ranch Road in the Glass fire. They are particularly disappointed for their grandchildren, Adam Klein, 9, left, Sylvie Klein, 4, Kate Price, 18, and Ellie Price, 16, who loved to explore their large ranch property. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)
Allison Sanford and Patrick Emery, and their dog, Lola, lost their home along Plum Ranch Road in the Glass fire. They are particularly disappointed for their grandchildren, Adam Klein, 9, left, Sylvie Klein, 4, Kate Price, 18, and Ellie Price, 16, who loved to explore their large ranch property. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

During a tour of their scorched property last week, Emery and Sanford were remarkably upbeat. They made each other smile — as when Sanford stood in the rubble of what had once been the kitchen and said “I don’t think I’m going to find my grandmother’s dishes.”

They spent far more time focusing on what hadn’t been lost, and what could be saved. At the top of that list: a massive oak, two centuries old by Sanford’s reckoning, whose boughs have long been a magnet for their six grandchildren.

“When Pat told me that tree made it,” said Sanford, who leads the board of directors of the Sonoma Land Trust, “it made me think, well, maybe everything’s going to be OK.”

Her work with the land trust is now bound, inextricably, with fire. A number of its properties under conservation easements have in recent years burned ― along with the homes of their owners. Another board member also lost a house.

“What gives me great hope,” she said, “is how nature comes back.”

Luck runs out

While the survival of that heritage oak filled her with joy, Sanford was less pleased to to see that the fire had spared the invasive yellow star thistle lining the driveway. No less resilient, to her husband’s dismay, were the gophers which had excavated dozens of fresh holes near the house, all post-inferno. Emery took those depredations personally.

“I go to war with those gophers 365 days a year,” he said.

Raised outside of Placerville, “way out in the country,” said Emery, he’d long felt constrained by cities. “From the time I left home” — he attended Harvard, then UC Davis law school — “I never felt comfortable, until I moved here.”

Their aerie has jaw-dropping views of Mount St. Helena to the north and the Marin Headlands, 60 miles south. “From here,” he said, looking west, “we see the fog bank come in, every night.”

He was standing at the edge of an 18,000-gallon pool that might’ve served as an ideal source of water for a pumper truck the night of the fire.

But no such truck arrived, said Emery, without bitterness. He and Sanford know that fire crews were stretched thin, valiantly defending more populous neighborhoods below. Had the fire struck during daylight hours, he added, “they’d have been able to lay a line of retardant across this whole ridgeline, and probably save a number of homes.”

Maya Reynolds tries to find a few pieces of pottery among the thousands burned in the Glass fire at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Maya grew up on the property where her parents Wayne Reynolds and Caryn Fried lost their home of 32 years.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Maya Reynolds tries to find a few pieces of pottery among the thousands burned in the Glass fire at Valley of the Moon Pottery on Highway 12 near Melita Road. Maya grew up on the property where her parents Wayne Reynolds and Caryn Fried lost their home of 32 years. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Fortune had favored Emery and his neighbors three years ago, when the Tubbs fire came within a few miles. Did he believe it was just a matter of time before wildfire arrived on Plum Ranch Road?

“No,” Emery replied. “I think I was in denial. I just assumed it would miss me again.”

“I still believe I was born under a lucky star.”

He and Sanford will rebuild.

“Sonoma County’s got its problems,” and fire is a big one, he said. But they’ve traveled extensively, in this country and abroad, “and there’s no place I’d rather be than here.”

They have friends considering a move to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Emery has pointed out to them that the largest wildfire in U.S. history, the so-called Big Burn of 1910, which consumed 3 million acres and took 87 lives, did much damage in Coeur d’Alene.

“Everything you do, every place you go, there’s risk.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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