Chris Smith: Suddenly earthmovers rumble and big plans take shape where Angel the cow lives

For two full years, painfully little happened at the small ranch between Highway 101 and Coffey Lane in north Santa Rosa where Valerie Evans died trying to save her dog from the Tubbs fire.

Today, great earthmovers excavate and grade and rumble and beep near Evans’ beloved pet Longhorn cow, Angel. And the three surviving members of Evans’ family smile like they haven’t since their two homes were burned and their hearts gutted in October 2017.

A breakthrough came after Evans’ son, Houston, tormented by delays in securing the permits he needs to rebuild and the bloated costs of construction, took hat in hand and asked the Ghilotti Construction Co. for help. Ghilotti had long ago cleared the fire debris from his family’s ravaged ranch.

Dale Mahoney, Ghilotti’s area manager, took a look at Evans’ blueprints for a log house to be delivered in sections from Oregon. Mahoney had a talk with Dick and Willie Ghilotti, owners of the 105-year-old construction company, then he gave Houston Evans a call.

What a call it was.

Mahoney said a Ghilotti estimator figured that the site work needed to prepare for a new foundation would cost $49,000. But that Ghilotti would like to do the work for free.

Mahoney told me Evans and his dad and his wife, Victoria, have been through an awful lot these past two years - “a little more than a lot of people.”

The folks at Ghilotti Construction, Mahoney added, “want to help where we can.”

Earlier this week, Houston Evans’ dad, Glyn, who’s 90, looked on in wonder as a Ghilotti crew created a happy din while working a large, bare piece of land at his family’s ranch.

“Just sitting here, watching this, you have no idea what’s going on in my body,” he said from beneath his cowboy hat.

“I’m about to jump out of my clothes. I can’t believe this day is finally here, after two years.”

His son, Houston, welled up as he watched the work at the spot where Homestead Log Homes of Central Point, Oregon, will assemble his family’s new home. Houston shared a vision for something he’d love to have happen there.

“People who lost family members in the fire area are always going to be welcome here,” said Houston, 50.

“We can get together, talk about whatever’s bothering us, or not.”

Just imagine the moment the late Valerie Evans’ family greet those special visitors at the door and walk them through the new log home.


ITALIANS and lovers of all things Italian can pick among several reasons to join in a tasty Oct. 18 celebration of the North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation.

The meal at the Father Denis O’Sullivan Parish Center alongside downtown Santa Rosa’s St. Rose Church will mark the 35th anniversary of the NBICF.

And it will hail the 93rd birthday of “Pasta King” Art Ibleto, who, along with his late wife, Victoria, co-founded the foundation.

All are invited to the party, though seats are limited. Tickets and more details are at


A CHURWAFFLE just might become our new favorite breakfast.

And you may become even more eager to have one, or two, once you know why ChurWaffles are being served up Saturday in Santa Rosa.

A ChurWaffle, first off, is a cornbread waffle created by twin brothers Jonathan Burgess, a Sacramento firefighter, and Matthew Burgess, a CHP officer.

They will whip up both buttermilk and vegan ChurWaffles from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.

And they will do it to help raise dollars for the inspired and growing Sonoma County-based nonprofit that’s working to keep firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other first-?responders healthy and clear of emotional crises brought on by the extraordinary demands of their often harrowing work.

The motto of First Responders Resiliency Inc., founded by retired paramedic Susan Farren and retired firefighter Ron Shull, is “Putting PTSD Out of Business.”

Tickets to the breakfast of ChurWaffles, scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, orange juice and coffee are available at, and will be sold at the door.


C.R. WEBB, a most learned man, could have shared any of many insights upon addressing the friends and fan who gathered to toast him at the Wild Oak Saddle Club, next to Oakmont.

Webb, who earned a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard and taught at San Diego State University before becoming president of Eastern Connecticut State University, chose to reflect personally on the global, historically deadly influenza pandemic of 1918 and ’19.

From his wheelchair in the private club’s salon, the Oakmont resident and widower of French-born Andrée Webb noted that he was conceived at the height of the health crisis. Part of his DNA is gratitude that his mother didn’t contract the virus.

“If she had gotten it,” Webb told the well-wishers who shared champagne and cookies in tribute to his 100th birthday, “I would probably be giving a shorter speech.”

You can reach Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine