Valley fire destroys Harbin Hot Springs

The blaze raced through the area, reducing the popular retreat to ashes.|

The pools at Harbin Hot Springs, still filled with tepid water, are now receptacles of an ashy soup of charred wood chunks, leaves and blackened debris.

Nearly everything at the popular clothing-optional resort, which so many have described as a sanctuary, a place of peace, is gone, devoured by the voracious Valley fire that has ravaged southern Lake County.

The conference center where the Human Awareness Institute met, the cabins, the offices, the restaurant and cafes, the kitchen, the steam room, the showers, the sauna, the cold and hot pools, the large sun decks and those where overnight sleeping was allowed all were destroyed in the blaze.

On Monday morning, one that otherwise might have featured a group of regulars visiting the pools, no one was around to see the loss of a resort that holds special meaning to so many on the North Coast, as well as the Bay Area and beyond.

At a fountain next to what was the hot pool, blistering water continued to pour.

“The essence of Harbin is the hot springs and there is no damage there,” said David Hamilton, a former resident at the resort whose wife was living there until the fire struck.

Hamilton visited the site north of Middletown on Monday, one of a few individuals who have taken stock of the destroyed resort aside from journalists.

Hamilton said about 190 community members lived at the complex and helped operate it. They fled Saturday as the flames encroached in the initial hours of the blaze.

Russell Gonzaga, 46, a night watchman and minister at Harbin, said he was asleep Saturday afternoon when fire approached above the resort. Gonzaga, who was at the evacuation center in Calistoga on Sunday, said he was awakened at 4:15 p.m.

“They were rushing me out of there. Everything I have is gone,” he said, adding that he fled without his cat, Mystery, which he could not find. “The side of the canyon was already engulfed in flame.”

He there was no doubt the flames would sweep into the main pool area and offices, guest rooms and hotel rooms.

Some structures did survive the fire.

Hamilton pointed out the garden shed, two new cabins toward the top of the hillside complex, an outdoor bathroom and two-thirds of the Domes survived. Just a short drive up from the pool area, the Domes feature private guest rooms, a shared restroom, shower facilities and a guest kitchen.

On Monday, the only other signs of life at the resort were the birds in the trees and a few small Koi swimming among larger fish that had died. The survivors surfaced repeatedly, as if gasping for air.

Hamilton insisted the resort would one day return.

“We have to rebuild from the heart,” he said. “That’s what it’s about - the pools.”

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You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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