Awakened in the middle of the night once again, anxious residents in east Santa Rosa fled their homes early Saturday morning under new evacuation orders triggered by a new blaze burning west of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
Flames and the haunting orange glow in the night sky could be seen from several vantage points in east Santa Rosa as thousands of residents, many with their cars and trucks already packed with personal belongings, wiped the sleep from their eyes and streamed into the streets for safety in the west.
Many received the mandatory evacuation order, issued by the Santa Rosa Police Department, sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m. as they slept.
Some were awakened by sirens from police patrol cars and fire engines racing down Highway 12 toward the fire. In a scene that has been repeated several times in less than a week, police officers went through the streets of Skyhawk and other neighborhoods on bullhorns ordering residents to evacuate immediately. Some officers went door to door, knocking and in some cases, pounding on doors and windows to ensure no one remained.
“They came by on motorcycles and then they came twice,” said Ernesto Jovel, 40, who left his Mountain Hawk home shortly after the evacuation order was issued.
The evacuation order covered a large area of east Santa Rosa, spanning both sides of Highway 12 between Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood and Calistoga Road in Santa Rosa.
Cars and trucks lined up bumper to bumper on Calistoga Road, from Montecito Boulevard to Highway 12, headed toward downtown Santa Rosa. As cars approached Highway 12, the glow of fire could be seen west of Sugarloaf Ridge.
A week ago, that now familiar glow, as well as ash and smoke, came from the northeast, when the Tubbs fire tore up into Fountaingrove and the northwest end of Rincon Valley. That initial firestorm, which destroyed nearly 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa and 400,000 square feet of commercial space, leveled entire blocks in the Coffey Park, Mark West Springs and Larkfield-Wikiup areas.
The devastation has pushed residents in Santa Rosa and many other North Coast communities to the edge, leaving them fatigued and emotionally exhausted. Images of widespread destruction in Fountaingrove and Coffey Park hang heavy on the minds of many.
Scott Seanor, whose home is on Highway 12, between Calistoga Road and St. Francis Road, said his wife and daughter had evacuated, having had enough of smoky skies and evacuation notices. Though his house was in a mandatory evacuation zone, Seanor stayed behind. He said he’s familiar with wildfires and fought a few as a civilian volunteer when he was younger.
“It’s been really stressful for the girls,” he said. “I know when the wind kicks up, it doesn’t matter what direction, I’ll leave.”
Linda Aldrich, founder and operator of the Pony Express horse-riding school on Sonoma Highway near Oakmont, fled her ranch early Saturday after she was awakened by a barn door banging in the wind, leaving behind 14 horses.
“This has just been a nightmare,” she said. “I shut the barn door and saw the big red glow behind me,” she said early Saturday morning, as she stood in the parking lot of the Safeway on the corner of Highway 12 and Calistoga Road, watching flames and smoke fill the sky as day began to break.
“I don’t want to get any further from my horses,” said Aldrich, tearfully, adding that she turned her horses loose into the field before being forced to leave. “I just got to pray that they’re going to be OK.”
At daybreak, planes and helicopters waged a dramatic attack on the northernmost point of the fire. Later in the morning, the state’s 747 SuperTanker joined the battle, to the delight of residents in Rincon Valley.
Kadee Pendleton, whose home on Hidden Creek Place off Highway 12 is not in the evacuation zone, all but cheered the arrival of the SuperTanker. On Saturday morning, she stood on the side of Highway 12, holding her left hand to her heart and waving with her right hand at firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s deputies and utility workers.
Pendleton said her father used to work as a heavy equipment operator and recalls how he sometimes came home covered in soot from fighting fires in Cazadero. Early in life she developed a respect for fires and fighters.
“They virtually are running in when everyone is running out,” she said.
Michael Speedling, who lives in the Oak Creek Apartments just south of Highway 12, expressed frustration with the endless assault of fire.
“The two sounds I’ve learned to dislike are the sounds of sirens and the ‘ding’ from your cellphone for messages,” Speedling said, referring to the endless evacuation alerts this past week.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @renofish.