Smith: Santa Rosans thank the inmate firefighters who saved their homes

Santa Rosa residents whose homes were saved thank the inmate-firefighters with Washington Ridge Conservation Camp in Nevada County. (Chris Smith / Press Democrat)


What a scene Wednesday morning in a Santa Rosa neighborhood that’s close-up to destruction but stands intact because of a team of state prison inmates.

A team of orange-clad firefighters from the Washington Ridge Conservation Camp returned to the enclave north of the former Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital site and below Fountaingrove to meet some of people whose homes they saved a week ago Monday.

Inmate-firefighters from the camp just east of Nevada City stood shoulder-and-shoulder as neighbors stepped from one to the next, thanking them profusely and shaking their hands and/or hugging them.

“It reminded me of what happens after a soccer game,” said resident Janet Condron.

Condron, a former Santa Rosa mayor and the wife of retired SSU vice president Dan Condron, feels certain her home and those of many neighbors would be ashes were it not for the actions of the conservation-camp firefighters.

Some of them told Condron and her neighbors they were happy to help and appreciated the rare opportunity to return to a fire scene and meet people who live there.

Said Condron, “It was therapeutic for both.”


THE CHARRED PICKUP in which Paul Spangenberg and his 8-year-old daughter, Simone, and his dad, Paul Sr., 76, might have perished appears in harrowing photos shot in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley.

The trio were fleeing flames that destroyed much of Frey Vineyards when the truck became entangled in a fallen telephone line, then broke down. Death was imminent when another pickup appeared through the smoke.

“We had just enough time to jump in the back,” Paul Jr. said. He has since written a poem, “Fireproof Angels.” It begins:

Some of us can tell you about an angel’s wings

Fire cannot burn them and they can move on through all things.

To Paul, the bed of the little pickup driven by a man named Tim felt like the feathery embrace of a guardian that swept up his family just in time.


DISPLACED BARKEEPS have a friend in John Burton, the longtime owner of Santa Rosa Bartending School.

John knows of at least a handful of jobs available for bartenders out of work since the restaurants or hotels where they poured went up in flame.

He can be emailed at:


THE FARMERS MARKET long held outside of Santa Rosa’s now-damaged Burbank Center had to move.

For at least the few Wednesday’s from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market will take place at the Tierra Vegetable Stand at 652 Airport Blvd., just east of Highway 101.

And at the same time on Saturdays, farmers and other vendors will sell outside the Santa Rosa Alliance Church, 301 Fulton Road.


BENEATH US, and beneath contempt, is the distortion by right-wing websites that took a small PD story about the arrest of Jesus Fabian Gonzales for allegedly starting a small fire at Maxwell Farms Regional Park and portrayed him as the one starting the deadly, destructive Wine Country fires.

Kudos to Sheriff Rob Giordano for quickly extinguishing the flare-up of fake news.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and