PD Editorial: The large holes left in our home — and in us

Liliana Contreras-Salgado sits with her daughters Gloria, 2, left, and Fatima, 6, in front of where their home used to be before it was destroyed by fire in Santa Rosa, on Monday, October 9, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)


For those in Texas and the South, the desolation came with names like Harvey, Irma and Maria. For those in the North Bay, it came with names like Tubbs, Nuns and Atlas. And it came without warning.

Unlike hurricanes, which simmer for days before striking, the firestorms that swept through Sonoma and Napa counties late Sunday and early Monday arrived with a devastating fury that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee into the night, only to return on Tuesday to breathtaking ruin.

The numbers tell so much of the loss — the loss of at least 1,500 homes, the loss of more than 30,000 acres in the Nuns fire in Sonoma County and the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa counties, and, of course, the loss of lives. At last count, it was a number that stood at 16, including at least 11 in Sonoma County. All of these numbers were threatening to grow Tuesday as the Nuns fire swept closer to Oakmont, Bennett Valley Golf Course and Annadel Heights, prompting new evacuation orders. New fire threats also flared up in the hills above Faught Road on the south side of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park and in the Pacific Heights area behind Molsberry Market in Larkfield.

The wildfires already rank as the single worst natural disaster in Sonoma County history. With the increase in the death toll, it also ranks among the five deadliest fires in California history.

But these numbers don’t begin to tell it all, such as the grief that comes with the loss of a pet, beloved artwork, photos, family heirlooms and critical documents to say nothing of the loss of basics such as clothes, food and shelter that for some was uninsured and irreplaceable.

Then there are the communal losses, the kind that the region as a whole is feeling. These include:

— The historic Fountaingrove Round Barn, which was built in 1899 and originally housed the horses used in the vineyards created by Thomas Lake Harris, who purchased 1,400 acres of land in the area in 1875 and established a commune and a winery.

— The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which for more than 35 years has been the focus of arts, education and cultural performances for the North Bay. The center’s east end and classrooms were destroyed, but the main theater appeared to have been spared.

— And schools such as Cardinal Newman High School, which lost about half of its classrooms in addition to its library, main office and some portable classrooms. The Hidden Valley Satellite, which serves kindergarten to second-grade students on Parker Hill Road, also was destroyed, as was the K-12 Redwood Adventist Academy on Mark West Springs Road.

Then there’s the loss of the many businesses that have made this area unique, establishments such as the Paradise Ridge Winery on Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Willi’s Wine Bar and the Cricklewood restaurant on Old Redwood Highway, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel, the Fountaingrove Inn and Steakhouse at Equus restaurant on Old Redwood Highway and Sweet T’s Restaurant and Bar on Stagecoach Road. All of these, and other establishments, are gone.

With any assessment of losses should also come an inventory of what we still have — businesses, homes and lives that are still with us due to the tireless efforts of firefighters and other first-responders who have worked to prevent the names of Tubbs, Nuns and Atlas from becoming any more notorious than they already are.

Those efforts deserve recognition and will be the subject of a future editorial. For now, we simply pause to grieve, to recognize the toll this week has taken on all of us in Santa Rosa and throughout the North Coast — and to offer assurances that, if our past has taught us anything, it’s that these setbacks may have scarred us but they will never define nor defeat us.