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Fifty Days Since the Fires

Posted by Ginny Sweeney on

Did I mention that writing a blog is out of my comfort zone? Well, this is probably the hardest blog I’ll write. It’s been fifty days since a terrifying firestorm ripped through our bucolic wine country community.

Long after the news channels have turned their attention to more current affairs, our friends and family are still picking up the pieces and dealing with the aftermath. I am humbled by how gracefully and stoically they are facing their challenges every day and proud to call wine country home. As our children keep their grades up while traveling longer distances to offsite, makeshift classrooms, I can’t help but think of the larger lesson they are learning. Our hearts go out to those who lost family members and friends and we press on rebuilding, renewing and remaining hopeful for a bright future. There have been many silver linings and we are now a stronger community. We found much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Keeping Our Spirits Up

There are so many stories of that week in October: neighbors helping neighbors escape, residents fighting their own fires when first responders were no longer available, all heroes in our community. I can only recount my own personal story for you here.

In the wee hours of Monday October 9th our eldest son came running into our bedroom, yelling, “There’s a fire!” My husband, our two teenage sons and I fled our home with passports, a few framed photos and a few clothes thrown hastily in a bag. Oh, and a six pack of Ginny’s Gin. Little did we know what horrific devastation was to befall our town.

We regrouped in a parking lot with many other displaced neighbors and looked up into the hillside above us as it glowed red, smoke billowing into the night sky and ash raining down on us. After learning of the mandatory evacuation, we retreated to Bodega Bay where we communed with several other families, as guests of our dear friends Stacy & Nobby Clark (to whom we will be eternally grateful). As that first harrowing day unfolded, our partners in the business, Amy & Jeff Kloes, learned that their home was razed. Amy had fled the flames, grabbing her house guest & longtime friend and her neighbor with nothing but the clothes on her back. Two other evacuees in our group soon learned they shared the same fate. Our teenagers seemed to have better information via social media than the news feeds. We plugged into Nixel and Nextdoor hoping for updates. Next we learned that our son’s school burned and that their former art teacher had survived by jumping with her husband into a neighbor’s swimming pool and remaining there for six hours while flames terrifyingly ravaged everything around them.

During that week of evacuation we found solace in cooking for each other, sharing our local wines and of course keeping our spirits up (quite literally) with Ginny’s Gin cocktails. The teenagers comforted each other and bunked together in one room - friends coming and going to join in the camaraderie. Those that periodically returned to town for supplies found the roadsides adorned with numerous handmade signs “Thank you First Responders,” “#WineCountryStrong,” “The Love in the Air is Thicker than Smoke.”  We were lucky - when the evacuation order was removed we had a home to return to and happily opened it up to the Kloes family. They are staying with us until they have fixed up an interim home. We’ve shared a ski lease for several years, so it’s almost second nature residing together. Almost. 


Visit Wine Country

Ultimately the fires grew to be the most destructive in the history of California, with 43 lives lost, 8,400 structures razed and 245,000 acres burned. In our sons’ school communities alone, more than 100 families lost their homes. However, despite some of the sensationalized news reports, the majority of Wine Country is still standing, still vibrant and local businesses could do with your support. Book a hotel room, make that restaurant reservation and help Wine Country get back on its feet!

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