Fires devastate California’s wine country; SCDS students, teachers, alumni feel the burn
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Frightened Frishman sees flames from house
On Monday, Oct. 9, drama teacher Brian Frishman was woken by a call from the county sheriff at 1:18 a.m. A raging fire was only a mile and a half from his home in Grass Valley; he had to evacuate immediately.
Frishman and his wife woke up his friend from Thailand and his son along with his step-daughter, her husband and their baby (all three were visiting) and loaded a few possessions into their car in complete darkness as the house’s electricity had gone out.
Frishman’s wife walked from house to house informing neighbors about the fire, as some hadn’t gotten the call to evacuate. Then Frishman decided to drive up to the fire alone to assess the situation.
Two sheriffs’ cars blocked the road leading to the edge of the fire, but Frishman said he could see the flames 50 yards ahead.
“I’ve seen a lot of fires, so it wasn’t a big deal except for (the fire’s) proximity to our house,” he said.
Getting out of his car, Frishman informed the county sheriff about the evacuation notice. Luckily, he was told that a strong wind was blowing south up to 50 miles per hour – away from Frishman’s home.
So he drove back and told his family to stay put. They went back to bed, “but, of course, we didn’t get much sleep that night,” Frishman said.
But his involvement with the fire didn’t end that night.
Frishman also owns a property in Brownsville, where his daughter and some of her friends live.
The following night (Oct. 10), his daughter received a mandatory evacuation.
She and her friends packed their stuff and went to stay at a friend’s house. Fortunately, they were able to return to the house the next day.
Frishman said he is currently fireproofing his daughter’s property. This process includes ensuring there is a clear space between buildings and vegetation, getting rid of small and unhealthy trees on the property, cutting branches above the roofline on trees next to buildings, and setting up an emergency sprinkler system with a generator.
Furthermore, on Oct. 11 one of his daughter’s neighbors had a small brush fire less than a quarter mile away from her home.
The neighbors had to extinguish the fire themselves since the fire department was unlikely to arrive in time due to the larger fires in the area.
Fleeing alum sees ‘bright orange fireball’ at 3 a.m.
One member of the community impacted by the fires was the son of history teacher Sue Nellis, Jared Gorton, ’08, who lives in Rohnert Park, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.
Gorton’s home was several miles away from the closest fire and thus undamaged. However, he was with his girlfriend at her house when the Sonoma County fires reached the area.
Both were woken at 3:30 a.m. by her aunt, who told them they had to evacuate.
“We had no idea how close the fire was, or what was going on,” Gorton said. “All we did was pack. We got her passport, important documents, pictures – the things she owned that could not get lost in the fire.”
Most people in the area were told to evacuate via word of mouth, as the initial fire was moving extremely rapidly due to high winds. According to Gorton, the fire department did not immediately call people after the fires started.
When Gorton and his girlfriend went outside, the horizon to the east was “a bright orange fireball,” he said.
“It looked like the sun was rising.”
Gorton’s girlfriend went to the hospital where she works, which is located north of her home, while Gorton returned to his own house to get as far away from the fire as possible.
His girlfriend’s house was far enough from the edge of the fire to be unaffected. However, her aunt’s home, which is right next to Gorton’s girlfriend’s, is still inaccessible to the public.
Though his girlfriend’s house was spared from the fire, Gorton’s former home, located in Coffey Park, was not.
“The house that I used to live in was completely destroyed,” Gorton said.
“(And) I know multiple (old) neighbors who lost their homes.”
For the past two or three years, Gorton has run his own financial and insurance services practice located in southwest Santa Rosa, several miles from the fires.
Though the company wasn’t directly affected, it still felt the fires’ impact.
According to Gorton, during times of crisis, people aren’t interested in talking about insurance or retirement policies.
“For the last week or so, the primary questions on people’s minds are ‘Is my home OK? Is my business OK? Is my job gone?’” Gorton said.
Besides selling insurance, Gorton said he now acts as a guide for those affected by the fires, answering their questions about claims to insurance or relocating.
“Our focus is on helping people that have been affected by the fire,” Gorton said. “It has been a hectic week for everyone here.”
He is also involved with Active 20-30, a service organization with about 50 groups in the U.S. and Canada that is now providing relief to the Napa and Sonoma communities.
One of the focuses of Active 20-30’s fire relief program is providing high school students with school supplies.
Gorton said that the donations the organization receives are usually writing utensils or backpacks, not high school level materials such as binders, graphing paper or calculators that are used in math classes like calculus.
“(These supplies are) not the first thing on people’s minds when they are (compiling) donations,” Gorton said. “Usually, people bring food, money or water.
“But they’re so important because they allow high school students to go back to school, which is paramount to their success moving forward.”
Now that the fires are being contained, people are asking how to help, and Gorton has some answers.
“We don’t really need clothes or water,” he said.
According to Gorton, those wanting to aid should donate money and gift cards instead. Another way to help is by visiting the impacted areas that relied on tourism to support the economy, like Sonoma or Napa counties, he said.
“We need people to come here and spend their money so we can rebuild the economy,” Gorton said.
Freshman’s grandparents still unsure about damage to Windsor house
The grandparents of freshman Erin Wilson, who live in Windsor, were threatened by the Santa Rosa fires and evacuated on Oct. 11.
“They weren’t entirely worried (before they were evacuated),” Wilson said. “They didn’t think the fire would get to them.”
Wilson’s aunt picked them up, and they are staying at her aunt’s house in San Francisco, she said.
Not everyone in the neighborhood evacuated, though. Wilson’s grandparents’ neighbors, who are ex-firefighters, stayed.
Like the firefighters in sophomore Anna Frankel’s grandparents’ community (see story at right), they planned to fight the fire if it reached their neighborhood by using a large connected pool system to drown it out.
As far as Wilson and her family know, there is not much damage to the house, she said.
Sophomore camper loses her beloved ‘home away from home’
Sophomore Anna Frankel may not have lost her home, but she lost her home away from home.
Camp Newman, a Jewish camp in Santa Rosa, burned down in the Santa Rosa fires, which began on the night of Oct. 8.
Frankel said she and her family have attended a special-needs family weekend retreat at Camp Newman in the spring since she was 5 years old.
She also attended the summer camp for five years during lower and middle school.
Frankel said her synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, is very invested in Camp Newman.
The fire is especially devastating to the community because Camp Newman had been in the process of renovating many of their buildings, mainly the cabins, for the last five years.
“Now it’s all gone,” Frankel said. “Everyone (at the synagogue) is so sad about it burning down. It was a really beautiful place.”
Frankel’s paternal grandparents were also affected by the fires. They own a ranch in Napa that was endangered by the Patrick Fire.
Her grandparents have shared the ranch with her grandfather’s brother and his wife since the 1960s.
Though it did not burn down, the ranch was completely surrounded by the fire for days.
“(My grandparents) didn’t have a whole lot of hope,” Frankel said.
The fire department used controlled fires to ensure there would be no more fuel left for the fire once it reached the ranch, Frankel said.
The ranch’s pool was also drained. The water from the pool was put aside to be used to extinguish the fire if it reached the ranch.
The methods were successful. Frankel said her grandparents are “out of the woods now,” but they won’t have power for three more weeks as of Oct. 24.
—By Héloïse Schep