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THE 1964 HANLY FIRE

You the boys from Rincon?” The man asked the three teenagers. They said yes.

“You better get your butts back home,” the Fire Captain told them. “The Calistoga Fire is heading to Santa Rosa fast.”

Edd Vinci and his friends were stunned. They were there in the Glen Ellen Forestry Station because they were waiting for a truck to give them a ride to the fire line in the nearby hills, where a blaze had everyone worried because it was headed for the town of Sonoma. What would be more important than fighting that danger? And what could a fire over in Napa have to do with his neighborhood in Rincon Valley?

Edd and the Fisher brothers did as they were told, hopping on the firetruck heading back to Santa Rosa. It was around 4PM on Monday, September 21, 1964.

Before that day was over, the 16 year-old Edd Vinci would face a wall of flames rushing towards him faster than he could possibly run, and in that moment felt certain he was about to die.1

This is the story of Santa Rosa’s 1964 Hanly fire. There were other major fires burning at the same time; the Rincon Valley boys were originally headed to the one which was called the Nunns Canyon/Kenwood/Sonoma Valley fire, which threatened Sonoma City and would nearly wipe out the Springs villages. There was the Mt. George fire burning through the canyons east of Napa City, headed for Fairfield. All told, there were 94 wildfires in the North Bay during the ten days between September 18-28. There are many interesting and exciting stories to tell of those days, but this is not the place. This is just the story of the 1964 Hanly fire and how it descended upon Santa Rosa.

Of particular interest is that the 1964 Hanly fire almost exactly matches the path of the 2017 Tubbs fire. As far as can be determined, this was also the path of the Great Fire of 1870. As mentioned in that article, once can be an accident; twice could be a coincidence but three times is a pattern.

Comparison of Hanly and Tubbs fires. Map courtesy city of Santa Rosa
Comparison of Hanly and Tubbs fires. Map courtesy city of Santa Rosa

 

The Hanly fire was first spotted at 10:15AM on Saturday, September 19. It was the end of a fairly typical Wine Country autumn week; days in the upper 80s, cool nights with a marine layer hugging the coast. The Press Democrat weather forecast called it “picnic weather.” The forecast also mentioned “very high fire danger” and the State Forestry Dept. told the PD the fuel moisture index was at 3, which is “about as low as it gets.”

The earliest record of the Hanly fire came from the Napa Register. Most of the short article concerned two Napa homes endangered by grass fires elsewhere, but mentioned there was a fire on top of Mt. St Helena which was “…reported spreading rapidly because of high winds on the peak.” An eyewitness told the newspaper the fire “seems to be swirling around on itself” and watched as a stand of trees at the top of the mountain went up in flames.

Harriett Madsen, who wrote the occasional “Napa Valleyhoo” society and gossip column for the Press Democrat, later gave a fuller account of Day One:


[It] started on Mt. St. Helena in the high rocks and timber…to the right of the Lake County Highway, north of Hanly’s on the Mountain about 3/4 of a mile. It was not thought to be too serious at the time. Calistoga Fire Department responded and held the situation until the Forestry units began arriving. The fire, during that day, was contained in about 40 acres of timber and rocks. As time went on, the fire refused to be contained…it kept creeping and popping up where one would least expect it.

How the fire started will be forever unknown, unless someone spits out a deathbed confession. It was a wild, incredibly steep area only familiar to deer hunters, who instantly became the prime suspects. In a wrapup story that went over the AP wire it was speculated a “carelessly tossed cigarette butt would have been enough” to start the blaze. In the years since, the “careless hunter” theory has become baked into the Hanly fire story as established fact.

hanlyad(RIGHT: Weekly Calistogan ad from August, 1958)

But in the Press Democrat’s first edition on the day after the fire began, another possibility was mentioned: Some deer hunters burn grass on the last day of hunting season, both to promote new growth to feed the deer in the spring and for clearing tall grass at favorite hunting spots to give the hunter better sight lines. The Hanly fire indeed began on the closing day of deer hunting season – a season which hunters had found disappointing, with the number of deer killed down 20 percent.

And while fires are commonly named after some landmark near their origin, calling it Hanly was particularly apropos. Hanly’s-on-the-Mountain was a roadhouse off of Highway 29 that catered to deer hunters; shooters brought their kill there to be weighed and measured for the deer pool to see who bagged the largest buck that season, with several dozen being carted in some weeks. The place rented cabins to hunters from outside the area and hosted an annual venison BBQ that drew tourists. Whether the fire began with a dropped cigarette or as a deliberate act to improve next year’s hunting, you can bet the man responsible was a regular at Hanly’s place.

It was that later AP story which first called it the Hanly fire, likely getting the name from the same person in the Forestry Dept. who thought it might have been caused by a cigarette. That first day it was just called the “Mount St. Helena fire.” On day two it became known as the “Calistoga fire.”

Conditions were bad again that Sunday with only 15 percent humidity, but it looked as if the danger was minimal from this fire. It was considered to be contained at least once, having burned only about 40 acres. All of the serious action was in Sonoma county fighting the blaze around Kenwood.

Then around sunset came the Diablo Winds, gusting over 70MPH.

Before firefighters could be brought into position, the front was bearing down on Calistoga from the north and east sides. Burned to the ground was the Tubbs Mansion, near where the 2017 fire would later originate. Forty other houses disappeared.

An emergency evacuation of all 2,500 residents was called, with Calistoga police driving through town with bullhorns announcing there were school buses waiting to take everyone to St. Helena. Ranchers opened gates for their animals to run free and hopefully not burn to death. Several owners of resorts around the geysers uncapped the vents to allow the hot water to shoot 75 feet into the air and douse their buildings. Later it was agreed the only thing that saved the town was a sudden shift of wind direction.

Day three. When the sun came up Monday morning the winds were still over 50MPH at higher elevations, and the Sonoma Valley situation was now a firestorm, creating its own winds. Air tankers could no longer fly over it to do water drops; the only way the fire chiefs could get a good view of the battlefield was by borrowing a giant helicopter from PG&E.

The Hanly-Calistoga fire kept burning eastward, while some late morning winds were also starting to blow the other side of the fire west toward Knights Valley. That western front grew. It kept growing. “By late afternoon the astonishing fact was clear: The fire was uncontrollable in the rich, dry fuels of the timber country and if it was to be stopped it would be at Santa Rosa,” the Press Democrat wrote the next day.

By 6PM there were flames on both side of Franz Valley School Road and when the sun finally surrendered to the fire-lit darkness, again came the Diablo Winds. The monster was now in Mark West Canyon. “From Calistoga Road the fire could be seen racing over the ridges, sweeping down on Santa Rosa,” the PD reported.

While this crisis was swiftly building, paving contractors working on Mark West Springs Road kept to their schedule for oiling the road in the late afternoon and early evening. Because of the closed lane bottleneck, there were backups in both directions as evacuees sought to flee and trucks tried to reach the firelines. County resident engineer Carroll Campbell discovered the situation and argued with the company superintendent, who blithely insisted they weren’t causing a problem. Campbell later fumed over their stupidity to the PD: “They went ahead blindly…it was inexcusable.” There are some stories no fiction writer can make up.

Now began the trying time. Some that night were calm, some were frantic; some were on the street mesmerized by the sight of burning ridgelines, some were urgently pushing children and pets into the family station wagon, some were standing on their roofs with a garden hose while leaning into the powerful and horrible wind which carried the charcoal and chemical smells of homes already lost.

In the hours around midnight the fires touched or threatened everything around Santa Rosa north and east. There were an estimated 500-600 firefighters and volunteers defending the city, including teenagers like Edd Vinci and his pals.

The Montgomery High junior had skipped school that day along with about a quarter of the other students, same as Santa Rosa High. As a Rincon Valley volunteer, Edd had strapped on a five-gallon water tank and backed up the fire dept. by spraying down hotspots when there were neighborhood grass fires. This was far, far different, as the proverbial flames of hell came rushing at breakneck speed down the Rincon Grade.

Vinci and a tiny crew were near the corner of Wallace and Riebli Roads where there was no protection, no place to hide. He wore no firefighter gear nor mask, just his t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. He was fuel. “Wow, this is it, we were all going to die,” he remembers thinking more than a couple of times.

“It was a wall of fire coming right at us, coming so fast,” he recalls, and it was as if time stopped – he has no precise memory of how long it took for the firestorm to reach him, seconds or minutes.

There was a roaring sound, he can recall, but not the moment when jets of flames flashed over their heads. “It was on us, and then past us just as fast.” Today he still speaks about it in awe, as if he had been invited onstage by a great magician to participate in one amazing damn trick.

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The terrible night crawled on into Tuesday, day four of the Hanly fire. There was a full moon, orange and almost hidden by smoke and raining ash. The fire kept the air in Santa Rosa from cooling off, with the low that night being 84°. You can be sure no one was sleeping.

The mood was grim. About 5,000 homes had been evacuated on the north end of town, from Chanate to Ribeli Roads. Dick Torkelson, the PD news editor was at city hall command center, where the “…gloom is as stifling as the atmosphere. There are no smiles, no jokes; the situation is too serious. Just quiet talk, black coffee and chains of cigarette smoking even by men who quit months ago.”

The immediate concern was the County Hospital on Chanate – unless there was a sudden and drastic shift in the winds the fire would soon reach the campus, where hundreds of patients were still inside.2

In June, Santa Rosa Fire Marshal Michael Turnick had warned the Board of Supervisors that the hospital was a “definite fire hazard…a greater than normal hazard to life” because there was no sprinkler system in the main section. Supervisor “Nin” Guidotti said he objected to Turnick’s “scare approach” and thought the county should punt on a decision until the next year. The matter was tabled.

A small army of firefighters were gathering to defend the hospital including 85 fire units from as far away as Redding. On the line were experienced firemen, National Guardsmen and many teenage students – as many as 600 were there to make a last stand to save Santa Rosa. “Old timers in the fire fighting business and the law enforcement business said they never saw so many policemen and firemen in action in Northern California,” wrote Argus-Courier columnist Bill Soberanes.3


With flames as high as a three or four story building licking up the trees and brush, the orders were given to stand by to evacuate the patients…the doctors and hospital attendants held a meeting as the fire approached and made plans for the evacuation. Despite the nerve shattering situation no one panicked, not even the patients, some of whom were very old, bedridden and in wheelchairs. – Bill Soberanes

Nurses from all three shifts and the entire staff of eleven doctors awaited orders; there were buses and Army Reserve trucks waiting to carry patients to the National Guard Armory and hospitals. “At one point some 30 patients were loaded on buses for evacuation,” the PD reported, “but they were ordered back.” Turnick had made a bold decision not to evacuate patients unless the hospital actually caught on fire.

The Hanly fire announced itself when a bush in the middle of the parking lot burst into flames along with two eucalyptus trees on the edge of the lot.

The Press Democrat: “…The fire raged closer and closer, encircling the hospital on three sides and coming as close as 100 yards.4 Sparks showered the building’s walls but fire fighters bulldozed the area to the West and North and soaked nearby trees.”

Bill Soberanes: “The massive flames continued to literally leap towards the hospital, and we joined the volunteers who climbed on top of it and with wet towels beat out the large cinders that were landing all over the roof.”

The fight to save the county hospital went on for hours while the doctors and nurses comforted the patients who were undoubtedly anxious and fearful. “Inside, the air was stifling hot and smoky. The staff was acting as nonchalant as possible so no panic would arise,” wrote PD reporter Don Engdahl.

The hospital was declared safe around three in the morning, but Hanly would not let go of Santa Rosa so easily. It reached as far west as the modern-day crossing of Mendocino Ave and Fountaingrove Parkway, and on the other side of town it was stopped just north of Badger Road. By 4:30AM authorities said they were starting to get it all under control. By the end of the day it was said to be about 60% controlled.

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No story of the Hanly fire has been retold as often as the hospital fight, which has become the stuff of myth. Since then it’s been said Turnick virtually saved the place himself by jumping on a bulldozer to cut a fire break, while others credit Frank Rackerby, the hospital’s building operating engineer for doing same with a tractor. There was nothing in the newspapers at the time supporting either claim, but there were about twelve bulldozers on the line fighting fires here that day.

The takeaway from the 1964 Hanly fire should be how it demonstrated personal courage of so many and not just a few. Assistant Chief George Elliott: “We just had to make a wall to save the city. And that’s what we did. We put everything we had, hands, tools, fingers and sacks. We had wonderful assistance from all the people,” he told the PD, adding without all that help the fire would have burned deep into Santa Rosa.

One of those uncelebrated heroes was Edd Vinci, who worked all night and made it back to the main Rincon Valley firehouse around dawn. He had something to eat and then walked home. The streets were quiet and deserted. Lawn sprinklers splashing water on the roofs of empty homes only added to the surreal quality of that morning, with the City of Roses bathed in dim, red shadowless light.

 

nasamapMap courtesy NASA, “A Partnership Forged by Fire.” Their website has a moveable curtain to compare the 1964 fires with 2017, but the effect will not work on all web browsers.

There are two videos related to the Hanly fire. Roger Halverson made a home movie from the Redwood Village Mobile Home Park on Airport Blvd. which mainly shows air tankers, but there are two views of the fire, probably taken in the late afternoon and evening of Sept. 21. The other short was apparently filmed by the Highway Patrol and mostly shows fire trucks and crews, but there is aerial footage of the fires burning in the timberland.


1 All Edd Vinci quotes from interview, Sept. 6, 2019

2Newspapers reported the patient count from 230 to “over 300.” About ten pediatric patients had already been taken to Memorial as a precaution.

3All Bill Soberanes quotes from Redwood Rancher magazine, October, 1964.

4Other accounts say the flames came within 200 yards and even 20 feet of the buildings.

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Search of rubble outside the Press Democrat building (California Historical Society)

1906 EARTHQUAKE: ALL FALL DOWN

“All of the buildings fell at once; no one first,” a man named Green Thompson told an investigator into the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa. He added the dust was so great on Fourth street he couldn’t see.

Yes, the buildings that collapsed downtown were almost all brick, and mostly built 1883-1885 during the town’s first building boom. Yes, unreinforced masonry buildings are not particularly earthquake friendly. But it has always rankled that the official 1908 State Earthquake Commission report put the blame on our ancestors not knowing the basics of building construction:

In general, inquiries as to direction of fall of buildings met no definite answer…many told me that there was no direction of fall; that the buildings simply crumbled to the ground. The Masonic Temple and the Theater, I was told, fell so directly downward “that the debris did not extend beyond the walls 10 feet in any direction”…The great damage in Santa Rosa may be accounted for by the physiographic conditions and by the weakness of the buildings in many cases. The sand for mortar has usually been obtained from the creek and contains considerable loam. Some of the mortar seems to have been made with good sand and with cement…usually throughout the wrecked area the mortar taken from the walls is easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers.

It’s understandable that too much loam is undesirable (although there’s a 1903 researcher who says up to 10 percent dirt is actually beneficial) but we don’t know what the investigator meant by “considerable”, nor how he learned this. That goes to the heart of the question: before all the buildings fell down, did anyone know the mortar was weak? If it was always crumbly, that would have been apparent soon after the first brick buildings went up in 1883, and surely they would not have continued making the same mistake for another two years.

Nor is this my first beef with the official report; it was superficial and littered with errors, as I’ve mentioned here several times. Besides apparently inverting a couple of digits for the population of the town (6700 instead of 7600) which exaggerated the scope of the death toll, it claimed there were “61 identified dead, with at least a dozen ‘missing’” without explanation even though no missing persons had been mentioned since the weeks immediately after the quake.

I’ve long suspected that the investigator (name unknown) was misled by Santa Rosa boosters who wanted to underplay the scope of the disaster. Details found in the Petaluma Argus rewrote the story significantly; the big takeaway was that the interim newspaper published by Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley didn’t mention there was serious looting and the stench of death lingered over the town for days. Most significant was that neither the investigator nor the PD ever mentioned the massive explosion at the Haven Hardware store, which was so huge it took out one side of its block on Fourth street, killing at least eight. (As it turns out, Haven Hardware was one of two places in town that sold gasoline.)

In this case, I believe the investigator had important information in front of him but did not know what to make of it.

A quarter-century had passed since those bricks were laid, during which there had been a revolution in the building trade. Victorian-American bricklayers, like masons around the world, were still using traditional lime mortar in the early 1880s; like bricks and building stones, it was permeable so an entire wall handled rain (and more importantly, frost) as if it was all the same material. Some of the drawbacks of sand-lime-brick was that it took a long time to fully cure and had to be repointed after 30-50 years. When quick-drying Portland cement came along, builders rushed to add it to their mortar; transcribed below is a little snippet from the 1883 Santa Rosa newspaper showing the contractor and architect arguing over the mixture to use for the foundation of the new courthouse.

We don’t know the exact ratio used by other Santa Rosa builders at that time, but can assume they used a high ratio of lime to concrete, as was common practice. And here’s the other drawback to using the old lime formula – when it’s exposed to high temperatures it bakes, as the carbon dioxide is driven off and it begins to break down into calcium oxide (CaO), or as it’s better known, quicklime.

After firefighters train water on this weakened mortar it reverts to being a putty, with the result being powdery when dry. That seems to match the “easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers” description in the report. (Disclaimer: I have not checked my theory with a material science expert in Victorian mortar, nor do I know if such a person exists.)

If this is all correct, it rewrites another part of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake story – namely, the fire was far more intense than is believed.

Lime-based mortar begins to break down to quicklime at around 850°C (1562°F) which is around 30 percent hotter than an average house fire. But if everything collapsed at once, it had to reach those temperatures after the buildings had fallen – which would mean that much of downtown was an inferno, at least for a short period of time.

That is not at all hard to believe; eyewitnesses including Luther Burbank said the gas was still on, so there would have been hundreds of gas jets feeding the flames. A man who nearly burned to death said the heat was “unbearable” and another witness later wrote, “the heat was overpowering and all that saved the town was the absence of wind.” In his 1908 speech laying the cornerstone for the new courthouse, Herb Slater reminded people what it was like that day:

Delay meant death; death from the smothering dust; death from the cruel weight of beams, planks and stone; and worse than all, death from the cruel flames which were already bursting forth from piles of debris from fallen and partially fallen buildings. The belching smoke served to intensify the horror.

In another account, Miles Peerman, a former Santa Rosa constable, was pinned down by wreckage at corner of 5th and B streets. “They did their best to dig him out, but the heat of the raging fire became so intense that they could no longer stay by him.” And then there were six known who were completely cremated into “nothing but burnt bones and ashes.”

The last bit of evidence I’ll submit is this: Look at any of the photographs from the following days, including the one below, and you’ll see only piles of scattered bricks – not even small sections of walls fell intact, which suggests the mortar completely failed, either while standing or while on the ground.

This item wouldn’t be complete without its obl. Believe-it-or-Not! coda, but it’s not about Santa Rosa – it concerns the Notre Dame Cathedral catastrophe. Much of that day I spent weepy-eyed and watching the excellent (English language) coverage from France24. To fill airtime they aired snippets from various news items on the Cathedral from earlier years, particularly about the restoration that was underway before the fire.

This brief segment about bad mortar repairs left me shaking. Anyone involved with old house restoration would recognize it as undesirable “tuck-pointing” – modern concrete being used to fill in gaps where old lime mortar has fallen out due to weathering. Because cement mortar is impermeable, water ends up trapped in the adjacent brick or stone which over time starts to crumble away, as seen on the video.

But what was not shown is even scarier. Tuck-pointing is patchwork; the worker never digs out all the old lime mortar before slapping in the new stuff, which means (I assume) that the interior sides of the stone still have soft lime mortar. And if the fires we saw on TV reached those critical temperatures, there is now weakened or even no viable mortar on the scorched cathedral walls – but stuff that’s hard as rock on the outside. And, of course, some of the exterior sides are being pressed inwards by those famous flying buttresses. (UPDATE: The yellow smoke seen during the fire was 210 metric tons of lead cladding vaporizing, which was just a small portion of the entire weight of the roof.)

I pray to the goddesses that some engineer in Paris is thinking about that, or an even greater tragedy may soon follow.

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Search of rubble at the Press Democrat building (California Historical Society)

 

sources
 

S. Carle spoke in relation to using lime in the rockwork for the foundation of the Court House. He would like one barrel of lime to one barrel of Portland cement and three barrels of sand. The specifications call for one barrel of Portland cement to three of sand, no lime mentioned. He claimed that the use of the amount of lime spoken of will make just as good a job as to have it all cement. Mr. Bennett, who was present stated that the proposition of the contractor would result in doing just as good a job as the other, and that he had drawn the specifications in that way so as to have full control of the material that went into the foundation. A long and desultory debate ensued, and finally the matter was informally referred to Messrs. Morse and Proctor.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 17 1883

 

 

A Perfect Mortar.

A new building material called stone brick, harder than the hardest clay brick, is made from simple mortar, but a scientifically made and perfect mortar; In fact, a hydraulic cement, and the grinding together of lime and sand in a dry state — including, also, some alumina, which is usually present in sand — and the subsequent heating by steam, give the mixture the properties of the burned hydraulic cements at present in use.—Public Opinion.

– Daily Democrat, February 8, 1890

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THE FORGOTTEN GREAT FIRE OF 1870

In 2017 Santa Rosa suffered the Tubbs Fire and before that, the 1964 Hanly Fire. But way back in 1870, yet another firestorm charged over the mountain towards Santa Rosa. Our ancestors simply called it The Great Fire.

The California fire history maps only go back to 1951 and none of the reports yet published by the state mention the 1870 disaster, although it followed the same pattern as what happened last year. Driven by very high northerly winds, the October 1870 fire started near Calistoga and when it was joined by a blaze from St. Helena it became unstoppable. The Santa Rosa newspaper reported, “soon the flames were beyond control, devouring everything within their reach…and swept along the mountains with such terrible speed that all efforts to check its progress were given up.”

No map was published of the burn area, but the Sonoma Democrat described which properties were hit – see articles transcribed below. A deed search would probably produce a reasonably accurate map, but we know it stopped three miles from Santa Rosa. Measuring from the 1870 city limits, that would mean it burned through Fountaingrove.

Cal Fire map of regional wildfire history since 1951

 

Just as in 1964 and last year, there was also a simultaneous fire on the Sonoma Valley ridge. It burned as far south as Napa City – like the recent Nuns Fire – and on the Sonoma county side the fires also matched the 2017 disaster: “The smouldering stumps and blackened fields can be seen all along the Sonoma road,” reported the Sonoma Democrat in 1870.

The crisis came the night of October 16, the third night of what we now call, “Diablo Winds.” Santa Rosa was on edge because of “the close proximity of the fire on the hills;” a collection was taken up among townsfolk to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if the fire threatened.

What the Petaluma Argus observed six days afterwards sounds uncomfortably familiar to 2017: “Fires are yet raging through all the vicinity,” and there was “a smoky haze of the atmosphere through this section seldom if ever before seen.”

There were no deaths – aside from 400 sheep – and the properties harmed were remote farms and ranches. That’s probably the reason you won’t find mention of the 1870 fires in any of our local history books – the authors probably thought it was a fluke. (I stumbled across the details only while reading the old newspapers.)

But looking back on the incident now, the Great Fire of 1870 is unnerving to discover. Once can be an accident; twice could be a coincidence.

Three times is a pattern.

 

Forest fire by Paul Landacre (1893 – 1963), circa 1937

 

THE GREAT FIRE.

One of the most extensive and destructive fires of which we have record, has been raging for the past week on the mountains which divide Sonoma and Napa Counties. From all the sources of information to which we have had access, we are enabled to place before our readers the following particulars: Three fires were started at almost the same time – one near the town of St. Helena on the 13th; one at St. Helena on the 14th, and one at Calistoga on the 15th. Shortly after they had been started a high wind began to blow, and soon the flames were beyond control, devouring everything within their reach. The fires of Calistoga and St. Helena formed a junction, and swept along the mountains with such terrible speed that all efforts to check its progress were given up. The following are the names ot the principal sufferers: Jerry Porter—ranch partially burned, fence entirely destroyed, house and barn saved. Mr. Cash—ranch met the same fate as that of Mr. Porter. Bruce Cocknill-ranch entirely destroyed, including out houses and about ten thousand rails. Wilis Cocknill—fence entirely consumed, together with about eight thonsand pickets and a large number of fine sheep. Mr. Coulter—fencing and a large amount of stock burned. Mr. Woodward—ranch on Mark West Creek partially destroyed. As the wind had now ceased to blow so violently, the fire was checked at this place. South of the places above named, the following destruction took place; Jacob Winegardener—ranch, house, barn, out houses, stock and considerable lumber destroyed. Mr. Johnson—ranch and buildings destroyed. Mr, Hoffman—ranch and all he possessed, with the exception of his riding horse, consumed. Mr. Frederick Vent having removed his fencing, saved his ranch, at which point the fire was checked. Nothing is left to mark the course ol the firey fiend but smouldering ruins. The labors of years has been swept away, and many families left in a destitute condition. As to who started these fires in the first place it is impossible to tell, and perhaps will never be known.

The fire found its way into Sonoma Valley, and considerable damage was done before it could be checked. The first place destroyed was the home of Mrs. Lucy Box, a widow lady, who is left almost penniless. The dwelling, furniture, barn, etc., is now in ruins. This is a sad case, and it is a pleasure to us to learn that our citizens are contributing liberally toward enabling this lady to build up another home for herself and children. The next place it reached was the pasture of the Guilicos Ranch, destroying a great amount of fencing. Mr. Jas. Shaw, an estimable gentleman, was the next sufferer. He lost his house, barn, wagons, and a large amount of lumber. Mr. Shaw is now absent from home, and the news of his great loss has not yet reached him. The smouldering stumps and blackened fields can be seen all along the Sonoma road.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870

 

Town Watched. —In consequence of the high wind that was prevalent on last Sunday evening, and the close proximity of the fire on the hills, it was deemed advisable to have our town patroled throughout the night. For this purpose a number of our citizens subscribed various sums to a purse for the defrayment of the expenses: Messrs. Park, Metzler, and a person whose name is unknown to us, were appointed to stand guard during the night, and sound the alarm provided the fiery elements approached too closely. There being no necessity to arouse our citizens from their slumbers, the “fire extinguisher” was allowed to remain housed.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870

 

THE FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS.– For several days past a fearful fire has been raging in the woods and fields in the region of country between Calistoga and Healdsburg, doing immense damage, especially in and about Calistoga, and producing a smoky haze of the atmosphere through this section seldom if ever before seen. During Friday night and Saturday a very high wind prevailed, driving the fire with fearful rapidity. All of the grain fields, fences and woods from Knight’s Valley to Walnut Station, on the line of the railroad toward Napa City, over a distance of twelve miles, were consumed. The fire is still raging in the woods in the mountains. Further down in the valley, and in the vicinity of Napa City, some ten thousand acres of ground have been burned over, in many instances fences, hay, barns and houses being swept away. In Sonoma county quite an extent of country has also been burnt over, and, in some instances, considerable damage sustained. Among the losses which have come to our knowledge is of a Mr. Coulter, a butcher, of Santa Rosa, whose ranch in the mountains was burned out, and four hundred sheep destroyed. Also, a man named Scalis, living about three miles from Santa Rosa, had his barn burnt, and hay and grain destroyed. Also Mr. James Shaw, Mr. Hoffman, and Mrs. Lucy Box, of Guilicos valley, lost their houses, barns, fences, hay, grain, etc. Fires are yet raging through all the vicinity, and will probably burn until there is a fall of rain.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, October 22 1870

 

St. Helena, (Napa County), Oct. 21, 1870. Editors Alta: …The fires that have raged in the hills between this place and Calistoga, are nearly extinguished; the damages are as yet not fully ascertained, but they will probably foot up $20,000, the losers in every instance being uninsured. In the valley, conflagrations are frequent, and the ranch-holders have been “fighting fire” night and day for the past two weeks; fences are burned for ten miles in every direction, as is also the lumber on the ground to erect new ones. The trunks of the forest trees are so charred that they will be blown down by the first gale. Krug’s wine cellar came very near being destroyed by a fire which broke out in the stubble, on Monday, but with the assistance of the neighbors, the flames were extinguished, a large number of vines being damaged. A cellar, owned by Jock & McCoy, near thia place, was burned a few days ago, and 24,000 gallons of wine lost, together with 100 tons of grapes, crushed ready for manufacture into wine.

– Daily Alta California, October 29 1870

 

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