Good news from Napa


Many trees survived when the grass burned through quickly

Our friends Harry and Mike live at Green Valley Ranch, on the east side of Napa and smack dab in the Atlas fire.  They left their home at 3 a.m. last Monday when the fires started, then snuck back on Tuesday morning and stayed to fight for their home.

For the next 36 hours they chopped down trees, cleared brush and used the water from the tank they installed a few years ago to protect against emergencies.


The water tank that supplied their efforts.

They got lucky when a Cal Fire helicopter saw them and dropped a full load of water on the house, then came right back and dropped another on burning trees near the building.


What is left of the front yard.  The sculpture on its side is coming to our house.

The first night they had no sleep, never stopping their efforts.  The second night they set the alarm every 20 minutes to get up and check for flare up, hot spots and any other dangers.

Finally, the fires died out.  They had saved their home.  Harry and Mike live in a small compound with 4 homes situated around a common cookhouse—zoning allows only 1 kitchen for each 250 acres, so their homes have no kitchen.  (Mike and Harry found a loophole allowing a “mother-in-law” unit, so they have a small kitchen).

The others were not so lucky.  All the homes, and the cookhouse, burned to the ground.


A panoramic view of the other buildings, all destroyed.

Gail and I drove up there Saturday, but the police wouldn’t let us get near.  On Sunday, we tried again.  This time the CHP officer guarding the road said we could only go up if someone came down to vouch for us. Cell service is spotty at best, but we called Harry and come down and got us in.


Gail, Michael and Harry.  We brought the Champagne to celebrate.

The boys still have no power, save a small generator.  No running water.  They cook in the outdoor kitchen Harry created, over an open fire.

The pond behind their home is still busy with egrets, herons and ducks.  They came back as soon as the smoke cleared.  In this shot, you can see the hill across the pond, where the fire raced through all the underbrush and some of the smaller trees.


Life at the ranch will never be the same, but nobody was hurt, none of the cattle were lost, buildings can be rebuilt.  In a few days there will be water and power, and life will go on.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we said goodbye.  I drove around the ranch some to get more photos.

The barn was built in the 1800’s, so the wood was tinder dry.  It went up in a flash, and left the remnants of a tractor on view.


Here is what remains of a phone pole:


Fire retardant is dropped from planes as large as a 747. It’s dyed red so they know where it has been applied, and works as a fertilizer to help regrow the area after the fire to prevent erosion.


A streak of fire retardant across the trees.

We met this fine gentleman riding around the ranch looking for hotspots.


There are fire crews here from all of the western states, working tirelessly to put out the more than 20 major fires plaguing northern California.

I have been stunned by the capriciousness of the fire.  You can see here how it was on one side of the road and not the other:

untitled-12And here how it burned a narrow path up a hill:


And somehow it burned three quarters of a canoe:


Our friend Tom Flesher lives in the Pavillion House, and you can see the fire burned right up to the building, which was unscathed.  They lost the well pump house and other out buildings, but the main structure was safe:


Driving down the hill towards home, we met another fire crew.


I had to know where Daisy Mountain is, and found out they had come from North Phoeniz, AZ.  That’s a long drive in a fire truck that only goes 55 miles an hour, but they were here to serve and still smiling.  I’ve never met a fireman I didn’t like.  We made sure to thank them for coming.

In Napa, we passed “Incident Central”, a huge RV area that was being used as the base of operations.  I noticed this:


Many hundreds of tiny tents, where the exhausted firefighters could get some sleep.  All that hard work and they didn’t even get a real bed, for there were no beds to be had.  On another part of the facility were hundreds of fire trucks and support vehicles parked, and this was towards the end of the emergency.

Napa is safe.  Santa Rosa is still burning, but the fires are largely contained.  We were happy to see these signs in town, and echo the sentiment.


7 thoughts on “Good news from Napa

  1. Thanks, Chris, for your trip, pictures and story. I had a big lump in my throat reading about Harry and Mike. After visiting them with you and seeing all the beautiful art, it was very emotional, and am so happy to know their house survived.

  2. thank you , Chris and Gail and Ray’s house is intact, he says.
    Our beloved camp,URJ CAMP NEWMAN, across road from Safari West burned very badly, but some stuff survived–not enough for camp next summer, however.

  3. Thank you Chris for sharing this! Harry’s dad and I have been so worried and feeling helpless here in Ohio. We have talked to Harry and Mike so we knew they were safe but your pictures and words show and tell us what they are going through. Thank you for being there for them. Ralph and Carol Siter

  4. thank you so much for sharing this with us Chris. We were all so worried about Harry and Mike. I did talk to him on Friday, but is good to see them. Thank you and God bless you!

  5. Thank you so much for putting up this saga! What a good story teller you are Chris! Mike is a great story teller too, and I can’t wait to hear him tell about it, when I get back out there. My brother, Harry is strong and has a great technical mind. Such a trial, but they battled and beat it down. It is so nice to know they have such great friends who care and are standing by. I know they will be fine, and all will be rebuilt in time, but it will never be the same. Cheer!

  6. It feels like you uncovered a strange kind of beauty in the midst of all the destruction. Thanks for sharing the story Chris.

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