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As flames tear through wine country, residents flash back to 2017

By Anita Chabria, Paige St. John, Maura Dolan and Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - In the hills above Highway 12, Emmilia Carrington hoisted a trash can full of water into her neighbor's backyard and tipped it over, turning smoldering ash into a rush of steam that curled up over her black rain boots.

Nearby, the 15-year-old's brother Brody, three years younger, picked up a shovel and dumped dust over live embers, as he'd learned to do in Boy Scouts. Their mother, Eliza, smothered flames with garden stones.

The family evacuated late Sunday, as flames from the fast-spreading Glass fire licked over a ridge, but had returned Monday morning, after Eliza sweet-talked her way past law enforcement.

"Oh my God!" she said Monday afternoon, surveying the hot spots surrounding her home.

It felt like terrible deja vu.

While ash snowed down across the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, the fire - which by Monday evening had burned more than 36,000 acres, prompting tens of thousands of evacuations - was dredging up memories of the deadly Tubbs and Nuns fires that devastated wine country in 2017.

 

Towering oak trees lining Highway 12 burned from the inside out, oozing orange lava, and a herd of bewildered deer pranced between trees, trying to avoid the flames. Overnight, residents at Oakmont Village, a senior-living community, filed slowly out of the front door and loaded onto city buses, which evacuated them beneath a salmon sky.

Along a beloved stretch of vineyards and tasting rooms, the Glass Mountain Inn charred overnight, as did the distinctive stone structure at the famed Chateau Boswell Winery, where flames singed the skins of plump bunches of grapes. At least eight wineries were damaged, officials said, noting that the fate of a handful of others was still unknown Monday evening.

Some were hesitant to flee. Monday morning, Ben Illia stood in the front yard of the gray ranch house where he had grown up watering down the landscape with a hose. Nearby, a sprinkler sprayed an arc over the grass.

Behind him, the hills of Trione-Annadel State Park smoldered, disturbing columns of black smoke rising here and there as embers sparked new burns. But Illia was unconcerned. A veteran of the Tubbs fire, he had no plans to leave unless "I see flames coming over the hill," he said.

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