Fellow Book Benders
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This is the 19th edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.  While desperately wanting to stay cheery and nostalgic, the recent firestorm swept me in another direction.

November, 2017                                               Vol. 2, No. 11
 History Repeats Itself

         On Sept. 19, 1964, a deer hunter dropped a cigarette on a wooded slope near Mt. St. Helena.  Armed with garden hoses and wet gunnysacks, firefighters limited the damage to 40 homes on the north edge of Calistoga.  However, on Monday night, the winds returned and the fire moved west with breathtaking speed into Sonoma County.  It raced through Fountaingrove Ranch and headed straight for the County Hospital on Chanate Road.  
            Fire Marshall Mike Turnick delayed the evacuation order of the hospital.  He manned a bulldozer and cut a fire break.  Trees exploded as deer---some on fire---ran down the road when suddenly the winds shifted.  The flames stopped within 100 yards of the hospital before turning west, burning down the grassy slope to Mendocino Avenue, halting across the street from Journey's End Trailer Park.
             If this all sounds eerily familiar, that's because the recent Tubbs fire of October 8, 2017, followed the same path (photo upper left) but with far more devastation.  It all started near Highway 128 at about 9:43 p.m. on that Sunday evening with gusts recorded at 79 mph.  The fire tornado whipped the winds to over 100 mph within its destructive cone.  It ripped through Fountaingrove where cattle once grazed in fields, which was now engulfed with high-end homes.  By 2:08 a.m., the inferno had jumped Highway 101 into the business district around Kohl's and beyond to the Coffee Park residential area. 

           Hurricane 1 category winds start at 85 mph.
         At the time of the 1964 fire, Santa Rosa was a city of 50,000 compared to 175,000 today.
          In Sonoma County there were 23 fatalities.  6,800 structures were destroyed, including more than 2,900 homes alone in Santa Rosa.  This makes the Tubbs fire the most destructive in state history ahead of the 1991 Oakland Hills event.
          Overall, the Northern California fires brought down 8,800 buildings while claiming 43 lives.


          Fountaingrove Parkway at one time was a winery and later a cattle ranch.  After the '64 fire, there was serious debate regarding whether or not to preserve the area as open space, thus providing a natural firebreak for any future calamities.  As usual the almighty dollar won out and developers moved in.  Against city regulations at the time, manors were built on ridge tops as well, leaving only the iconic Round Barn (photos top right) as a remembrance from the past.  This would all add fuel to the 2017 conflagration, causing residents to flee down the hill.
          But in those dark, smoky hours of early Monday, chaos reigned.  A father loaded the SUV with his wife, children and luggage before beginning the hectic run from Fountaingrove toward the freeway.  The escape route, however, was blocked.  Vehicles were not able to use the on-ramp to 101, which was clogged with frenzied motorists going the wrong way. 
          The father looked into his rearview mirror and spied a wall of flames speeding toward him.  The family vacated their SUV and sprinted past the crunch of autos.  Another hundred yards down the hill, he looked around to see the family car go up in flames.
           Another story tells of a family who lived higher up in the hills along Mark West Springs Road.  With electricity out and smoke obliterating their view, they traversed down a steep, one-lane path in three separate vehicles with flames shooting up on all sides.  The son bangs the first vehicle into a boulder and totals the car.  The truck behind was driven by the father who lands in a ditch, blowing out a tire, while the mother in a third auto plows into a redwood. 
             Everyone dives into the father's disabled truck and they make it out alive while driving on nothing but steel rims.
      Nicole and Keith Durnford had just returned to their home in Coffee Park in Santa Rosa from Disneyland with their ailing four-year-old son (top left photo). Phone messages alerted them to evacuate immediately.  The couple ran outside to warn others when a strong gust blew shut the front door, which was locked.  Inside, Dylan was upstairs in bed.  Propane tanks exploded around them.  The wind roared.  The couple pounded on the front door but could not awaken their son who was in the thralls of a deep sleep due to the influence of cold medications. 
        Neither could break through the double-glazed windows.  Keith went to the garage door and kept charging it with his shoulder until he was able to lift it up.  But the door leading from the garage into the house was also locked.  He climbed through the trap door leading to the attic and scampered to the second floor.  He tore away insulation, kicked through an interior wall and reached his son.  All survived.
       Typical of many of these tales is the fact that the residents had little or no warning.  Juan and Marie went to the front door and felt the heat, which penetrated their lungs, making it hard to breath.  They turned around and stared at the wall of flames that had breached the rear of the house.  They gathered up their pets and raced to their car.  They soon abandoned the vehicle, however, as the traffic jam built to an unsafe level.  Along their five-mile trek to the nearest evacuation site at Finley Center, the dogs paws were singed while Marie's hair caught on fire.
         A third account tells of a barefoot Jennelle who fled from her residence in Coffee Park with her ten-month-old infant.  They hitched a ride to her parents house in Rohnert Park where another evacuation alert sounded.   All left to go to a relative's home in Forestville where---yes, you guessed it---another evacuation alert was announced.   They eventually found peace in Guerneville along the Russian River.  All of this happened between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Monday, 10/09.

        The homes of the above three families, along with 1,300 others from the Coffee Park neighborhood,  were destroyed (see photos on bottom left and right).

           With a nod to Norman Vincent Peale, here are a couple of examples of positive thinking during moments of great stress:
            Two women sat on their cot at an evacuation center and got creative with protective masks, trying on a bra, getting in the sharing spirit (photo upper left).
               When Martha and John learned that their Mark West Springs home was gone, he announced to the world, "Some say it's good to experience new things as you grow older," he said with a smile as he strolled through a string of tents (photo lower left).  "And we've never been homeless before."
             Still another, a widow, had been preparing to downsize before the firestorm took her family home.  "It certainly saved me some tough decisions about what to let go of and what to keep," she said.
             There is a whole list of crazy things people grabbed at the last minute during their escape while neglecting to bring the essentials: one man remembered his toothbrush but forgot his underwear; a woman took the cat litter but left behind her shoes; another latched onto a frying pan while leaving behind his wallet; and one frantic person chose her hair rollers over her car keys.
          There were so many heroes, some with small gestures, some with grand sacrifices.  Peter Lang had a heart-wrenching choice: save his house in the fire-ravaged hill above Santa Rosa or protect the more than 1,000 animals trapped at his wildlife preserve, Safari West. The 77-year-old owner didn't give it much thought. As the flames approached, Lang ushered his wife, employees and 30 overnight guests off the hill, grabbed a garden hose and began dousing hot spots threatening his collection of primarily African species, including cheetahs, giraffes and rhinoceroses. When dawn broke, they were all alive but Lang's home was destroyed. "I did not lose a single animal," said Lang as he walked the grounds Tuesday, dense smoke still shrouding pens and other outbuildings (photo upper left).
           Deputy Mark Aldridge (photo upper left) and a trio of families followed a second law officer out of the Porter Creek area when the lawmen became separated.  The lead officer pushed through a 100-foot wall of flames, falling trees and wires.  He radioed back to Deputy Aldridge: "No pass! Do not pass!"   The deputy steered his caravan back to Mark West Springs Lodge.  A group of 35 huddled together with escape routes blocked. The glow became brighter.  You could see the heat wave as the fire grew within 100 yards.  Aldridge settled the panic, telling everyone that it would be all right.  But with no firemen nearby, he feared that that was a lie.  And then, as if controlled by a higher source, the wind shifted.  All survived the night including the historic lodge. 
           At about 12:15 on that horrifying Monday morning, eighty-five-year-old Shirley White (photo upper right), dressed in her nightgown, brandished a garden hose and began to fight a small blaze in her Montecito Heights.  A tree brought down a power line and the fire grew.  Neighbors came to help as well as the fire department.  With the fire extinguished, all retreated.  But the embers started the fire anew.  This time, however, 911 could not send help as all available crews were busy elsewhere.  Shirley White led her neighbors, and the reawakened fire was doused a second time.  Many believe Ms. White's actions saved the neighborhoods below as well, including the junior college district.
          And let us not forget the gentleman (name unknown) who saved a line of trailers at Journey's End Mobile Home Park.  His quick thinking probably saved Kaiser Hospital next door.
          Help came in different forms.  Ninety-one-year-old Art Ibleto (photo upper right), aka the Pasta King, and his crew were busy preparing penne with marinara, garlic bread and salad at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.  They fed military, firefighters and sheltered volunteers. Franco American Bakery and Cash & Carry contributed food.  Employees from Joann's Fabrics sewed pillow cases and pjs to donate.  Food and clothing were dispensed at Piner Cafe.  Redwood Credit Union has raised $19 million dollars so far to aid the victims with the list of donors covering twelve pages in The Press Democrat.  Pharmacists worked 72-hour stretches to replace thousands of medications. The Roxy Theater in downtown Santa Rosa offered free admission to children for screenings of "Lego the Ninjago Movie".  The people at Redwood Alliance near Occidental opened their conference center to firemen who received needed shelter, food and the occasional massage (photos lower right).
          While another couple weaves through the bureaucratic maze to regroup and build again, they are staying at a friend's home at Northwood Golf Course.  The friend had to return to Houston to rebuild his own home, which was flattened by Hurricane Harvey.
           Firefighters can rightfully claim the bulk of the accolades.  Some without rest, drove up from the southern California fires and delved right in.  Others traveled twelve hours straight from Oregon and Washington.  A Seattle crew went to work for the next 24 hours in the hills above Geyserville.  A Portland band patrolled Bennett Valley and Kenwood while Arizona firefighters mopped up hot spots near Calistoga.
          The series of devastating fires called for the the state's biggest, newest and most awe-inspiring fire-fighting weapon: the Boeing 747 (photo lower left).
          Firefighters couldn't stop for a quick cup of coffee, bottle of water or a sandwich without a crush of handshakes and handouts.  Some veterans privately admitted dropping a few tears in response to the outpouring.  One recalls a lady who approached and hugged him before walking away in silence.  He later found out that the woman had lost her son in the blaze.

            The Boeing 747 can drop 19,600 gallons of fire retardant.
           Men and women from 382 fire agencies across 14 states responded to the call for help, the ranks swelling to 5,500.  The Oregon caravan consisted of 75 engines, 15 other fire vehicles and 288 men and women.
             220 non local law officers responded from 75 different jurisdictions.
             The total number of first responders reached 11,000.  THANK YOU ALL.
             Do your Christmas shopping early and visit the Cazadero Craft Faire tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the fire station.  Mention this newsletter and get 20% off my novels.  Same applies for the Monte Rio Craft Faire at the Monte Rio Community Center on Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 2 & 3.  See you there.
                   If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated. 

Next Time:
     In December, we will visit  Christmas customs of the past.  If you have a story pertaining to your favorite Christmas of yesteryear, I would love to publish it in next month's newsletter.  You can reach me through my website or email me directly at  Thanks and stay tuned. 

Where to purchase my latest novel:
        Don't Stop the Music is an action/adventure story that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love.  It is a wild ride through the streets of the Haight and Fillmore Districts of San Francisco culminating in the historic Grateful Dead concert in Rio Nido along the Russian River in 1967.
          The paperback as well as the kindle version are available on Amazon.  If you want to save on shipping and handling charges, you can purchase a signed copy through my website at

Buy Now!

If you would like to buy a signed copy directly from the author:
Click here to buy Don't Stop the Music


Reviews are trickling in:
        “For those who remember the era (Summer of Love), Don't Stop the Music is a delicious summary of memory.”
         San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
        "John McCarty has put together a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967) that is cheerful and entertaining and even pays tribute to the beauty of west Sonoma County..."
          Sonoma County Historical Society

        "Somehow McCarty manages to build sympathy for his motley crew as they embark on a classic road trip from San Francisco to rural northern California."
          Northern California Fulbright Association

       "Familiar folks, home-grown scenery, and candid attitudes will put you happily in the middle of all the action."
          Stephen Gross, The Press Democrat

       "All along there is danger, excitement, budding love and a number of unrighteous brawls.  The author knows what he writes about.”

          Bob Jones, Sonoma West Times & News

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of the October fire.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Gaye LeBaron, Nicole and Keith Durnford, Peter Lang, Mark Aldridge, Shirley White, Art Ibleto, Ed Bale, Marsee Henon, Friends of Rio Nido, The Press Democrat, Card Cow Vintage Postcards, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter (Fellow Book Benders) or to discover more information regarding John McCarty's novels, go to
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."   JMc
Copyright © 2017 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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