The Tubbs Fire destroyed Bud Pochini’s home and torched about 1,500 fir trees on his Christmas tree farm, but it didn’t crush his holiday spirit and determination to open the popular Pochini Family Farm last week.
He tries not to think about all he lost – including his house, a welding shop, a 1966 Chevy Bel Air that had less than 8,000 miles on it because only his dad, grandfather and Pochini ever drove it, a couple motorcycles, a boat, and a Jeep he bought the day before the fires started.
“I’m like Dory, I just keep on swimming,” he said.
Regretfully he said the Bel Air was underinsured, and there was no insurance on some of the other items he lost including the welding shop and Christmas trees.
He barely nets $10,000 from the tree sales and given that he spends about 1,000 hours – not including the holiday season of selling — each year working on the farm he makes about $10 an hour, probably less. Bud’s Mobile Welding is what “allows” him to be “a Christmas tree farmer,” Pochini said of his welding business.
He grows mostly Douglas fir and white fir, with some other varietals and some 300 to 350 trees are ready to be cut, plus he’s bringing in about 500 fresh Noble Fir, Frasier Fir or Nordmann Fir from the Pacific Northwest. Prices for wreaths, choose-and-cut and pre-cut trees at Pochini Tree Farm range anywhere from $29 to $300. The fresh-cut trees are $59 for anything under six feet, and any tree six feet and taller is $69. “That’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
The Tubbs Fire took about a third to a quarter of the trees growing on the farm, which will affect his business in coming years.
The night the fire broke out, Pochini – a longtime volunteer firefighter with Knights Valley Volunteer Fire Company — and his teenage daughter, Alyson, spent six hours clearing debris off the road so evacuees could leave and firefighters could get through.
They left at about 9 p.m. wearing motorcycle helmets because trees and branches were falling all around them.
They would clear one lane headed north on Highway 128 and by the time they turned around at Franz Valley Road to head south they would again need to clear a path because the windstorm kept ripping branches and downing trees left and right, Pochini said. They did this until 3 a.m.
Alyson, a 17-year-old senior at Calistoga High School, didn’t have much choice in helping him, and “it was a do or die situation,” he said. She “learned a lot” that night, he said. “I’m really proud of her.”
His own home off of Highway 128 was littered with debris, he said, there were “so many logs in the driveway looked like (the game of) Pick-up Sticks.”
He was leaving the fire station on Spencer Lane – normally a five-minute drive from home, but because of the road conditions took 15 to 20 minutes — when he got a call from Rick Williams at Storybook Mountain Vineyards asking Pochini to come help save his home there. Pochini said he drove past his house, his sister’s and another neighbor and saw fire engines there doing structure protection, he said.
He doesn’t know why, but the fire trucks were called away and left the houses unattended.
“All three (houses) were perfectly fine,” Pochini said.
Later that day his property would burn while he was a half-mile away at Storybook. When he heard what sounded like propane tanks explode at his sister’s house, which is near his own, he said he knew that meant trouble, but he didn’t stop fighting the fire at Storybook — which lost a building where 40 years of library wines were stored — to save his own home or his sister’s, which also burned.
Knowing well the terrain in the area, he was strategically creating fire breaks down to the “narrowest spot to choke the fire,” he said.
Between the road clearing, firefighting and phone calls he and his sister made telling people to evacuate, he figures he “had a hand in saving around a dozen” properties. That’s what makes it all worth it to him, and it “feels pretty good” knowing that he helped.
“If I had to do it over again, I would,” he said.
In a twist of irony, Pochini said he joined the volunteer fire service in Knights Valley the year a fire broke out on his property 25 years ago in October, right around the same time of the month as when the Tubbs Fire started at Highway 128 and Bennett Lane on Oct. 8.
Possibly the most gut-wrenching part of the ordeal was telling his daughter and sister that their homes were gone. He wasn’t sure where they fled when he told them to evacuate, and cell phone service was spotty. When he finally tracked them down and reached them, that was about the only time he allowed himself to have a moment.
“We all kind of broke down,” he said.
Pochini Tree Farm is located at 18880 Hwy. 128, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays while supplies last. They can only accept cash or checks this year, no credit cards. For more information visit PochiniTreeFarm.com or call 529-9422.