Veterans Home evacuation in Yountville

The Veterans Home of California in Yountville used Napa Vine buses and ambulances to begin evacuating more than 1,000 residents and its staff Tuesday night, after the Nuns Fire drew closer to the area from Sonoma County.

Howard Yune, Register

YOUNTVILLE — The Veterans Home of California, the state’s largest home for retired military members and their spouses, began an evacuation of residents its staff Tuesday night after wildfires edged closer to Yountville — only to have most of them brought back within hours.

A wheeled fleet, including dozens of Napa County Vine buses, private cars and ambulances from at least four counties was assembled as night fell, in preparation for carrying all of the more than 1,000 residents from the 133-year-old campus. Residents and staff members on the grounds reported many of the evacuees were to be taken south to Napa Valley College, which opened its gymnasium to those fleeing a cluster of wildfires that erupted Sunday night.

However, the plan changed course later in the night, and the state Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the facility, announced on Twitter that only those in its skilled nursing facility would remain off campus as a precaution.

"At this time, the Yountville Veterans Home is not in danger," CalVet said in a tweet posted at 10:30 p.m. "... No general evacuation is underway, but the Home is coordinating closely with local and state officials to be prepared should conditions change.

"All residents who have voluntarily evacuated the Home are welcome to return. We understand your concern for your loved ones. This is a rapidly developing situation, and we are doing our best to keep you informed."

Earlier at the Veterans Home, Abraham Stewart, an incident commander at the Veterans Home, said he and home staff were notified at 3 p.m. by the state Office of Emergency Services of the possible need to clear out the premises because the age and physical frailty of many of its residents would make a quick flight from danger difficult.

Vehicles began arriving in Yountville at 4 p.m., and were slated to continue ferrying evacuees through the night and into early Wednesday morning, said Stewart, an operation manager for the Falck Northern California emergency transport service.

The shelter at NVC, where up to 110 people were staying on its first day, is not equipped to care for those with serious medical issues, said college spokesman Doug Ernst.

Although no evacuation orders have been announced for the town of Yountville east of the Veterans Home, the clear-out began as Napa County ordered people to leave Mount Veeder west of town, as the Nuns Fire turned east from Sonoma County.

By 7:35 p.m. public buses were lined up outside various buildings at the Veterans Home, where the sharp tang of wood smoke pierced the air. Clusters of men and women were queued to wait their turn – many in motorized carts and some clutching satchels in their bags containing a few belongings. Orderlies at the home stood by some of the passengers-to-be.

While some residents were unable to move quickly toward the waiting buses, others would not.

“Sir, come on! For your safety, you need to leave the grounds!” a deputy implored a man outside the Holderman building, a former hospital.

“I’m really sorry,” the man said quietly. “I believe in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I believe he will protect me.”

“And we want to protect you,” replied an orderly holding a wheelchair. “We just want to make sure you’re safe.”

Ambulances traveled to the Yountville home from Napa, Sonoma, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, according to Stewart. It was not known whether evacuees in poor health also would be taken to NVC, or to hospitals or care centers instead.

Earlier, the Napa Valley Transportation Authority announced the suspension of all Vine bus service until further notice. All resources are being diverted to the Veterans Home evacuation, spokesman Derek Moore said.

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Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.