CrossWalk Church on First Street became the temporary home early Monday morning to at least 300 people who evacuated from the torrential fires raging around Napa.
The Gennets, who were sitting outside of the center with their two dogs at 3:45 a.m., said they were asleep when they first received a phone call earlier in the night. Thinking it was someone asking for money for the Fire Department, Peter Gennet hung up. Then a second call came and they were told they should evacuate.
But scanning the news online and seeing only reports for the fire on Atlas Peak, Peter Gennet thought the caller had made a mistake. “But I went outside and I saw this orange glow behind our house and I knew that wasn’t Atlas Peak,” he said.
Nearby, just before 4 a.m., Andrew Eugenio was standing among the crowd of volunteers waiting for a trailer laden with cots to be opened.
Eugenio, who owns Celebrity Haven, a boarding care home for the elderly, said the home, located off of Highway 12 in Carneros, near the Napa–Sonoma county line, had been evacuated and most of its residents had come to the center while others who needed special care had made their way to Queen of the Valley Medical Center.
Eugenio said at that point in the morning, he had checked in with all of his residents. “Everyone’s doing fine.”
Ambulances were parked near the entrance of the church, where a check-in point had been established for evacuees. Those not occupying the grid of cots inside the church, milled about, passing in and out of the building, talking on cellphones or sitting with their pets, which were not allowed inside the building per Red Cross policy.
John Campbell was one of those sitting outside near the entrance of the center with his dog by his side.
Escaping his home without a shirt around 1:30 a.m., Campbell recounted: “I woke up to an orange glow and was surrounded by flames … It was right there. I could feel the heat of it.”
That was why, he said, he was afraid that his Sonoma County home near Stornetta’s Dairy “is probably long gone at this point … It was a conflagration,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
Indeed, a passerby later reported the old Stornetta’s property was in flames.
Campbell had been given a shirt by another man at the center. “So people are helping one another,” he said, having offered a spare leash himself to someone who had two dogs but only one leash.
“I’m just hoping that everybody’s OK,” Campbell said. “I’m hoping our neighbors got out OK. I laid on the horn as I went by their house, but the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see whether there were lights on or what was happening there. But we had to go.”
Because he could not bring his dog into the space prepared with cots, Campbell said the pair would likely sleep in his truck.
Standing nearby, in front of the entrance to the center, Tom Dowse recalled his evening, which culminated in evacuating with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and three dogs from their Coombsville home, where they could see the light from the fire to the north of their home.
Dowse said one of the dogs became noticeably nervous around midnight. “I let him out. He came back ... and he was all agitated. I told him to just calm down and went back to bed.”
Then, around 1:30 a.m., Dowse’s son said he had received a call from a friend about the fires and that the family needed to evacuate. “First I was skeptical of the whole idea,” Dowse said. “But I went outside and … you couldn’t see the fire, but you could see the little bit of light. And we could smell the smoke and so we decided to evacuate.”
Dowse said when the family left, the home still had power. “We took two cars,” he said. “We left everything else there.”
“I lived out there for 26 years and never experienced anything like this.”
Among the early evacuees were Alejandra Alfonzo and five members of her family, who were visiting from Florida. The family had been visiting nearby wineries and had just returned to the Silverado Resort and Spa as the fire was approaching.
“We were trying to get to the room and the fire was very close,” Alfonzo said. “Everyone was leaving; the hotel was already empty. Half the staff was gone when we arrived.”
Alfonzo said she and her family had to leave their luggage and escape in their van as flames came within one-fifth of a mile of the resort. “Our IDs are still there; I don’t know how we’ll fly back if the hotel burns,” she said.
Alfonzo said that power at the resort had also failed while the family was there.
While escaping, the family picked up Debbie DeLanoy, another tourist, and brought her to the evacuation center.
DeLanoy said she and her boyfriend were visiting the area from Las Vegas and were staying in an Airbnb rental on Westgate Drive near Atlas Peak Road. The couple arrived at around 7 p.m. Sunday, she said.
“My boyfriend went walking just for fun,” DeLanoy said, “and I got a text message saying, ‘Get out of there now. Look out the back door. There’s a fire.’ And I saw the place next door torching up. I left with my medicines and his backpack.”
A steady bustle of volunteers revolved in and out of the building throughout the early morning hours, helping to unload and set up more cots from trailers that had been brought in and offering food and water for evacuees’ pets, which had been delivered by the Napa County Animal Shelter earlier that morning.
Icela Martin was among the orange-vested volunteers at the booth inside the center, helping check evacuees in.
“They come in waves,” Martin said, as evacuations were taking place across multiple regions. “Some are shaken, some are smiling. They’re being very positive. So I don’t see anyone being rude. So, very vulnerable. And so we just kind of embrace that. And I’ve given a couple hugs today, so that’s all we can be. We can be the good neighbor.”
“People are coming together,” Peter Gennet said. Describing the scene inside, he quipped, “It looks like what you would see in the news somewhere else. Not in Napa.”
Standing near his family’s car in the parking lot of the evacuation center around 4:30 a.m., was James Bell, a senior at Justin-Siena high school.
The family’s ordeal began when they lost power at their home off of Monticello Road near Silverado Resort and Spa at around 10 p.m., Bell said. “And I went outside to see if any of the other neighbors were there and immediately I could smell smoke. And if you looked up, you could see the whole sky was like orange.”
Bell and his brother went to investigate and “there we just saw a whole hill was on fire,” he said.
As for the set-up of the center itself, Bell said, “It’s actually pretty good … just the Red Cross has been amazing.”
He added, “Hopefully our house isn’t burnt tomorrow. Hopefully we can go home tomorrow.”
Reporter Howard Yune contributed to this story.