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Calistoga's Mountain Home Ranch set to rebuild after the 2017 wildfires

Calistoga's Mountain Home Ranch set to rebuild after the 2017 wildfires

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After many setbacks, Mountain Home Ranch, a family-friendly rural retreat in the Calistoga hills, is on the way to rebuilding its cabins and campground after burning to the ground in the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

John and Suzanne Fouts, the owners of the 105-year-old resort, said the Ranch expects to rebuild between eight and 12 cabins, build a new showerhouse, and prepare a campground for visitors to pitch tents and park RVs.

They anticipate a spring 2020 opening.

Susanne Fouts said half of the new cabins will have kitchens. The other half will be “more rustic” but still have microwaves and refrigerators.

“We’re looking into different options for fire-resistant structures, including repurposed shipping containers,” said Fouts.

Fouts said she is looking at a long-term, slow rebuild. It is not feasible to replace all of the 30 buildings lost in the fire right away.

“We lost three large houses, one small house, 13 cabins of various sizes small to large, (and the) laundry facility and garage,” Fouts said.

“(We also lost a) small meeting room, showerhouse, office, and numerous sheds (and) barns, and the main lodge. The main lodge had eight guest rooms on the third floor, a commercial kitchen and dining room on the second floor, and a library, kids’ bar, and additional food facility and storage on the first floor. Fortunately, the conference building that we use for small group meetings survived.”

Help from many sources

After the fires, the major barrier for the Fouts has been navigating through the red tape for permitting processes. Finally, with the help of State Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and a letter writing campaign from former guests, Sonoma County Planning Director Tennis Wick said he will personally take on their case.

“The Sonoma County Assessor’s Office waived fees for documentation,” said Fouts. “The Rotary District 5130 fire relief fund gave us a $5,000 grant to help rebuild our business. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided us with some funds to restore the fencing at our house. Our house is adjacent to the Ranch.”

The Fouts are also receiving a pro bono design for the Ranch from Roberta Wahl of Plum Architects in San Francisco. Wahl is an architect and a longtime guest of the family. The Fouts are also getting pro bono legal assistance from the Pillsbury Law Firm in San Francisco. The law firm is looking into helping the Ranch establish a nonprofit organization. The Fouts also received help clearing the damaged buildings from the resort from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ debris removal program. In addition, Fouts are waiting to hear whether the county and state will waive permitting fees because they are fire victims.

The Ranch and animals

The Fouts’ property comprises about 340 acres. The main facility of the Ranch takes up a 5-acre parcel.

“We plan to put the new cabins in the eastern central part of the property. This is where the old cabins near the small houses and main lodge used to be,” said Fouts.

Many of the animals that live at the Ranch survived the fire, but eight animals did not. Today, 15 remain.

“We have two mules, three horses, three sheep, two goats, four cats and one dog. The animals are living at our house next to the Ranch,” said Fouts.

The Ranch used to provide 200 pounds of carrots on a busy weekend for guests to feed the animals.

“We had a ‘one carrot per hand’ rule. It was so much fun to watch the kids run back and forth to feed the horses and goats. We want to get back to that,” said Fouts.

Fouts said the family is eager to welcome back longtime staff who had to be let go after the fires.

“Many of our workers lost both their jobs and their homes in one night. Some people had worked for us for over 10 years. We’re ready to have them back,” she said.

Removal and restoration

One of the important tasks that must be completed is felling dead trees and removing charred limbs from living but damaged trees. The property is home to several thousand trees.

“We lost a lot of heritage oak trees. Fortunately, many of the redwood trees survived. A number of them got damaged. They’re all resprouting from the trunks,” said Fouts.

The Fouts have made headway in restoring the resort’s lake.

“After the fire, the lake filled with ash. As a result, the lake became covered with algae and pond scum. Once we got power back, we began using a pump to aerate the lake,” said John Fouts.

Fouts said he and Suzanne utilized an ecologically-safe algae removal process. This involved weeks of capturing the algae with nets, pulling it to shore, and shoveling it out in truckloads onto the property.

“It’s very good fertilizer so it didn’t go to waste,” Fouts said. “Although it was an incredible amount of work, the gardens benefited. One of the good things about cleaning up the lake was that trees started rooting in the scum on the top. We’ve been saving those trees and replanting them around the property.”

Suzanne Fouts said the couple have learned a great deal about ecology after the fires. They have been inspired to offer new environmental education programs.

“Since the fire, we’ve started attending several programs at Pepperwood Preserve, including an animal tracking program. We want to take what we’ve learned and share that with our guests. In the past, we did mushroom hikes and wildflower hikes. But we want to offer more activities involving animals and the land,” said Suzanne Fouts.

Casey Fouts, John’s son, said he plans to continue working at the Ranch to help restore it.

“It’s a lot more peaceful up here than at most places. You have all this beautiful, wild land around you,” he said. “People can come up and hike and camp in five different ecosystems in the canyon. It’s important to rebuild the Ranch because there is such a history here.”

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