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Small group gathers Sunday in darkened Calistoga church

Small group gathers Sunday in darkened Calistoga church

A small group gathered in the darkened sanctuary of Calistoga’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Sunday to worship God, celebrate Communion and pray for those suffering in the Kincade Fire.

At the end of the service, the congregation gathered, held hands and listened to the words of the Rev. Stephen Carpenter: “Heavenly Father, once again we find ourselves in the midst of smoke and flame. We ask that you would be with each of us as it brings back memories of a very scary time. We also pray for those who are in the midst of the place where the fire is raging now. We pray for the victims of the fire.”

He also prayed for the first responders, for firefighters and for those who are leaving their homes. “Guide us and direct all of us in this time of difficulty,” he said. The Rev. Stephen Carpenter is the retired rector from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa, who led the church for 34 years, retiring in November 2017.

The church was darkened because of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), which left the western part of Calistoga in the dark, although PG&E generators were powering the downtown and the eastern part of the city.

The only lights in the church were candles on the altar and two battery-operated camp lanterns. The Rev. Deacon Susan Napoliello urged the small group to gather at the front of the church, since there was no power for the microphones either.

Joining Carpenter at the altar was Napoliello, who spent Saturday with the Rev. Sally Hubbell at the Healdsburg disaster center. Hubbell is the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Healdsburg, who discovered 80 or 90 migrant workers at the shelter.

“They were basically excused from the vineyards that they were intending to work during the whole harvest,” Napoliello said.

All of them were from Mexico, and Hubbell was quite concerned about them, because they had no resources.

“They weren’t working and they weren’t going to get paid,” Napoliello said.

Hubbell discovered another 40 or 50 people in the center, who also had been evacuated. She contacted the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, based in Sacramento, which sent $6,000 from its disaster relief fund for gift cards for those in the evacuation center.

On Saturday, while they were at the Healdsburg evacuation center, a CalFire spokesman was giving a briefing about the Kincade Fire.

“He gave a general overview of how the fire was acting, the size of the fire, and containment thus far,” Napoliello said. “No sooner than he had stopped, he got word that Healdsburg and Windsor were under mandatory evacuations.”

At first, Napoliello said there was “an amazing hush” and then people started asking, OK, what are we gonna do now? “Most of the people started leaving,” but then she and Hubbell figured out that the migrant workers would need transportation to get to another shelter. “Sally had a contact, she and I both left, and then she went back to make arrangements,” Napoliello said.

Before they arrived at the shelter, the two stopped off at a bakery for coffee and Napoliello said she didn’t notice any anxiety among the people on the street, but rather she noticed people were talking, sharing stories of what was happening with one another. “That was something we noticed during a prior evacuation,” said Napoliello, who has been with St. Luke’s for the past four and a half years.

On Sunday’s service, Napoliello said, “It was a much smaller group today, but it was wonderful to have a presence today and worship together with the Rev. Stephen Carpenter.” Usually, there are between 35 and 55 people who attend weekly services at St. Luke’s, on Sunday, there were maybe 15 people.

How are most of the congregation doing? Napoliello was asked. “I think that because we’ve been through a forced evacuation before (in the wake of the Tubbs Fire in October 2017), we understand the process, so there isn’t any anxiety about that, but it’s unnerving to contemplate the possibility that we might be evacuated again. And, as people are without power and the PSPS extends, there’s more anxiety, and rumors start to spread. It’s important for people to be connected to good sources of information.”

Senior warden Charles Johnston spent the weekend going back and forth between Calistoga, his Knights Valley vineyard, and the new home he and his wife are building in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa. Early Sunday, he headed to Coffey Park to pick up his daughter and he said it was “smoky in spots” with a ferocious wind.

“It was blowing straight to the coast,” he said. There was traffic at times, even in the wee hours of the morning and officials closed Highway 101 from Mark West Springs all the way to Healdsburg, he added. “It’s been an interesting 24 hours. The nice thing I heard this morning was that no one has perished in the fire. I was very pleased that we didn’t repeat what happened in 2017.”

Along with being in Coffey Park, Johnston was at his Knights Valley vineyard, where the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were scheduled to be harvested on Sunday. The harvest was called off, because conditions were so bad, with fallen trees across Highway 128, spot fires still burning and a few wineries, including the Soda Creek Winery, destroyed by fire.

“This is not over,” Johnston said on Sunday morning. “We have a long way to go to get this done.”

You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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