Dozens of expensive homes in an east Napa neighborhood were torched in a rapidly moving wildfire Sunday night just hours after a golf tournament at the adjacent Silverado Resort came to a close.
Power lines were down, utility poles were still on fire and county employees cleared debris from the mostly deserted Atlas Peak Road, near the epicenter of Sunday night’s fire that had grown to 25,000 acres by Monday afternoon.
Among the devastation sat Shawn Sullivan attempting to get cell phone service north of Silverado Resort and Spa while sitting in a “borrowed” golf cart. The day before, the Connecticut man had been volunteering at Safeway Open, a PGA golf tournament held annually in Napa. Sullivan, a self-proclaimed golf fan, is a member of the country club and has a condo there, which he stays in about three months of the year.
“I’ve never been in a wildfire before in my life,” he said. “You see ‘em on TV back East … (but) don’t realize the quickness of how these things spread.”
Sullivan was one of the few residents in the condos to stay put on Sunday night.
“It was pretty scary. When it started coming down over the mountain at maybe one in the morning, all these really expensive homes along West Gate Drive started to get engulfed in flames,” Sullivan said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
When he went to bed at about 4:30 a.m., he said he crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. At 7 a.m., he and his condo were still there, along with the rest of his neighborhood.
There were about seven or eight abandoned golf carts – one still had its key in the ignition. With nothing else to do, Sullivan took the golf cart and drove around the neighborhood with two 5-gallon Home Depot buckets filled with water, putting out any embers he saw.
Sullivan tried to contact friends who had been staying with him – one was due to fly back to Connecticut, another to Las Vegas, and Sullivan still had their belongings.
“I can’t get a hold of anybody,” he said. He didn’t want to leave the damaged area, he said, because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get back in. Roads across the county, including Monticello Road at Vichy Avenue, were closed.
Back at the resort, everything that was left from last week’s golf tournament remained, but was in disarray. Banners had been blown down along with several giant letters next to the green that had spelled out “Safeway Open.” The resort was evacuated Sunday night, spokesmen said.
Just outside the course, wearing a backpack and holding a water bottle, Napa resident Brad Turley walked toward his home on Alta Mesa Circle. Turley said he evacuated the neighborhood at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday. He later saw his neighbor’s house burning in some TV news footage and had no idea what to expect when he returned home.
“It’s hard to assess what’s going on here because fire jumps around a lot,” he said. Some homes completely burned while others in the same neighborhoods seemed to be untouched.
Mark Hyatt, owner of Cut-Rite Tree Service, was one of those lucky homeowners.
“I live up there and still do, amazingly,” Hyatt said, standing next to his toasted truck on Mount George Avenue just south of Sparlin Lane. Hyatt said he was surprised the old wooden house he grew up in, which is surrounded by dried brush and trees, survived.
“It’s an absolute miracle,” he said.
After his neighbors woke him up at about 10:30 Sunday night, Hyatt said the fire hadn’t made it to the south side of Monticello Road yet, so he started to prepare some things. Then he went back to bed.
“I didn’t think it would be that bad,” he said. By 1:30 a.m., though, the hill had been engulfed and the fire was coming over the ridge.
“Frantically, I grabbed my seven cats, put them in a truck and parked down here,” Hyatt said. The flames seemed to be 100 feet high, he said, as they roared down the hill.
Hyatt had tried to park the rest of his vehicles in a clearing south of his house before driving away with his felines, but one truck didn’t make it.
Hyatt assessed his truck’s damage Monday morning. His tires appeared to be melting into the road, and the wood it stored was still flickering.
“It looks like it might still run,” he said, hopeful.
The neighbor’s house he was parked in front of was gone, except for a fire place, two front walls holding window frames, a swimming pool, a Halloween pumpkin and some sunflowers. The neighbor had just finished getting his garden exactly the way he wanted it, Hyatt said.
“I thought this would be safe here,” he said. “I guess – with the embers – nothing is safe.”
Although his home remained intact, there is no water or electricity, Hyatt said.
“I should’ve saw this coming because it’s been so hot and dry,” he said. “The wind was just crazy – blowing in all different directions.”
Hyatt’s other neighbor, Silva Carr, wasn’t as lucky. Her home burned completely.
“You know what I wish I kept – the kids’ artwork,” Carr said Monday morning as she perused through the ashes looking for anything she could hold onto, anything she could salvage.
Like everything else, though, they’re just things, she said. “They can make more artwork.”
Embers were falling as she and her family fled their home Sunday night, Carr said. Firefighters headed towards the fire into clouds of smoke and dust with flashlights, knocking on doors, she said. They were “amazing,” she said.
Her children – ages 8 and 10 – were scared, but they were OK, she said. They grabbed a few stuffed animals before piling into car and heading to Carr’s mother’s house in north Napa.
“I see it as a life-toughening experience for them,” she said. If this fire is the worst thing that ever happens to her kids, then that’s not too bad, she said.
“We’re thankful everyone’s OK,” she said as she collected the few garden items that hadn’t burned – a wind chime and two angel statues.
“Might as well take the angels,” she said, still in shock. “Hopefully there’s a silver lining to all this."