As the Glass Fire blazed towards Santa Rosa and the surrounding area, the Healdsburg Fire Department responded to an all call alert for mutual aid and sent two engines manned by two crews and two captains.
As the firefight continued the fire department shared two photos of the team’s efforts, a photo of the group unraveling a hose as smoke billowed from a nearby roof on Beaumont Way in Rincon Valley and another photo of the crew posing in the same neighborhood in front of a home they had recently saved. And while other homes on the street were lost, that day they saved this particular home, the home of Julia VanderVennet.
VanderVennet had commented on the Facebook photo thanking the Healdsburg crew for their valiant efforts, “This is the crew that saved our home. They are in fact posting in front of it! Not only did they save our home, but they saved an eight-year-old and a six-year-old from a lot of trauma. Not only did they save our home, but they saved our five chickens.”
VanderVennet shared her story with the Tribune and voiced appreciation for the two fire crews, Captain Mack Montanye, Bennett Leda, Mike Jacobs, Dean De Le Montanya and Captain John Sullivan, Brian Crabb, Blake Ratto and Eric Nunn.
For VanderVennet, this wasn’t the first time fleeing from a fire, however, it was the first time she had to consider that her family might actually lose their home.
“We were having dinner and we noticed that it was awfully smoky, more so than it had been. Our family used to own 60 acres on the top of Calistoga Road and my sister continues to care for the property as well as her husband, and they had gone up the hill to the property,” VanderVennet said.
Her sister and her husband were on the Calistoga Road property checking things out when they got a call from a fireman friend who said, “It’s coming.”
“My brother-in-law called me and said you need to get your stuff ready it (the fire) is coming over the hill tonight and you could be in danger,” VanderVennet said.
VanderVennet put her kids to bed and then started packing essential items and special keepsakes, like her grandmother’s music box from the 1800s, and important documents.
She said, “Unfortunately this wasn’t our first rodeo with evacuation,” but her husband was hopeful they would be OK.
“My husband said it could be all right and then sure enough, within 15 minutes the Nixles came rolling in about every five minutes and the evacuation zones were coming closer and closer and finally we were on a mandatory order,” she said
Her family then loaded up the car and watched the red glow of the flames encroaching over the mountain.
“We were outside just watching that red glow come up over the mountain thinking, ‘Oh boy, this could really be it.’ We always felt like we were somehow lucky and blessed with the Tubbs Fire and that it didn’t get to us,” VanderVennet said.
In addition to the Nixle alerts, police came through her Beaumont Street neighborhood with the hi-lo siren telling folks to leave now.
However, as they were leaving, she wondered what to do about their chickens.
“We said, ‘What do we do about the chickens?’ and my husband said we can’t take them, and we had this big discussion, should we leave their coop open so they can have a chance to get away, but their wings are clipped. We have a lot of critters like coyotes around we figured they would be safer in their coop,” she said.
VanderVennet’s family then evacuated to a friend’s house in Sebastopol and monitored the news, radio stations and social media as much as possible for any news on their neighborhood and the fire.
They finally fell asleep around 3 a.m., but VanderVennet woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound of her phone pinging and went on Facebook and saw a live feed of her street and of their neighbor’s house fully engulfed in flames.
She said, “We thought we had a very high potential for losing our house, our street was burning … We spent most of that day trying to figure out if our house had made it.”
It turns out it did, with the work of the Healdsburg Fire Department crews.
“We were able to get in touch with a firefighter friend who went up there and was talking to the Healdsburg Department and he took a picture of our home and said that our fences were down, and he told us that they were heroes. He said there was no way our house would have made it without those guys,” VanderVennet said.
The crews from Healdsburg Fire had kicked through their fence and cleared away the patio furniture from the deck and moved their barbeque out of harm's way.
The team fought the fire from behind the fencing in their backyard and laid hose lines in the area.
“You could see the lines where the fire came. You can literally see the line where a hose was put out. It was incredible,” VanderVennet recalled.
Folks from the Healdsburg Fire Department crew also went up to the chicken coop and took the time to check on VanderVennet’s chickens and feed them.
“I felt so guilty,” she said of leaving them. “They’ve become our pets and my daughter is so attached to them. I thought oh she’s going to lose her house and her chickens. I was worried about them and if they had food and water.”
She said her firefighter friend had visited her home and sent them a video showing that their chickens were OK and were fed.
“Somebody had opened up (the coop), gone in there and had unscrewed and kicked over their food bin, you could tell it was done in a hurry, but the food was all spread out their area and then they locked the cage behind them. I was so touched by that. You have these people in a major crisis, they are saving homes and neighborhoods and fighting a huge, massive wildfire ripping down the hill and they had the heart to look, think, open up and take the extra few minutes to make sure the chickens didn’t die,” she said while her voice cracked with emotion. “It meant a lot. I want the community and the firemen to know that when they do these amazing things that may seem small and trivial, but what it means to us is incredible. In such a hard time that we’ve been in during 2020, it is one of the things that I can look at and say there is a little bit of hope for us moving forward.”
VanderVennet said the Beaumont neighborhood wants to do something to say “thank you” to the Healdsburg fire crews but doesn’t know what to do yet — a card or a meal wouldn’t be enough to convey how grateful they are.
The Glass Fire is now 100% contained according to CalFire.
VanderVennet said while her home survived, a lot of others didn’t, especially the homes of friends and of people who they are close with.
“We’re really lucky and we can really attribute that to the people who were there,” she said.