Chimney Sweep

Sonoma County’s tiny Kenwood, Glen Ellen hit exhausting by wildfires

In the tiny parishes of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, Sonoma Counties, clumps of ash and soot continued to drift through the air on Monday afternoon, although most residents had long since escaped to safety.

Dozens of houses, farms, and automobiles along Highway 12 were reduced to little more than twisted metal and ashes, while numerous small pockets of flame burned what was left of dozens of lots.

Hassan Zaidi roamed the charred remains of the Trinity Oaks subdivision in Glen Ellen on Monday, checking to see if a family friend’s home had survived the fire that lashed through the towns early that morning.

While his friend was out of town, Zaidi was in the middle of the firestorm.

“I looked out the window and everything was burning around us,” said Zaidi. “It was disastrous.”

Despite the devastation, Zaidi’s own house on Dunbar Street was spared and he sent his family to San Francisco while he stayed to review the damage.

After climbing past the fallen branches and derelict power lines of a small residential street, Zaidi finally reached the gate of his friend’s house on Jerri Drive. Behind a knot of blackened trees was a long wall, the only piece that was left of his friend’s once stately home.

“I’m so sorry,” Zaidi said on the phone to his friend who was at his home in San Francisco. β€œIt burned. It totally burned down, but you’re fine. That’s all that counts.”

An unbroken curtain of smoke hung in the air all day, making the sun and sky appear in various shades of yellow and red.

A small house in the Trinity Oaks subdivision seemed to catch the brunt of the fury of the fire. The house was leveled except for a brick chimney, and the ashes still streamed bands of smoke and shimmering heat. The neighborhood reeked of smoke and burned debris.

John LemMon said he was standing on the roof of his house in Glen Ellen late Sunday, armed with his garden hose and putting out any flames and embers he could see. He also cut wooden fences with a chainsaw and piled them away from the fire in hopes of fending off the flames.

“It was apocalyptic,” said LemMon. He and his family were evacuated around midnight Sunday, he said, but he “snuck back” to Glen Ellen early Monday to investigate the damage.

His house was undamaged, although his neighbor’s shed was destroyed by fire.

“I was lucky,” said LemMon.

In Kenwood, the path of fire seemed to take on a gruesome sense of randomness – there were houses with little or no damage, a few yards from the charred husks of previous houses.

While much of Kenwood’s downtown area appeared to be escaping serious damage with luxury shops and high-end restaurants, the same couldn’t be said of the city’s residential areas. Some of the city’s residents who stayed behind on Monday or were returning later reported that flames swept north to south, accelerating as they leaked along Highway 12 and destroyed homes.

On Monday afternoon at Chateau St. Jean, several acres of vines along Highway 12 were visibly unscathed and still laden with fruit. But a huge cloud of smoke that was building up just behind the main building of the property indicated that the fire burning on the hillside was coming dangerously close.

Although the fires appeared to have struck much of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, the police and sheriff’s deputies continued to block large parts of the area and keep people out.

Police blocked an eight mile stretch of Highway 12 eastbound from Melita Road near Kenwood to Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen while firefighters continued to clear a number of hot spots.

Troy Taylor from Kenwood was unable to return to his home because of the roadblock and prepared to spend the night in his pickup truck in a gravel yard off Highway 12 so he could get as close as possible to the house and the animals he left behind would have .

Taylor was able to quickly collect his dogs and cats before running away from a “fireball” that came down from the northern hill but had to leave his horses behind. He was deeply concerned about her safety and the fate of his home, which he had not seen since leaving on Sunday evening.

“I put the horses in the pasture, said goodbye, and prayed,” said Taylor. “Then I had a good shout, said goodbye to the house and we’ll see what’s there.”

Dominic Fracassa is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: dfracassa@sfchronicle.com

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