FLAMES ON OUT­SKIRTS OF SONOMA

San Francisco Chronicle - - WINE COUNTRY FIRES - By Evan Ser­noff­sky Evan Ser­noff­sky is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: es­er­noff­sky@ sfchron­i­cle.com

Sonoma, where his­tory and $100 bot­tles of wine come to­gether on the colo­nial-era plaza in the mid­dle of town, is hang­ing tough.

So far, the vo­ra­cious flames that have rav­ished the Wine Coun­try have spared the old mis­sion and the Spanish bar­racks and the old ho­tel and the City Hall and all the other his­toric build­ings that vis­i­tors call on when not shop­ping, din­ing or wine tast­ing.

On Thurs­day, res­i­dents spent the day ner­vously eye­ing the flames that had paused on the north edge of town, two miles from the plaza. But when the winds kicked up at mid­day, fire of­fi­cials ex­tended the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der to 4th Street — only three blocks east of the plaza.

Hours be­fore, a crew of movers had fin­ished haul­ing the his­toric relics from Mis­sion San Fran­cisco Solano, load­ing them into four trucks and whisk­ing them to safety. The mis­sion was closed to vis­i­tors and the win­dows taped, but it was pos­si­ble to peek in­side and view the emp­tied-out mis­sion mu­seum and the emp­tied dis­play cases.

It was the most dra­matic thing to hap­pen in down­town Sonoma in 171 years, since a group of set­tlers who were ticked-off at Mex­ico de­clared Cal­i­for­nia to be a repub­lic and banged on the door of Gen­eral Mar­i­ano Vallejo to tell him so. Cal­i­for­nia as a sep­a­rate coun­try didn’t work out but Vallejo’s wooden Vic­to­rian house is still stand­ing. Sonoma res­i­dents are hop­ing it stays that way.

But the crew of movers from the mis­sion, just to be sure, stopped at Vallejo’s home and re­moved ar­ti­facts from there, too. Jorge Moreno, a spokesman for the state parks depart­ment, con­firmed that items had been whisked from the mis­sion and from Vallejo’s house, but said he couldn’t say ex­actly what they were or where they were be­ing stored.

Most of the con­cerns were fo­cused north of town. All day, fire­fight­ers were busy light­ing back­fires near the threat­ened homes in an ef­fort to keep the flames at bay. They bull­dozed fire­breaks and crossed their fin­gers. In the af­ter­noon, the winds picked up and fire­fight­ers in­ten­si­fied their ef­forts in the Gehricke Road area near the shut-down Ravenswood Win­ery.

He­li­copters dropped water and bull­doz­ers cut more con­tain­ment lines. Road­blocks went up around the area.

Down­town Sonoma, usu­ally a busy hub of vis­i­tors, din­ers and shop­pers, was nearly de­serted for much of the day. The few souls who braved the thick, chok­ing clouds of smoke wore white face masks as if sur­geons head­ing to the op­er­at­ing room. It was like walk­ing through a heavy fog bank, with the sun lit­tle more that a faint or­ange orb fight­ing to be no­ticed among the walls of or­ange flame just out­side town.

A Basque bak­ery was sell­ing cof­fee and pas­try on the east side of the square. That, and the sports bar nearby, were the only places open for busi­ness.

Sunny Ba­jwa, the owner of the Basque Boulan­gerie Café, said he had been sleep­ing in­side the bak­ery to keep an eye on things. On Wed­nes­day, he sent his bak­ers home to be with their fam­i­lies and lost about $10,000 worth of busi­ness.

“It’s very scary, like we’re liv­ing in a movie,” Ba­jwa said.

“It’s very scary, like we’re liv­ing in a movie.” Sunny Ba­jwa, owner of Sonoma’s Basque Boulan­gerie Café

But on Thurs­day morn­ing, the bak­ery was full of cus­tomers, it be­ing prac­ti­cally the only place to buy any­thing to eat. The aroma of crois­sants, muffins, cin­na­mon twists and cof­fee hung in the air, keep­ing the smoke com­pany.

“We wanted to be here for peo­ple who have sup­ported us through thick and thin,” Ba­jwa said.

Also jammed full of cus­tomers was the Town Square Sports Bar, where weary res­i­dents were drink­ing things that weren’t cof­fee. Ja­son Sin­clair, a Sonoma res­i­dent, was fin­ish­ing a Bloody Mary. He said he had spent the night at a cheap mo­tel with thin walls in Vallejo and was feel­ing tired and fig­ured he might as well come back.

Other folks were walk­ing around town in their face masks, hop­ing that their beloved sur­round­ings would sur­vive.

“This is a very de­sir­able place to live,” said Mark Todd, 61, who was tak­ing a morn­ing stroll around town. “It’s like be­ing on va­ca­tion all the time. Un­til some­thing like this hap­pens.”

Todd said he and his friends have been look­ing at pic­tures of the dev­as­ta­tion in Santa Rosa and hop­ing Sonoma would not suf­fer the same fate.

“There’s a lot of un­cer­tainty and I’m a lit­tle wor­ried,” he said. “We’re kind of all think­ing it could hap­pen here.”

Noah Berger / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Richard Quin­tana and other Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers urge res­i­dents to leave Sonoma. Of­fi­cials ex­tended the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der to 4th Street.

Leah Mil­lis / The Chron­i­cle

Work­ers move his­toric relics from the Sonoma Bar­racks. Cal­i­for­nia State Parks de­cided to move the items from the Bar­racks and Mis­sion San Fran­cisco Solano as a pre­cau­tion.

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