Ir­re­press­ible love: As fires de­rail wed­dings, cou­ples find ways to pre­vail

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - ByMartha Ross mross@ba­yare­anews­

Reanne Rem­linger, of Pleas­ant Hill, planned to take things easy in the week be­fore her Satur­day wed­ding to Josiah Os­tran­der in Sonoma County.

Af­ter all, ev­ery­thing­was pretty much in place: the venue, the caterer, her dress and the cal­ligraphed place cards and other DIY dec­o­ra­tions she and Os­tran­der had care­fully crafted over the­months lead­ing up to their big day.

Then came the dev­as­tat­ing text mes­sage at 4 a.m. Mon­day. Rem­linger’s mother and step­fa­ther, Lisa and Ted Har­ris, had to im­me­di­ately evac­u­ate their house in Santa Rosa. The quick-mov­ing Tubbs fire was push­ing smoke, crash­ing trees and flames in their neigh­bor­hood near Cof­fey Park.

The Har­rises man­aged to flee with just a few clothes, their two ter­ri­ers, and what only a mother of the bride­would think to grab— Rem­linger’s lace wed­ding dress.

A few hours later, the fam­ily

learned that the Har­ris’ home had been left a pile of ash and rub­ble, along with all of the wed­ding dec­o­ra­tions. Still, there was no ques­tion — the wed­ding in down­town Se­bastopol would go on.

“I’m re­ally hop­ing that it will be good to have all our friends and fam­ily here, that it will lift our spir­its,” Rem­linger said. She added that her mother also man­aged to flee with her floor­length mother of the bride dress.

This spirit of press­ing for­ward is shared by other cou­ples whose plans for their big day were se­verely dis­rupted by fires still tear­ing through Wine Coun­try. As of Thurs­day af­ter­noon, the death toll had risen to 31, more than 450 peo­ple were listed as miss­ing and more than 3,500 homes and busi­nesses had been de­stroyed.

Among the dec­i­mated prop­er­ties was Par­adise Ridge Win­ery in Santa Rosa, where Cza­rina Ro­driguez and Jeff Yuen, of Martinez, were to hold their wed­ding Satur­day evening. They chose the lo­ca­tion be­cause of its spec­tac­u­lar views, hop­ing they could look down on vine­yards em­bla­zoned with golds and reds of fall.

Even when they learned that the win­ery was gone, they didn’t want to put off get­ting mar­ried, es­pe­cially with friends and fam­ily soon to ar­rive from out of town, and some from out of state. They and their wed­ding plan­ner, Cinthy Walsh, quickly hit the phones to find an al­ter­na­tive venue, an­other win­ery but 70 miles to the east in scenic Ca­pay Val­ley.

Wed­dings are big busi­ness in Wine Coun­try, where 6 per­cent of Napa County’s 3.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2016 came to at­tend some­one’s nup­tials, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey for Visit Napa Val­ley. Wed­ding plan­ner Ni­col Turner of Napa-based Lit­tle Blue Box said, “Between April and Novem­ber, wed­dings are hu­mon­gous busi­ness here.”

It’s not known how­many wed­dings were sched­uled for the com­ing week­ends in Sonoma or Napa coun­ties, but Walsh and Turner said they knew of col­leagues who were scram­bling to rear­range dates and lo­ca­tions for cou­ples.

For Ro­driguez and Yuen, Walsh also had to help find new ho­tel rooms for guests booked at one of the ho­tels near Santa Rosa that had been de­stroyed. And she had to lo­cate an­other caterer af­ter the Sonoma com­pany con­tracted to serve the sit- down din­ner of salmon and short ribs had to can­cel Wed­nes­day. “Sadly, some of their staff mem­bers lost homes in Santa Rosa,” Walsh said.

Per­haps more than any­thing, cou­ples said they were grat­i­fied by the out­pour­ing of love, sup­port and of­fers of help they re­ceived from friends, fam­ily and even strangers. Oth­ers seemed gen­uinely in­vested in help­ing them en­sure their wed­dings took place — even if it wouldn’t be in the same lo­ca­tion or man­ner in which they long en­vi­sioned.

Be­cause Rem­linger had lost all her pre­cious hand­crafted dec­o­ra­tions at her mother’s house, her pho­tog­ra­pher Heather Salzer put out a call to other bridal clients. Those clients came through with dec­o­ra­tions from their own wed­dings, and some­one skilled in cal­lig­ra­phy of­fered to make her new cards.

The Tubbs fire also cost Dy­lan Kara­halios and MC Brown most of their ma­te­rial posses­sions, five days be­fore their Fri­day wed­ding in Cloverdale.

“We pretty much walked out with the clothes on our backs,” Kara­halios said, though he added they man­aged to grab their wed­ding rings be­fore flee­ing their Cof­fey Park home.

More­over, in a stroke of luck, Brown’s wed­ding gown was not at home but at the seam­stress.

Even with­out the dress, the cou­ple said they would have gone through with the wed­ding— even if they had to show up in shorts and Tshirts.

A cousin of Kara­halios set up a GoFundMe page to raise $13,000 to re­place the wed­ding sup­plies that had been stored at their house. By Wed­nes­day, the page had al­ready ex­ceeded that amount. Kara­halios said the ex­tra money will be do­nated to other vic­tims.

“It’s been so joy­ous and up­lift­ing the way the com­mu­nity has ral­lied to­gether,” Kara­halios said, adding that this spirit of com­mu­nity re­minds them of the rea­son they want to marry in the first place.

“To be able to es­cape all that and to know that our re­la­tion­ship is in­tact and we have each other, I wanted to forge ahead,” he said. “I want to marry this wo­man, and the fire won’t stop me from do­ing that.”


Josiah Os­tran­der and Reanne Rem­linger will go ahead with their wed­ding Satur­day, de­spite her mother’s loss of her home.


Par­adise Val­ley Ridge Win­ery in Ken­wood be­fore and af­ter the Tubbs Fire de­stroyed it on Oct. 9. Wed­dings are big busi­ness in Wine Coun­try. A Visit Napa Val­ley sur­vey found 6per­cent of the vis­i­tors in 2016were at­tend­ing a wed­ding.


Cza­rina Ro­driguez and Jeff Yuen had to scram­ble to find a wed­ding venue af­ter Par­adise Ridge Win­ery in Santa Rosa was de­stroyed by the fire. They plan to get mar­ried in Ca­pay Val­ley.

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