Fire: So Unrelenting by Craig Fuller

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Anguish and heartbreak descend upon those caught in natural disasters. To be sure, they have visited too many, too often this year. There is no hierarchy when it comes to anguish and heartbreak, no one disaster worse or less severe than the next. There is only anguish and heartbreak.

I comment on the tragedy surrounding the fires in California perhaps because they impact me more directly.

I am from California.

I have made frequent visits to the California wine country since 1971.

I have family and friends living in the Napa and Sonoma areas.

I have lost a house to a fire.

Oh, and I was there when these fires started last Sunday night.

We just finished dinner during our fourth and final night of a tour through the Napa Valley as part of a celebration of a good friend’s birthday. I had a camera with me and a member of the wait staff suggested I go outside and take a picture of the fires. It was 10:00 PM local time in Yountville, California with 50 mile per hour winds wiping the fire across the ridge of nearby mountains. Twelve hours later we would be airborne in our aircraft headed back home, but those twelve hours were long and draining.

While never in imminent danger, the uncertainty as one fire became two and then six was stressful, to say the least. Power failed at one of the Napa Valley’s finest hotels. The hotel had generators, but soon they failed. Cellphone service began to fail in what a day or so later we learned was failure caused by the destruction from the fire of over 80 cellphone towers.

Inexplicably, through most of the early morning hours on Monday, the internet worked and I found a site to monitor fire emergency radio transmissions. However, being informed didn’t reduce anxiety as repeatedly dispatchers would say, “…we have no resources to send to that address.” And, this was when “that address” had been reported as a structure on fire.

While lacking resources, the first responders never lost their cool professionalism. Dispatchers guided firefighters to where they were needed most. They reminded that the first priority was protecting the lives of citizens and their own lives.

Sitting in the middle of the Napa Valley proved to be the safest place to be. At one point, there were some 30 fires reported. When we departed and even as I write this many of the fires have containment defined as “zero.” The anguish and heartbreak continue!

As bad as the reports look some three days after the fires started, it will get worse. Probably, it will get much worse.

Fire simply destroys everything in its path. It came suddenly upon the Valley. It was dark. People were asleep. There were no “forecasts” warning of tides or rainfalls. Fire just lit up the sky and overran everything in its path.

Anyone who spends time with the winemaking community in the Napa and Sonoma areas knows of their total commitment to caring for the earth, the crops, the harvest and for each other. These communities are filled with some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I am certain they will band together and rebuild even though there will be a long and painful process ahead.

While our group of ten people are safely back on this side of the country and for that we are very grateful, our hearts and prayers are with old friends and new as they face the challenges of the future.


Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

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