A firestorm roared over the hill from Calistoga on Oct. 9 and swept through iconic Fountaingrove Parkway business district in northeast Santa Rosa, leaving many buildings in ruins while sparing others nearby. The fluky flames carved a patchwork of business survivors amid a smoky, blackened landscape of charred remains.
At the bottom of the hill, FountainGrove Inn Hotel and Equus restaurant suffered total loss in the conflagration, along with Fountaingrove Round Barn, built in 1899 and preserved as a landmark. The red barn originally housed horses used in nearby vineyards. Fountaingrove Inn and Equus restaurant were designed by prominent Santa Rosa architect Larry Simons, 80, an expert horseman who incorporated an equine theme into the elegant structures. Since 2003, the inn and restaurant have been owned by Angelo Ferro of San Rafael.
Just up the hill was Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which had 250 rooms, all turned to twisted shards and charcoal. The hotel’s Nectar restaurant was incinerated.
But on Round Barn Boulevard not much farther uphill, Fountaingrove Center’s buildings survived intact except for singed trees and landscaping in parking lots. The lowest building (3554 Round Barn) holds offices of Kaiser Permanente, Artisan Sotheby’s International Realty, Merrill, Arnone & Jones law firm, and other attorneys, insurance firms and engineers, plus Scarbrough Financial Group. Another building (3550 Round Barn) holds Wells Fargo Advisors, Summit Funding, Enlow Technology Partners, Babin & Seeger (insurance attorneys), Redwood Trust Deed Services, Umpqua Bank, Buckingham Strategic Wealth, Praxis Capital and Kaiser’s office of public affairs.
Basin Street’s 5 buildings survive
The three large edifices plus two others nearby are owned by Basin Street Properties, which had a crew already on site. Jeffery Rylance, assistant chief engineer for Basin Street, expressed gratitude for his company’s fortune as he stood outside the buildings with their landscaping still charred and smoking. “We got very lucky,” Rylance said. “Down below we had an aluminum trash can that melted right in front of the building. That’s 1,200 degrees (Fahrenheit). But the building is OK. We shut the gas lines off. We will systematically check every building” then clean and change filters.
“Security should be in place today,” Rylance said. “Everything is locked down.”
The company had no employees on site when the fire hit during early morning hours Monday. “Janitorial was done Saturday,” he said. “I have quite a few friends who lost their homes,” including a house worth some $10 million on Mark West Springs Road to the north.
Fire wiped out electricity for the entire business district. Backup power ran for more than 16 hours in some buildings, according to Rylance, and fire alarms continued to ring on Oct. 10 long after fire wreaked havoc and galloped west to devour a Kmart, Journey’s End mobile-home park and dozens of homes in the Coffey Park neighborhood. “They’re still going,” he said of the ringing alarms. “The sprinkler system will still work. It’s not an issue.”
Santa Rosa city crews shut off water to buildings in the area. “I know that 3700 (Old Redwood Highway) down below here still has water. We found a toilet running and shut it off,” he said. “We have checked one building of ours so far (3700). We were going to 3562 (Round Barn Circle) next. It looks like it has outside damage.” The building at 3700 also had outside burns.