By Raiza Giorgi
After a fun filled weekend with many guests enjoying the “Hotel Demery,” as Phil and Marlene Demery called their Italian style house in Santa Rosa, they are thankful they made many memories before they returned to their home Tuesday as it burned to the ground in the Tubbs Fire.
More than 21 people have died and 2,000 homes and structures lost as result of the many wildfires consuming northern Califronia, according to local officials. Cal Fire is now overseeing the fire response in cooperation multiple local agencies. The fires grew overnight and conditions worsened which has now torched a combined 70,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, according to Cal Fire. Updates on the fires can be found at http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents.
Cal Fire reported that “these fires continue to burn in steep rugged terrain and heavy fuels. Currently winds are out of the southwest. Weather forecasts predict winds to shift and come from the north in the coming days. Firefighters are strengthening control lines in preparation for this shift.”
Marlene Demery is former city manager for the City of Solvang and she and her husband Phil moved to the Santa Rosa area around 2006 to be closer to their children as they attended college. The Demery’s had lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for 25 years and Demery’s husband had worked for Santa Barbara County as the Public Works Director.
“I had gotten breast cancer and I decided to retire at my earliest date so I could enjoy what little time I thought I had left with my family. My kids had moved to northern California for school and Santa Rosa reminded us so much of the valley, only with year round rivers and green trees,” Demery said.
They had originally looked at the house next door and fell in love with the neighboring Italian style villa with a beautiful pool and spiraling staircase that overlooked an incredible view. When their agent called and told them it had just listed, the Demery’s decided to go for it.
“I had always wanted to live in Italy so I thought this would be a good compromise,” Demery said.
They made a life for themselves in Santa Rosa in the last 10 years, as her husband started work for Sonoma County and their neighborhood became more like family.
“Last weekend after all the guests had left I met a friend in Aptos as we had planned a girls getaway long before all our guests showed up. My lovely husband stayed and changed all the sheets and did the house chores. I talked to him Sunday night around 11 p.m. before he went to bed,” she said.
Marlene said she then received a phone call from her neighbor around midnight saying there was a fire near them and they should think about evacuating, but Demery didn’t think anything of the situation and a fire couldn’t reach them.
“I thought ‘Oh it can’t be that close’ and there wasn’t anything on the news yet so I went to bed. At 2 a.m. I got an emergency alert on my phone screaming at me to evacuate. I called Phil and luckily he woke up and answered and he had a few moments to grab our personal documents and a change of clothes,” Demery said.
Her husband ended up at the Costco parking lot in Rohnert Park and was very grateful to the employees who brought out pastries, coffee and snacks for all those displaced.
“When I talked to Phil Monday morning he said that the wind was unbelievable,” she said.
A friend of their daughter’s contacted them and said he had hiked into their neighborhood and at 1:30 p.m. on Monday their house was still there. An hour later as he hiked out it had completely burned down, Demery said.
“It was the open space below us that got us because it raced up the hill and just burned so hot. Not one other house in our neighborhood burned down, just our neighbors window had melted and the glass cracked,” Demery stated.
Demery said she felt incredibly blessed because just a few years ago they switched insurance companies and their broker informed them how under covered they were.
“She got us up to date on our policies and the best insurance possible so I am already talking to them and looking for temporary housing for us and a contractor to get estimates on rebuilding. They have been so incredible and I know a lot of others aren’t in that same situation so I feel fortunate. I really implore others to take a look at their policies immediately,” Demery said.
There are some things that cannot be replaced such as Demery’s father’s ashes which they would take a little handful of him on their trips because he too was an avid traveler.
“We had a really extensive wine collection and some artwork and treasures we would bring back from our adventures, those I will miss,” Demery said.
She said those that she’s spoken with ask how she has such a great attitude, and she just tells them that cancer puts things in perspective and it’s not so much the belongings people have but the memories they share that are the most important.
“A lot of our Santa Ynez Valley friends have also reached out and we are so grateful for our friends near and far that are keeping us in their thoughts. We really appreciate all the love and support,” Demery added.
She said they might have to make a few trips to the valley to rebuild their wine collection.
Update – Santa Ynez Valley resident Amy Leyack who recently moved to the area from Santa Rosa is making a trip with donations for fire victims the weekend of Oct. 21.
Items she is collecting are
Camping gear such as tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses etc
New underwear and socks of all sizes
Clean or new clothing labeled with sizes
Diapers – child and adult
Gift cards for Target, Costco, Lowes, Home Depot and gas cards
“If we get more donations than our truck will handle we can add a trailer or rent a Haul. We plan to do another trip in November and at that time will be collecting Thanksgiving items and cold/rainy weather items and Christmas/holiday gifts,” Leyack said.
To donate contact her by private message on Facebook.