Bernie Krause barely escaped the fires that surrounded his 10-acre compound in Glen Ellen early Monday morning. He and his wife had to drive through flames on the roads leading away from his home.
“The whole hillside near our house had burst into flames, almost like spontaneous combustion. I only had time to make sure my wife could make it to the car,” Krause said on Wednesday. “The road was completely on fire. We drove through a wall of flames and were lucky enough to get out.”
In his wake, the 78-year-old electronic music pioneer left behind 60 years of archives and all of his equipment, which was destroyed in the blaze.
“I lost all my recording equipment and my guitar, which I used when I replaced Pete Seeger in the Weavers,” Krause said.
Krause, who worked with artists like the Beatles and the Doors before becoming an innovator in field recordings, backed up all of his recordings to hard drives that live outside of his home — one is in a safety deposit box in a bank, another is in Europe. But everything else he owned is gone, including his two cats.
Krause is just one of the thousands of North Bay residents who lost everything to the over 20 wildfires still decimating the area. As of Oct. 12, 24 people have died and over 3,500 structures have been destroyed, and Cal Fire reports almost zero containment.
“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it’s not over,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Marisol Richardson, the 49-year-old publisher of Music Junkie Press, says her family lost more than 70 guitars and 40 years of music memorabilia they had collected when the fire demolished their Santa Rosa home.
“We lost 400 drum heads, autographs from Van Halen to Metallica to Kurt Cobain, everything,” Richardson said.
Richardson said she heard about the fires encroaching on her home late Sunday night from a neighbor. After her power went out, she grabbed her husband, her two sons — ages 10 and 19 — and told them they could each bring one valuable. Richardson grabbed film reels with footage of her parents who had died earlier that year; her teenage son grabbed hard drives containing all the photos he had taken for Music Junkie Press.
“We only had a Chevy Cruise for four people, a big dog and a cat,” Richardson said. “We didn’t know where to go. I said, ‘Drive north, drive as far as you can.'”
The next day, Richardson tried to return to her house but was stopped by law enforcement, who told her that they would check on it for her. That evening, she received a picture from a sheriff’s deputy of the burnt remains of her home.
“I’m optimistic. If you look at the picture, the garage is crumpled, and in my mind something is under there,” Richardson said.
The fires come more than 12 years after Ryan Richardson started Operation Ryan’s Hope. Ryan, then a second grader, started a fundraiser to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. It provided 250,000 pounds of supplies to the residents of New Orleans.
But as devastating as their losses are, both Richardson and Krause said Wednesday they were concerned with bigger issues, like where they were going to live.
“I’m just trying to deal with insurance companies, and practical matters like buying shoes and clothes, so I have something to wear,” Krause said.
To help those affected by the fire, please visit our resource page on KQED News.