While thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed by the California wildfire, one family remains in the town that six generations of Gretchen Crebs’s family have called home.
On Thursday, Gretchen Crebs spent the night on the porch with her shoes on, watching fires consume the trees and brush on a ridge above Geyserville, Calif.
By nightfall, much of the area surrounding the town of Geyserville was evacuated. But this family stayed put.
Crebs had stayed awake so her 79-year old father, who had been up for 36 hours, and the rest of the family could get some sleep.
The previous day had started before dawn. Her father, Harry Bosworth, had walked “one old mule and two old horses” down to this tiny Northern California town with the help of his son-in-law to protect them from the encroaching wildfire.
“We sold the horse trailer last year. Thought we’d never need it again,” said Crebs’s mother, Karen Bosworth, 77.
The Bosworth clan represents a rarity in this state of transplants, a sixth-generation family in the town where their ancestors arrived in the 1880s.
Their hardware store, Bosworth and Son General Mercantile, also carries cowboy hats and wine country souvenirs, as well as the town’s history — old school bells, handwritten bank ledgers and fine china teacups that Harry’s great-grandparents carried from Maine.
The two-block long downtown, with funky outdoor architecture and two much-loved Italian restaurants, has long drawn visitors from throughout Sonoma County. In recent years there has been an influx of wine tasting rooms as tourists — drawn by the celebrity of the nearby sprawling Francis Ford Coppola Winery, with its gift shop, Hollywood memorabilia and pool swimming cabanas — also have discovered the town of about 800.
After a fire in the late 1960s approached their spread, the Bosworths brought in sheep to graze on flammable brush and planted a vineyard whose green plants act as fire retardant. Other than this week, that had been the only time in their 50-year-marriage that fire has come close to their land here in Northern California wine country.
At 11 p.m. Wednesday, with the fire still glowing above, Crebs walked a block to talk with firefighters, many of whom she knows by name. She felt reassured there would be a knock on the door and time to get to Highway 101 and head south to the safety of Healdsburg or Windsor, Calif., if needed. There’s been a reassuring presence of police from San Francisco, 70 miles south, who had been driving by with spotlights, stopping to chat with residents.
At 1 a.m., she could still see red above. On Thursday, the flames had died down, but helicopters were still scooping water from the lake.
Now, near the end of the fall harvest came the sad news that a longtime neighbor’s vineyard and winery had burned.