Kincade Fire burns 107-year-old cattle ranch in Sonoma County
“The smoke was blowing and we couldn’t tell where the fire was,” said Eric LaFranchi, who lives in the Knights Valley of Sonoma County.
Eric says most of his family were evacuated early Sunday morning as the wind picked up and the blaze approached their property.
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“There was so much dust you couldn’t see and it was hard to even get up.”
You can hear the wind – gusts of 80 to 100 MPH – in the cellphone video Eric’s daughter spun at 3:13 a.m. on Sunday. It was about an hour before the flames reached the valley on Route 128.
It was then that Eric and his son suddenly realized they had to go.
They barely escaped as they walked away from the flames.
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“The only thing I could see was the fire and its two taillights … The flames as we drove a little further were on both sides of the road … the flames brushed against the front of the car and we could see them on the windshield.
Eric says a downed tree blocked the road and they had to turn around and head north to get to safety. “When we came back two hours later, the whole ranch, all the structures, were gone.”
The ranch has been in the family since 1912. The Kincade fire burned down 107 years of the LaFranchi family’s history.
Barns, trucks, mobile homes and three family homes, including the house where Eric grew up and then raised his own children, were set on fire.
“Maybe another generation could have shared the same experience if we hadn’t lost the house in the fire,” Eric said, walking through the ashes of the house built in 1948.
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Hot spots were still burning on the property Monday night. Eric’s daughter was watering his yard, the only structure on the ranch to survive the blaze.
“What we’re probably most grateful for is that everyone is doing well and the cattle are doing well,” said Cheryl LaFranchi, sister of Eric, who runs their ranch, Oak Ridge Angus.
His house burned down with their ability to care for the cows, so the local farming community donated haystacks and equipment to keep the farm running amid the smoldering ashes. Cheryl says friends in other parts of California will house some of their calves and heifers for the winter.
Cheryl says they will rebuild. “We’re going to start tomorrow, it’s not early enough for me, and we’ll just start cleaning up.”
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