Fountaingrove Lodge Survives the North Bay Fires: An Interview with Resident Bill Baird
By Dr. Marcy Adelman–
On October 8, the residents at Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove Lodge went to bed smelling smoke. The smell of smoke was a concern, but it was not alarming. After all, the staff and residents were well practiced in emergency drills. If there was an emergency, they would be alerted. Then suddenly, early that morning at 2:00 am, the alert came: “Emergency! Evacuate now!”
Residents made their way down from their apartments on the second and third floors to the large living room, the designated emergency room, on the first floor. Some, like Bill Baird and John Kennedy, had thought to bring their cell phones, prescription medications, car keys and wallets. Others arrived with only their bathrobe and pajamas. The staff explained that this was serious, and that everyone had to evacuate immediately. There was no going back to their apartments to retrieve any items.
I recently spoke with Baird about the evacuation. He described how staff and residents calmly helped each other to their cars or onto the Fountaingrove vans parked at the front door, motors running, ready to transport them to safety. Baird helped another Fountaingrove couple—Matile Rothschild, age 82, former Openhouse board member, and Joanie Zimmerman, age 71—to their car. Baird carried Zimmerman’s walker down the stairs to the garage, and made sure they got safely in their car. He said, “We were concerned, but relaxed. We had not yet realized just how intense and widespread the fires were.”
The caravan drove south through the smoke and away from the fire to the north. They stopped and parked at a Costco parking lot until they received directions to take shelter at the New Vintage Church on Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa. Baird was very grateful for the care that he and others received at the church.
“John and I were fortunate to have grabbed some things, but not much when we left,” he said. “Others only had the clothes they were wearing. It was wonderful for us and others to receive the hospitality of the people who took us in. They provided us with donated clothing and toiletry. They were much needed and appreciated.”
The vans transported about 200 residents from all four of the Fountaingrove facilities to the church. They were met at the church by more Fountaingrove staff, who brought water and snacks. The residents of The Terraces, the memory care community, were gently taken to another, quieter building where staff could better comfort them and keep them from becoming agitated and confused.
Baird was in awe of what he witnessed. “The degree of care was amazing,” he said. “There may have been more than 20 staff people helping people.” Taura Anderson, another Fountaingrove resident, was there at the church and in charge of checking evacuees to a residents’ list.
Baird and Kennedy were relieved to know that everyone was safe. At the time, however, it was uncertain if their home still existed, or if it had burned down. It was easy to assume that the fire was getting worse. The red glow to the north of the church continued to get brighter. There were increasingly more fire engines, and the blare of more and more sirens.
At noon on Monday, after being served breakfast, the Fountaingrove residents were evacuated again, this time only two blocks south of the church. The staff then arranged the evacuation of the residents to two different facilities: one in Concord and the other in Berkeley. Baird and Kennedy decided that it was time to drive to their apartment in San Francisco. Other residents chose to relocate to the homes of friends and family members who lived a safe distance from the fire.
I shared with Baird that early that Monday morning, I started receiving texts, emails and phone calls from LGBT community members and concerned friends who wanted to know about Rothschild and Zimmerman, the safety of all of the residents at the Lodge, and the status of Lodge itself. Bay Area community members took to Facebook and email to express their concern, and to share whatever information people had about the fire, the building and the safety of the Fountaingrove residents.
There was little information at first. Then the photographs and news reports confirmed our worst nightmares. The fire was more than a fire; it was an uncontained inferno on speed taking lives, devouring homes, schools and businesses—whole communities burned to the ground—and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee for their lives. The scale of the devastation and loss was hard to take in. It still is.
Slowly, the news about the Lodge began to trickle in. As of this writing, and according to a statement issued by Oakmont Senior Living—the company that owns and operates Varenna, Fountaingrove Lodge, The Terraces and Oakmont of Villa Capri—all of the residents “are accounted for and safe.” Oakmont of Villa Capri unfortunately was destroyed by the fire, and Varenna sustained damage that is still being assessed. Extensive smoke damage is anticipated at Fountaingrove Lodge and The Terraces, but the management expects to be able to reopen them in 3–5 weeks.
All things considered, and in the midst of mind-numbing loss, we could not have wished for better news about the residents of the Oakmont Senior Living properties.
The San Francisco LGBT Openhouse community and the Lodge have a special relationship. Both provide housing and services welcoming to LGBT older adults. Although they serve different parts of the community in very different locations, they are sister communities that share a history of mutual respect and support. As previously indicated, the two communities also share former Openhouse board member and friend to many in the community, Rothschild, as well as her partner Zimmerman. Openhouse’s Excutive Director Karyn Skultety sent out alerts about the couple to keep everyone updated on their status until there was confidence about their safety.
I said to Baird, “You and the other residents of the Lodge are a part of us. We could not rest until we knew you were all safe.” He responded, “Please let the Fountaingrove community know about this. It will mean a lot to them to know how much you all care, to know how much we care for each other.”
Although Oakmont Senior Living plans to rebuild Oakmont of Villa Capri and to repair Varenna, full recovery may take many months, and maybe even years. The community is lucky in so many ways. There was no loss of life, and unlike thousands of their neighbors, they still have their home and community to go back to. But the evacuation was a challenging experience, and the continued relocation can be especially difficult for frail elders and older adults.
The Fountaingrove Lodge residents and staff, and the people of Sonoma and Napa counties, responded to a hellish natural disaster with courage, kindness and community. We need to continue to support them and to hold them in our hearts and minds. You may follow news concerning all of the Oakmont Senior Living residences in Santa Rosa at https://oakmontseniorliving.com/
Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice, is co-founder of the non-profit organization Openhouse. She is also a leading advocate and educator in LGBT affirming dementia care and is a member of the Advisory Council to the Aging and Adult Services Commission as well as the California Commission on Aging.