Watch CBS News

LNU Lightning Complex: Tiny Sonoma County Community, Famed for Rain, Scorched in Walbridge Fire

VENADO (KPIX) -- It's safe to say that most Californians' familiarity with the tiny Sonoma County community of Venado -- if they're familiar at all -- probably springs from occasional storm reports that highlight the area's spectacular rainfall. Often during winter months the forest fairly drips with moisture.

Venado may be famed for its rainfall but that did not protect it during the Walbridge Fire.

"I have some kitties that we were not able to evacuate and I'm praying that they made it through," Tammy Montenegro said. "I'm going to take pictures for insurance. Hopefully, I won't cry my eyes out."

Montenegro and her husband lost just about everything to the lightning-sparked flames and they are not alone. Much of the community was lost including the old one-room schoolhouse and the post office.

"This was the post office," Montenegro said, looking at the ashes. "It had been here since the early 1900s -- survived all this time -- and now it's gone."

"Even the parts of California where you can get a lot of rain, fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, including redwood forests," explained Keith Gilless, dean emeritus of UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

Gilless says fire risk in California was always everywhere. Now, it's expanding across the calendar.

"One of the effects that we are seeing in California of climate change is that the fire season is longer, which means it starts earlier and it is later," Gilless explains. "So the fuels that are out there have had preconditioning to be ready to burn."

"Since the 2017 fires I have been very nervous," Montenegro said. "My husband always says 'don't worry about it,' but here we are."

So tiny, often rain-soaked Venado is the latest California community to be consumed by fire. Tammy Montenegro says she will not be coming back.

"You know, we lost 40 years, our children's memories, everything," she said. "I won't live on a one one-way road anymore. Not now."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.