HEALDSBURG — As Shawn Rotlisberger rounded the last bend in the steep, winding driveway he’d driven many times before, he held onto a sliver of hope that his father-in-law’s home would still be there.
The charred storage shed was the first thing he saw when he came around the corner. At that moment, he knew the house hadn’t stood a chance.
“There’s no words,” he said Saturday as he took in the destruction for the first time. “It’s gone.”
The home was burned to the ground, the chimney rising practically alone from a pile of twisted, smoldering rubble.
It was one of several homes destroyed on Wallace Creek Road, on the outskirts of Healdsburg, when the Walbridge Fire, part of the LNU Complex, tore through the mountains above Dry Creek Valley’s vineyards this week. As images of neighboring homes emerged in the news, Rotlisberger and his family steeled themselves for the possibility that theirs might have met the same fate. But they held out hope.
That hope was dashed Saturday.
Rotlisberger, whose own home in Cloverdale hasn’t been impacted by the fire, pointed out two fragments of melted walls that used to be the corner of the kitchen.
“There’s the dishwasher,” he said.
Off to one side, a basketball hoop remained standing.
Rotlisberger’s father-in-law, Gene Inman, built the house himself in the early 60s, and for years the isolated home tucked into the steep, forested slopes above an abandoned shale quarry was the location of many family gatherings and holidays. Inman built it just up the hill from the house where he’d grown up. That house, which had been vacant for years, also was destroyed in the blaze.
Rotlisberger didn’t try to comb through the rubble Saturday. He’d come back to do that later with his wife and her sisters, he said, and hope they could find something to salvage from the rubble. Though Inman evacuated Tuesday and family members came by to remove some things — sentimental items from Inman’s late wife’s cedar chest, some guns and important documents — Rotlisberger now wishes they had taken more.
But as he drove back down the driveway, he was worried about something else — breaking the news to his wife, who grew up in the house.
“She was already torn up,” Rotlisberger said.