Reanne Remlinger of Pleasant Hill planned to take things easy in the week before her Saturday wedding to Josiah Ostrander in Sonoma County.
After all, everything was pretty much in place: the venue, the caterer, her dress and the calligraphed place cards and other DIY decorations she and Ostrander had carefully crafted over the months leading up to their big day.
Then came the devastating text message at 4 a.m. Monday. Remlinger’s mother and stepfather, Lisa and Ted Harris, had to immediately evacuate their house in Santa Rosa. The quick-moving Tubbs fire was pushing smoke, crashing trees and sparking flames in their neighborhood near Coffey Park.
The Harrises managed to flee with just a few clothes, their two terriers and what only a mother of the bride would think to grab: Remlinger’s lace wedding dress.
A few hours later, the family learned that the Harris’ home had been left a pile of ash and rubble, along with all of the wedding decorations. Still, there was no question — the wedding in downtown Sebastopol would go on.
“I’m really hoping that it will be good to have all our friends and family here, that it will lift our spirits,” Remlinger said. She added that her mother also managed to flee with her floor-length mother of the bride dress.
This spirit of pressing forward is shared by other couples whose plans for their big day were severely disrupted by fires still tearing through Wine Country. As of Wednesday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 23, more than 250 people were listed as missing and more than 3,500 homes and businesses had been destroyed.
Among the decimated properties was Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, where Czarina Rodriguez and Jeff Yuen of Martinez were to hold their wedding Saturday evening. They chose the location because of its spectacular views, hoping they could look down on vineyards emblazoned with golds and reds of fall.
Even when they learned that the winery was gone, they didn’t want to put off getting married, especially with friends and family soon to arrive from out of town, and some from out of state. They and their wedding planner, Cinthy Walsh, quickly hit the phones to find an alternate venue, another winery but 70 miles to the east in scenic Capay Valley.
Weddings are big business in Wine Country, where 6 percent of Napa County’s visitors 3.5 million visitors in 2016 came to attend someone’s nuptials, according to a survey for Visit Napa Valley. Wedding planner Nicole Turner of Napa-based Little Blue Box said, “Between April and November, weddings are humongous business here.”
It’s not known how many weddings were scheduled for the coming weekends in Sonoma or Napa counties, but Walsh and Turner said they knew of colleagues who were scrambling to re-arrange dates and locations for couples.
For Rodriguez and Yuen, Walsh also had to help find new hotel rooms for guests booked at one of the hotels near Santa Rosa that had been destroyed. And she had to locate another caterer after the Sonoma company contracted to serve the sit-down dinner of salmon and short ribs had to cancel Wednesday. “Sadly, some their staff members lost homes in Santa Rosa,” Walsh said.
Perhaps more than anything, couples said they were gratified by the outpouring of love, support and offers of help they received from friends, family and even strangers. Others seemed genuinely invested in helping them ensure their weddings took place — even if it wouldn’t be in the same location or manner in which they long envisioned.
Because Remlinger had lost all her precious hand-crafted decorations at her mother’s house, her photographer Heather Salazar put out a call to other bridal clients. Those clients came through with decorations from their own weddings, and someone skilled in calligraphy offered to make her new cards.
The Tubbs fire also cost Dylan Karahalios and MC Brown most of their material possessions, five days before their Friday wedding in Cloverdale.
“We pretty much walked out with the clothes on our backs,” Karaholios said, though he added they managed to grab their wedding rings before fleeing their Coffey Park home.
Moreover, in a stroke of luck, Brown’s wedding gown was not at home but at the seamstress.
Even without the dress, the couple said they would have go through with the wedding — even if they had to show up in shorts and T-shirts.
A cousin of Karaholios’s set up a GoFundMe page to raise $13,000 to replace the wedding supplies that had been stored at their house. By Wednesday, the page had already exceeded that amount. Karaholios said the extra money will be donated to other victims.
“It’s been so joyous and uplifting the way the community has rallied together,” Karaholios said, adding that this spirit of community reminds them of the reason they want to marry in the first place.
“To be able to escape all that and to know that our relationship is in tact and we have all each other, I wanted to forge ahead,” he said. “I want to marry this woman, and the fire won’t stop me from doing that.”