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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 1:30 am | Fair 46º


Former Solvang City Manager’s House Destroyed in NorCal Fires

Marlene Demery and her husband, former county public works director Phil Demery, lost their Santa Rosa home in the Tubbs Fire

Former Solvang City Manager Marlene Demery said her Italian-style home was her dream house and it can be rebuilt after it was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa. Click to view larger
Former Solvang City Manager Marlene Demery said her Italian-style home was her dream house and it can be rebuilt after it was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa.  (Contributed photo)

After a fun-filled weekend with many guests enjoying the “Hotel Demery,” as Marlene and Phil Demery called their Italian-style house in Santa Rosa, they are thankful they made many memories before they returned to their home Tuesday as it burned to the ground in the Tubbs Fire.

More than 21 people have died and 2,000 homes and structures lost as result of the many wildfires consuming northern California, according to fire officials.

Cal Fire is overseeing the fire response in cooperation multiple local agencies. The fires grew overnight Sunday and conditions worsened to burn a combined 70,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, according to Cal Fire. Updates on the fires can be found here

“These fires continue to burn in steep rugged terrain and heavy fuels,” Cal Fire reported. “Currently winds are out of the southwest. Weather forecasts predict winds to shift and come from the north in the coming days. Firefighters are strengthening control lines in preparation for this shift.”

Marlene Demery is a former city manager for the City of Solvang, and she and her husband Phil moved to the Santa Rosa area around 2006 to be closer to their children as they attended college.

The Demerys had lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for 25 years and Demery’s husband had worked for Santa Barbara County as the Public Works Director.

“I had gotten breast cancer and I decided to retire at my earliest date so I could enjoy what little time I thought I had left with my family. My kids had moved to northern California for school and Santa Rosa reminded us so much of the valley, only with year-round rivers and green trees,” Demery said.

They had originally looked at a different house, and fell in love with the next-door Italian-style villa with a beautiful pool and spiraling staircase that overlooked an incredible view. When their agent called and told them it had just listed, the couple decided to go for it.

“I had always wanted to live in Italy so I thought this would be a good compromise,” Demery said.

They made a life for themselves in Santa Rosa in the last 10 years, as her husband started work for Sonoma County and their neighborhood became more like family.

“Last weekend after all the guests had left I met a friend in Aptos as we had planned a girls getaway long before all our guests showed up. My lovely husband stayed and changed all the sheets and did the house chores. I talked to him Sunday night around 11 p.m. before he went to bed,” she said.

Marlene said she then received a phone call from her neighbor around midnight saying there was a fire near them and they should think about evacuating, but Demery didn’t think anything of the situation and a fire couldn’t reach them.

“I thought ‘Oh it can’t be that close’ and there wasn’t anything on the news yet so I went to bed. At 2 a.m. I got an emergency alert on my phone screaming at me to evacuate. I called Phil and luckily he woke up and answered and he had a few moments to grab our personal documents and a change of clothes,” Demery said.

Marlene and Phil Demery called their Santa Rosa home “Hotel Demery” and said it was filled with love and memories.
Marlene and Phil Demery called their Santa Rosa home “Hotel Demery” and said it was filled with love and memories.  (Contributed photo)

Her husband ended up at the Costco parking lot in Rohnert Park and was very grateful to the employees who brought out pastries, coffee and snacks for all those displaced.

“When I talked to Phil Monday morning he said that the wind was unbelievable,” she said.

A friend of their daughter’s contacted them and said he had hiked into their neighborhood and at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, their house was still there. An hour later as he hiked out, it had completely burned down, Demery said.

“It was the open space below us that got us because it raced up the hill and just burned so hot. Not one other house in our neighborhood burned down, just our neighbor's window had melted and the glass cracked,” Demery stated.

Demery said she felt incredibly blessed because just a few years ago they switched insurance companies and their broker informed them how under-covered they were.

“She got us up to date on our policies and the best insurance possible, so I am already talking to them and looking for temporary housing for us and a contractor to get estimates on rebuilding. They have been so incredible and I know a lot of others aren’t in that same situation so I feel fortunate. I really implore others to take a look at their policies immediately,” Demery said.

There are some things that cannot be replaced, such as Demery’s father’s ashes which they would take a little handful of him on their trips because he too was an avid traveler.

“We had a really extensive wine collection and some artwork and treasures we would bring back from our adventures, those I will miss,” Demery said.

She said those that she’s spoken with ask how she has such a great attitude, and she just tells them that cancer puts things in perspective and it’s not so much the belongings people have but the memories they share that are the most important.

“A lot of our Santa Ynez Valley friends have also reached out and we are so grateful for our friends near and far that are keeping us in their thoughts. We really appreciate all the love and support,” Demery added.

She said they might have to make a few trips to the valley to rebuild their wine collection.

[Click here for more stories from the Santa Ynez Valley Star.]

Raiza Giorgi is owner and publisher of the Santa Ynez Valley Star. 

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