Point Reyes Station


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A bobcat seen last week from a kitchen window. The cat has taken to showing up in the fields around Mitchell cabin, hunting gophers several times a month. Our fields have so many gophers that I’m always happy to see him.

A male American kestrel perching on the railing of our deck a couple of days ago as it likewise scanned the field below for prey. The falcon eats small birds, mice and insects.

A California scrub jay perched on an oak tree near our deck. These jays feed on insects, small animals, the eggs and young of other birds, grains, berries, and nuts. They’re among the most intelligent of all animals, according to some biologists.

Displaying her impressive spurs, a wild turkey walks along the railing of our deck pecking at seeds put out for other birds. The turkeys eat so much seed and leave such large droppings that they soon became unwelcome guests. During the day when they’re out and about, Lynn closes the gate where they walk onto the deck to discourage their getting used to it as their territory.

Turkeys march uphill near Mitchell cabin. We’ve had as many as 30 at a time in recent weeks. Wild turkeys have a Goth-like drabness when seen at a distance, but when they’re seen up close, they….

are dramatically colorful. With multi-hued feathers, a bright-red wattle, and jutting spurs, they probably could be rated among the more colorful local wild birds.

And while we’ve all heard that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey as our national symbol instead of the bald eagle, the Franklin Institute says the story’s “a myth.” It apparently grew out of a letter to his daughter in which Franklin wrote that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.”

A week of cold winds with several wet days has made downtown feel so bleak that I’d been thinking of filing a complaint with county government. However, as Lynn got out of our car in the Palace Market parking lot Monday, she called back to me that there was an impressive rainbow overhead. I then got out and saw the rainbow framed by overhead lines, dangling running shoes, a utility pole, treetops, and a chimney. Indeed I was impressed by the scene’s complexity.

 

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Capturing the interplay of light and shadow in nature is a specialty of Point Reyes Station photographer Marty Knapp, who just unveiled a new exhibition at the gallery in Toby’s Feed Barn. Called One Place Deeply, Knapp’s show of black and white photographs highlights nature’s beauty around the Green Bridge, Lagunitas/Papermill Creek, and the Giacomini wetlands in Point Reyes Station.

Marty Knapp in his small photo gallery, which is across the street from the feed barn with its much larger gallery.

On his own website, Marty tells this story: “In 1988, I quit my day job and became a self-employed photographer. I survived using only my camera and my darkroom. I did portraits and weddings, copied photographs and made slides for artists. In my darkroom, I developed films and made custom prints for clients.

“In my spare time I pursued my own creative work, capturing dramatic moments of light in the Point Reyes Seashore landscape, and then printing editions for collectors. My long-term goal was to follow my passion and support myself through the sale of my photographs.

“Sales of my creative work began growing in the 1990s, so by 2000 I opened the Marty Knapp Photo Gallery on Highway 1 in Point Reyes. Today, my wife Jean and I show my work there, welcoming visitors from around the world.”

Christmas Walk, 2018. Marty’s focus is so precise that intricate details of trees, water, and clouds become visible, creating a romantic aura.

Describing this photo, Marty wrote, “Jean and I had just returned from a Christmas Day drive through the backroads of Sonoma County. The light was beautiful as we returned home, so I grabbed my camera and immediately walked through the wetlands toward the Green Bridge. The last light of the sun was streaming from across Lagunitas Creek through the winter branches.”

The exhibition at Toby’s is “the culmination of over eight years of walking the trails behind town, very near to where Jean and I live. Access is key to photographing places like the Green Bridge Trail and White House Pool area….

“Being nearby, I walk there almost every day. The light isn’t always wonderful, but with enough time and many visits, photographs like [those in the exhibit] present themselves to me and my camera.”

“I’m drawn to the places where light emerges from a darkened background,” Marty says. “There are several of these kind of photographs I’ve made along the Green Bridge Trail. I call them ‘portals.’”

I’ve known Marty and admired his work for almost 30 years. Because his photos are so sharp, he can get away with printing them as small as notecard size, which is the format which people often get to see. In the show at Toby’s, however, some of the prints are far larger, more than three by four feet, and the results are dazzling.

Marty will give a talk on his photography and answer questions during a second reception set for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. His talk will start at 2:30 p.m. The display at Toby’s will remain up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Feb. 26, so if you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, you still have time.

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A raccoon looking down on my front steps keeps an eye out for non-family members invading his territory.

Happy New Year! As longtime readers know, I’ve periodically started off the new year with a look at the wildlife around Mitchell cabin. This year I’m  going to do it in two postings, the first focusing on the mammals I’ve seen and managed to photograph. The second will feature amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

Begging for food at our door. This raccoon was missing its left front foot. Lynn took pity on the creature, dubbed it “Peanut,” and tried to make sure it got to eat without more-robust raccoons driving it away from the food.

Several raccoons show up on our deck every night hoping to get kibble or food scraps. Outside our front windows, they try to catch our attention, sometimes making noise by dragging the pads of their feet down the glass.

They bathe in our birdbath as well as drink from it. We’ve seen as many as four young raccoons crowd into it at one time it although its far side is 15 feet off the ground.

By now most of them are comfortable on our deck, and a few show up some evenings to take naps, especially those who are pregnant and need sleep.

We also see jackrabbits on this hill quite often but they’re not as punctual as raccoons.

The jackrabbits manage to get along easily with our local blacktail deer. The only time I’ve seen a rabbit particularly wary around these deer occurred when a fawn wandered over to the edge of a field to sniff it. The rabbit hopped off a few yards but stuck around.

Two young bucks, the far one with an antler missing perhaps from butting heads with another buck.

A fawn hiding in the grass. It’s fun to have blacktail deer around the cabin, but they tend to eat our roses and persimmons.

Even more of a problem in the garden are the scores of gophers that live in this hill. Their mounds perforate our fields.

But the gophers don’t have total free run of the place. Here a bobcat pounces on a gopher leaving its burrow near our cabin.

Bobcats have been far more common on this hill in recent years than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

A gray fox occasionally suns itself on our picnic table. Fox populations around here regularly rise only to fall during distemper outbreaks.

A coyote beside our parking area.

Coyotes can be seen in our fields every two or three months, but Lynn and I hear them howling several nights a week. There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because sheep ranchers regularly poisoned them. After the poisoning was banned during President Nixon’s administration, coyotes began showing up here in 1983. They had spread south from northern Sonoma County, where they never disappeared.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows. We occasionally find badger burrows in our fields, but we rarely get to see the animals themselves.

Lest I leave you with the impression that on this hill it’s all “nature red in tooth and claw,” to quote Tennyson, I’ll end this posting with two examples of the many peaceful mammals living here.

A gray squirrel drinking from the birdbath. As I photographed it through a living-room window, the squirrel began eyeing me but didn’t run off.

Skunks are another species that increasingly populates our yard. They’re a bit worrisome, but so far they haven’t caused a stink here.

And may you too have a stink-free new year.

 

 

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Point Reyes Station’s polling place on Tuesday was, as usual, in the Public Safety Building shared by the county fire department and the sheriff’s office.

Tuesday was D-Day for America’s Democrats, who managed to establish a beachhead by taking back control of the House of Representatives. However, the war is not yet over. The Republicans still are in control of the Senate. Il Duce and friends must still be contained.

Toby’s Feed Barn set up a giant-screen television Tuesday evening so the community could watch the election results come in. Booths sold Mexican and Thai food just outside the door. And as the crowd began to gather, singer Tim Weed performed a few songs to help keep spirits high.

Corpses found in Point Reyes Station after the battle.

Measure I, which authorized Shoreline School District to issue up to $19.5 million in bonds, received 64 percent of the vote. It needed 55 percent to win.

Shoreline School District’s trustee election was won by incumbent Tim Kehoe and archeologist Heidi Koenig.

Measure W, which will increase by 4 percent the transient occupancy tax at rental lodgings in West Marin County, needed a two-thirds majority to win and picked up 72 percent. Half of the tax revenue will be allocated for fire and emergency services, and half will be allocated for housing for the local workforce, seniors, and people with disabilities in West Marin.

North Marin Water District board of directors winners: Rick Fraites and Jim Grossi.

Marin Municipal Water District board of directors winners: Jack Gibson and Cynthia Koehler.

Stinson Beach Fire Protection District board of directors winners: Marcus White and Will Mitchell.

Marin County’s new district attorney will be Lori Frugoli, who outpolled Anna Pletcher by 4.05 percent.

A turkey buzzard soared overhead this afternoon looking for election carnage.

Statewide, Democrat Gavin Newsom easily won the governor’s race. Democrat Eleni Kounalakis is our new lieutenant governor. Democrat Xavier Becerra was elected state attorney general. Marshall Tuck appears to have squeezed past Tony Thurmond for superintendent of education with a 0.7 percent majority; the office is nonpartisan, but both happen to be Democrats.

Legislature. The incumbents who represent West Marin, both Democrats, won: State Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Marc Levine.

Congress: Here too our incumbents, both Democrats, were easily reelected, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jared Huffman. 

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

David Briggs (center) serves a sausage to Donna Larkin while behind him Jim Fox doles out pancakes to Nadine Booras.

Point Reyes Disaster Council’s 32nd annual pancake breakfast was held Sunday morning in the Point Reyes Station firehouse. The event is a fundraiser for the Disaster Council, which is made up of resident volunteers, and works as a civilian adjunct to the county fire department. Frying the pancakes, along with eggs and sausages, were members of the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department.

 
Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and Marin Fire Capt. Mark Burbank used the occasion to exchange ideas.
 
 
Most guests ate inside where firetrucks normally reside, but the spillover dined on the firehouse driveway.
 
 
Many merchants and several individuals contributed the prizes for a fundraising raffle. Other donations were sold through a silent auction.
 
 
Selling raffle tickets along with breakfasts were Disaster Council coordinator Lynn Axelrod Mitchell (left) and Inverness Disaster Council coordinator Jairemarie Pomo. Working at the table at other times were Eileen Connery, Marty Frankel, Deb Quinn, and Vicki Leeds.
 
 
Sunday afternoon a Día de los Muertos procession was assembled at Gallery Route One and then proceeded up the main street.
 
 
Parading in the Aztec Dancer tradition, adults moved to the beat of a youth on a drum.
 
 
Debbie Daly on accordion and Tim Weed on banjo led a demonic-looking musical group as it proceeded up the street.
 
 
Whether one watched from the sidewalk or from overhead, the procession created a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
 
 
Día de los Muertos festivities finished up in Toby’s Feed Barn where Ernesto Sanchez had erected an altar for commemorating friends and relatives no longer with us. Most of the celebrants’ face painting occurred in Sanchez’s art studio.
 
Nor were those the only public celebrations Sunday in this rural town of 850 residents. Papermill Creek Children’s Corner coincidentally held its annual Harvest Fest in the Dance Palace community center, where the preschool meets daily.

California’s wildfires reached the Tomales Bay area this Wednesday. The first of two was a small fire near Highway 1 in Olema. The fire, which was started by a tree falling onto power lines, broke out around 4 a.m. Thanks to a quick response from county firefighters, Bolinas volunteer firefighters, and Inverness volunteer firefighters, the fire was limited to about 100 square feet, but more than 2,000 homes and businesses at the head of the bay were temporarily blacked out. Most got their power back over the next few hours, but a few were without electricity for up to 11 hours.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on a line of flames.

The second fire was on Black Mountain west of Platform Bridge, and it was far larger.

The wildfire was first reported at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. Five air tankers, two helicopters, an air-attack plane, three bulldozers and 100 firefighters from the county, the City of Novato, Ross Valley, Bolinas, Inverness, Nicasio, Skywalker Ranch, and Novato responded. They were able to limit its spread to approximately 50 acres, the Marin County Fire Department reported.

Firefighters worked through Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning they reported 80 percent containment. At 3 p.m., they announced full containment.

The fire began beside the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road west of Platform Bridge and the Farm Stand. Fueled by dry grass, the fire raced up a ridge to the top of Black Mountain where firefighters stopped its advance. No structures were damaged. No people were harmed or needed to evacuate although one herd of horses was evacuated as a precautionary measure. The Point Reyes-Petaluma Road was closed at Platform Bridge and at Highway 1 until Thursday morning.

 

The air tankers’ repeated dropping of fire retardant left Black Mountain looking as if an artist had taken a paintbrush to it. Photo by Linda Sturdivant

 

The nationwide protests that began a year ago when Donald Trump was elected president are continuing to grow. Immediately after the election, bumper stickers urging people to “Resist” became common around Marin. Lately, the protest has apparently been picked up by the business community. Two weeks ago, I saw a Mill Valley garbage truck with the message “Refuse” painted on its side.

On a happier note, all the bad weather we’ve been having of late is certainly good for the countryside.

The horse pasture next to Mitchell cabin had been totally eaten down by Thanksgiving, and Arabian Horse Adventures, which leases the land, had to drop piles of hay on the ground to feed its small herd.

But thanks to several rainy days in the past couple of weeks, the hills are starting to turn green again. Here one of the Arabians browses just beyond our common fence. Photo by Lynn Axelrod

Fellow grazers — The blacktail deer population on this hill has seldom seemed larger. In these photos, eight does graze downhill from Mitchell cabin while a smaller group dine uphill.

Watching all this (in the bottom photo) is a buck who seems intent on guarding the smaller harem from predators and other bucks. Before long he begins stamping on the ground with a front hoof. Why he does this is debated. Studies on whitetail deer suggest that bucks may be sounding an alert. Or they may merely be marking territory when they stamp since their hooves leave a scent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bank in Point Reyes Station has been an unpredictable place for a century while operating under a series of ownerships. On Monday, it surpised the town yet again.

Here’s how it all began. The Bank of Tomales in 1910 bought land on the main street for a branch, which opened in 1913 in a wooden building where Flower Power is now located. In 1923, Dairymen’s Coast Bank took over the bank and built the brick building occupied by the florist today.

While this was happening, the wooden structure was jacked up and moved to Mesa Road where it became a two-woman brothel. The late Lefty Arndt, who noted he never patronized the place, once told me it was the only brothel that ever operated in Point Reyes Station — despite what people say about the Western Saloon building and the Grandi Building. In 1928, Bank of America acquired Dairymen’s Coast Bank.

The bank went through its first crisis in August 1959 when a 31-year-old tree trimmer armed with a pistol and sawed-off shotgun robbed it of more than $14,000. Tellers and the one customer in the bank were forced into the vault. The robber kidnapped bank manager Al Cencio but released him in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

A week later the robber, who was named William Jerry “Dugie” Williams, turned himself in, but the money was never recovered. Williams said he had buried most of it near a tree in Lagunitas but couldn’t remember which tree.

During the previous 15 years, Williams had been arrested for draft evasion, burglary, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and passing bad checks; he was on parole at the time of the robbery.  That September, a federal judge in San Francisco sentenced Williams to 15 years on Alcatraz.

The present bank building was erected in 1976 at a cost of $215,000 but not without a major setback. During its construction, an arsonist on May 20 set the structure on fire, causing $100,000 worth of damage. A $1,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist, but he was never identified.

Nonetheless, the new Bank of America was able to open that Oct. 19. In 1994, BofA sold the branch to the Bank of Petaluma, which in 2008 sold it to Wells Fargo.

The trees around the bank were always a major part of its site’s appearance. Over time, a small sapling on the Palace Market side of the bank’s parking lot grew tall enough to become the town Christmas tree and a site for caroling.

That made yesterday’s tree cutting a shock to many people. This blog on Dec. 18 noted that the pine was scheduled to be cut down because it was considered sick and might drop limbs on people. Nonetheless, I was stunned to see actual logging. 

As seen from the bank’s rear parking lot, a Pacific Slope tree-trimming crew also cut down a pine on the north side of the bank.

And they trimmed a third pine at the back of the bank’s parking lot. I understand the bank’s concern about “widow makers,” as they’re called. I was around one. As a reporter in Sonora during the early 1970s, I covered the death of a man who was picnicking in a park on a windless day when without a sound a dead limb fell on top of him.

As of Wednesday, the “stump” of the former town Christmas tree had been lightly decorated with prayer flags. Until the stump is removed, other decorations can be expected, one of the Wells Fargo staff told me.

 

Two middling-large celebrations were held this past weekend in Point Reyes Station. Both were fun — but reflected grim reality.

Saturday was Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Among families from south of the border, it’s a day to pay homage to loved ones who are no longer with them. In West Marin these days, a number of Gringos also observe Dia de los Muertos. (The word Gringo, by the way, did not originate in Mexico but in Spain during the 1800s. For some Spaniards, Gringo was used to mean Greek (Griego) and referred to people speaking a language that was Greek to them.)

In Point Reyes Station, the celebration began at Gallery Route One with a parade featuring music, dancing, and colorful costumes. Leading music for part of the march were Debbie Daly on accordion and Tim Weed on banjo.

Artist Ernesto Sanchez provided face painting at his studio in Point Reyes Station. Adults and young people both took advantage of the offer.

Main street merchants, including Chris Giacomini, owner of Toby’s Feed Barn, and Sheryl Cahill, owner of the Station House Café, went outdoors to watch the parade go by.

After dancing and making music for the entire length of downtown, all three blocks of it, the marchers headed for the Dance Palace Community Center. Providing special color, music, and dancing were the Aztec Dancers, who regularly perform in Point Reyes Station parades.

Inside the Dance Palace, artist Sanchez had created a giant altar where members of the crowd placed pictures of loved ones no longer with us or mementos of their time on earth. Here Socorro Romo, the program director of West Marin Community Services, rests in front of the altar.

Following these rites celebrants enjoyed Mexican food, drinks, and traditional music.

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But Point Reyes Station was just warming up. On Sunday morning, the annual Pancake Breakfast was held in the town firehouse. It’s a benefit for the Point Reyes Disaster Council which helps residents prepare for — or deal with — wildfires, major earthquakes, and flooding.

The council sprang into action during the recent wildfires in the wine country, which forced hundreds of evacuees to seek shelter in Marin County. Although the disaster was not local, the council acted as an intermediary between various organizations helping evacuees, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters.
At the firehouse, firefighters cooked a variety of pancakes (regular, vegetarian, or gluten free), sausages and eggs, which they served along with milk, orange juice and coffee. Seen frying sausages is Ken Eichstaedt, manager of Inverness Public Utility District; the district administers Inverness Volunteer Fire Department’s finances.

Approximately 400 people showed up for breakfast in the firetrucks’ garage.

A raffle to raise funds for the Disaster Council was also held, and youngsters had a chance to ride around town in a firetruck.

The Point Reyes Disaster Council’s account of how it came to be, what it does, and how to take part can be found at pointreyesdisastercouncil.org.

 

Folks in several West Marin towns today stepped forward to aid victims of two of the 16 massive fires blazing 30 to 50 or more miles away. The Dance Palace Community Center in Point Reyes Station and the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center are providing shelters for tonight, as is Marconi Conference Center in Marshall. Lawson’s Landing in Dillon Beach is providing campsites while the Presbyterian church in Tomales is providing food.

West Marin School’s gym cannot be used as a shelter, as many had expected. School is in session, and the gym is needed because there is so much smoke in the air children cannot safely take recess outdoors. At the same time, numerous West Marin residents have offered the evacuees a bed. All told, more than 200 evacuees from Sonoma and Napa counties are receiving a night’s lodging in West Marin.

The Dance Palace Community Center, as did the others, provided food. It also offered clothing to evacuees. Since the majority are Spanish speaking, bilingual local volunteers have been assisting as translators. Other West Marin residents have told evacuees they can stay in their homes.

In Sonoma County, the Sheriff’s Office reported, seven people [later revised to 42] are known to have lost their lives to the fires, and hundreds more are unaccounted for. In Napa County, at least two lives have been lost. The fires have also destroyed more than 5,700 homes and businesses in the two counties. Eight people have died in Mendocino County fires, and three have perished  from fire in Yuba County.

At midday today (Monday), the California Department of Fire and Fire Protection reported that in neighboring Sonoma County: 1,500 acres were burning at Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway; 5,000 acres were burning north of Glen Ellen; and 1,000 acres were burning in Geyserville.

In nearby Napa County, Cal Fire also noted, fires that are still spreading had by mid-afternoon burned:  25,000 acres in Calistoga; 25,000 acres south of Lake Berryessa, and 3,000 acres west of the City of Napa.

Smoky sunrise — When I awoke this morning, the smell of smoke was in the air, and the rising sun glowing through the haze formed a red disk on the horizon. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

My fiancée Lynn is coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council, and although today’s fires aren’t technically Point Reyes disasters, she soon began getting phone calls from people wanting to know if shelters would be opened here? Where would supplies come from? Lynn has ended up spending her day as an intermediary between various organizations, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters at the Dance Palace Community Center and at Marconi Conference Center.

In the midst of all this, I set off for Kaiser in San Rafael where my new eye glasses were ready to be picked up. However, before I left town, I dropped off Lynn’s mail at the postoffice, which turned out to be closed for Columbus Day. The detour, however, let me see an unexpected mass of cars and trucks jamming Point Reyes Station. There were so many that Green Bridge Gas & Auto, the only gas station in the area, had run out of gasoline. 

Volunteering at the Dance Palace, where West Marin residents donated piles of clothing for survivors of the fires. Some evacuees had lost much of what they owned.

One of West Marin’s many wonderful qualities is how quickly community members volunteer to help when there’s almost any kind of dire need. Wearing my new eyeglass lenses while driving home, I began checking the passing scene and soon noticed another group of volunteers. A series of horse trailers was heading east on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I’ll bet those folks are en route to helping evacuate horses, I thought.

As it happened, not long after I got home, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber called to speak with Lynn about a Disaster Council matter. I gave him her cell phone number, and while I had him on the line, I used the opportunity to ask about all the horse trailers. The chief said they’d probably be used to evacuate not just horses but other large animals as well. Mystery solved.

The Marin County Fire Department from the start was well represented on the front lines. The county reported dispatching 22 engines, 5 ambulances, 3 “chief officers,” 1 bulldozer, 1 hand crew, and 7 special firefighters to help neighboring fire departments. Eventually, almost 8,000 firefighters from all over were attacking the blazes, along with 550 firetrucks (including 170 from out of state), 73 helicopters, and more than 30 airplanes.

Meanwhile over at Civic Center, the Marin Sheriff’s Office and the Red Cross have opened a shelter in the Veterans’ Auditorium and report having served meals to 675 evacuees. Terra Linda High School has opened a shelter to house 49 people. Altogether, Marin County is sheltering at least 2,000 evacuees.

Olema Hill, Sept. 21. Nor is West Marin invulnerable to wildfires, having survived five in the past month alone. Thankfully, all of those were contained before they could do much damage. This fire was limited to eight acres. (Photo by Richard Dillman)

Still to be determined is why more than a dozen major fires broke out around the same time Sunday night in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. One hypothesis blames a combination of dry vegetation and high winds that damaged power lines and spread the resulting fires rapidly. Fire officials are investigating.

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