The cellphone, set on vibrate, buzzed insistently 17 times in the middle of the night October 9 before Brittany Rogers-Hanson finally woke up in her newly rented home in Fountaingrove and picked up the message to evacuate.
She had 20 minutes to gather up her husband, Eric, her three kids, her daughter’s friend who was with them for a sleepover, her son’s service dog, her father’s watch and her aunt’s heirloom sapphire ring, and get into the car.
An eerie drive to the bottom of Fountaingrove Parkway, during which they hit a fallen tree, ended at the on-ramp to Highway 101, where they faced another freakish sight — 50 cars headed straight for them scurrying south in the northbound lane. The Fountaingrove Inn and historic Round Barn had not yet burned. Thirty minutes after they left, their own home would be engulfed.
One motorist rolled down his window and shouted “Turn around. The freeway is on fire!”
That’s how Rogers-Hanson’s week began. For the 38-year-old wedding planner there would be no opportunity over the next two weeks to even contemplate her own loss. She had seven weddings to salvage immediately — 27 before the end of the year.
In the two weeks after the fires broke out, Rogers-Hanson and her tiny team from Run Away With Me weddings, including chief wedding planner Kalika Ansel, who was burned out of her townhouse across from the Luther Burbank Center, worked like bats out of hell. They scrambled to move two weddings from Napa and Sonoma to Novato at the last minute as the fires raged, graying the skies with strangling smoke even over areas unaffected by flames.
“Our phones,” Rogers-Hanson said, “were blowing up.”
Hit with three cancellations, Rogers-Hanson’s team of four kicked into gear to salvage what was left and keep any more from canceling. In one day alone she worked the phones to soothe the fears of 37 brides wondering if their weddings were still on. Each canceled event had the potential for setting off a cascade of suffering for the florists, cake bakers, hair stylists, photographers, caterers, musicians and other people whose income depends on Wine Country weddings and events.
In the case of one relocated wedding, the officiant who was supposed to preside over the ceremony lost her home in the fires — so Ansel stepped in and did it herself. And as the relocated and reconfigured events continued in the days that followed, the wedding team continued to come together as smiling couples shared vows and toasted love.
“My team is very powerful,” Rogers-Hanson said. “For some reason survival kicked in, because we’re wedding planners. Our normal job is dealing with chaos. But it’s also keeping us sane. Because once we stop and think about what happened, we’re a mess.”
More information about elopements and wedding packages at runawaywithme.com