Corrie and Janet Leisen were on a rare vacation when they received word of the fire happening back home. Much of their property, including their farm, Leisen’s Bridgeway Farms, was destroyed by fire. As full-time farmers, they now face the decision of how to move forward when starting from scratch.
Corrie Leisen: We were probably the most diverse farm that I know of. We had olives, figs. Greenhouses, chickens. We had fruit. The fire burned down the pumphouse so nothing can be watered; everything is dying.
Janet Leisen: We did microgreens - I had thousands of dollars’ worth of seeds and stuff in the barn that all burned up. I had some cabbage and lettuce starts and things that I’d started before we left. Some really cool pomegranates. I had started them and they were just about ready to go into the ground. We were on vacation.
CL: ...on a cruise in New York; we were going down the East Coast Monday at 3am when our daughter called. It was midnight here and the fire was just over the ridge.
JL: She could see from her house, which is up higher than the fire was on the other ridge. She came down here to try to get some stuff and our dog. By the time she came out, those houses were on fire on the top.
We really didn’t get the full impact of everything until we drove into town.
CL: What hurt me the most is the antique car. My Grandfather bought that brand new in 1919. It was the only one that existed in the world: 1919 Cole Aero Eight touring car. He bought it in Santa Rosa. I had the bill of sale and the license plates.
We’re underinsured for the business part of it, we’re finding out. The barns are covered but [at half] the coverage it was supposed to be at.
JL: And we didn't have the contents insured.
You know, I think the first week or two, I was actually kind of numb. I mean, on a certain level I understood what had happened. But as the weeks are going on, the level of the devastation and what we lost is starting to sink in. You know, they’re like my babies! I planted all this. There’s radishes coming up that I seeded before we left. It’s like, DAMN! But still, I have my days. [laughs] There are days. And then there are DAYS!.
The hard thing for us was to convince our employees that they didn't have a job. They didn't want us to stop! "We'll keep Leisen's Bridgeway Farms going!" Then we brought them (to the farm) when we could and I think they understood.
(Some of our friends with kids) still have asked us politely not to talk about the fire. There are some kids that are really having to deal with it. There's a couple we were talking to, their kids are playing "escaping from the fire." That's their game.
I don't know. We’re in our sixties. Trying to start over at this point is daunting. Like my husband was saying, we had no life. And now we REALLY don't have a life! [laughs] The farmer’s markets, they were kind of our social outlet. We’d get to know our customers. We’re gonna miss that.
CL: We’re gonna change how we farm. We felt like we had to work all year round. There were three full time markets we did, and then we had more in the summers: seven days a week, twelve hours a day. We were working 84 hours a week each of us. So we're gonna maybe do something different where we do more fruit trees, just do summer markets.
JL: And the olives. I really like the idea of having olives and doing olive oil. Stuff where we can be gone for a month and it's not a big deal.
CL:...we can be gone in December on vacation. Take a week off and be gone. That's our thought right now.
JL: But who knows. You don't want to make big huge decisions all at once when you're going through something like this.