For the third time in just over two years, Middletown’s Twin Pine Casino is operating an evacuation center for those forced out of their homes by raging fires. Meanwhile, Rohnert Park’s Graton Casino opened its hotel to fire refugees in Sonoma County.
Casinos are typically places to gamble, drink and dine, but during the Wine Country fires these two facilities have volunteered to serve some of the thousands of people forced to leave their homes during the fires that have recently consumed entire neighborhoods.
The Sulphur Fire near Clear Lake, which has burned more than 2,200 acres and destroyed at least 158 homes, ignited during the nighttime hours of Sunday, Oct. 8. Shortly thereafter, Twin Pine, owned and operated by the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, turned its event room into a Red Cross evacuation center, said Kyle Lewis, the casino’s director of marketing and guest services.
“We opened at 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 9 and by 6 a.m. we had 140 people from the Sulphur Fire,” he said.
When Calistoga was evacuated due to the Tubbs Fire late last week, that pushed more people into the center which has a capacity of 500. By Monday, Oct. 16, the number of evacuees was down to 30. The center will stay open through this weekend, Lewis said.
“It’s surreal that in two years we’ve opened as an evacuation center four times,” he said, recalling the following moments: September 2015 for the Valley Fire that tore through Lake County; in August 2016 for the Clayton Fire; last January for flooding in Hidden Valley; and now for the fires that continue to burn in the North Bay. “We’ve been through so much in the last two years — it’s insane.”
In Rohnert Park, about 10 miles south of the Santa Rosa fires, Graton’s hotel opened some of its rooms to evacuees and provided food to first responders. A hotel spokeswoman didn’t have an estimate of how many rooms were donated to evacuees, but confirmed that Graton has pledged to donate $1 million to the fire relief effort.
“Not only are hundreds of our very own team members and tribal members displaced permanently from their homes, but we are heartbroken for the countless neighbors, families and friends whose lives have dramatically been affected by this ongoing devastation,” said Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, owners of Graton Casino.
River Rock Casino in Geyserville was evacuated last week and appears to still be closed as of Tuesday, Oct. 17. The casino’s most recent tweet was Oct. 12: “We are still closed due to a mandatory evac this am. 4 ur safety, pls DO NOT attempt to access the property. Thoughts & support r with you.”
The Napa Valley Casino in American Canyon and the Parkwest Casino Sonoma in Petaluma, however, are open.