Billy Gianquinto could only watch as flames engulfed his Santa Rosa home of 41 years and destroyed everything he owned except for the shorts, T-shirt and sandals he wore Monday evening.
Gone were paintings of waterfowl, photos of Gianquinto on horses and an uncountable number of accolades from decades of outdoor adventures. Lost were 100 pounds of smoked salmon he caught in Bodega Bay and dozens of cans of homemade pesto.
All that was left were charred remnants of a 2,800-square-foot log home on Hall Road that a dozen students helped build in 1980 for their beloved Piner High School coach and outdoor enthusiast.
Gianquinto, 75, who does not know if the home will be rebuilt, said the tragic loss has left him “in limbo.”
“I’m completely lost like I was just born, and I don’t like it,” he said Wednesday. “That was my home and I lost everything I own.”
In the days since the fire, friends have come forward to offer support and condolences to a homeowner they hardly consider an average Sonoma County resident.
Gianquinto is a renowned duck caller, former NCAA basketball referee and host of outdoor cable programs including “Ducks with Billy & Buck” and “The Outdoor Gazette.” In 2011, he was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame and lauded for, among other things, teaching youth about outdoor activities.
He lived in a home built over a month with assistance from students at Piner, where Gianquinto coached from 1973 to 1985.
Santa Rosa resident Mike Moran, 58, met Gianquinto when he was a 15-year-old student and football player. About two years later, Moran joined classmates who helped build the log home.
“All his players wanted to be involved,” Moran said. “We pounded nails where they told us to pound nails.”
He called the experience “a blast” and, in recent years, enjoyed telling his children about Gianquinto and his log home.
“We were heartbroken when it burned down,” Moran said.
A destructive fire
The fire erupted around 6 p.m. Monday on Gianquinto’s 18.3-acre property east of Sanford Road in a rural area on the western outskirts of Santa Rosa.
Fire departments released video of flames consuming the log home as firetrucks were parked along the long, narrow dirt driveway linking the building to Hall Road.
The Santa Rosa, Graton, Sebastopol and Gold Ridge fire departments and the Sonoma County and Rancho Adobe fire districts all responded.
“It looked like every truck in Sonoma County was there,” Gianquinto said.
Sonoma County fire cameras displayed white smoke coming from the site. Fire officials said flames spread to nearby vegetation and burned about a half-acre.
Sonoma County Fire Division Chief Cyndi Foreman said Tuesday that flames were fueled by winds that the National Weather Service registered at 10 mph.
Gianquinto said he noticed smoke while on his couch and he tried to put out the flames with buckets of water before the wind made things worse.
“It started that house on fire like a matchstick,” he said. “I never seen anything go up so fast.”
Flames burned 10 or 12 sauvignon blanc grapevines in Gianquinto’s vineyard that he built in 2002, but a boat was spared and his Mercedes was saved because it was gone for a smog check.
There were no injuries, but the fire caused about $600,000 in damage and the home was “a total loss,” Foreman said. Its cause had not been identified.
Gianquinto said he watched from the street while firefighters battled the blaze and “I remember raising my hands and saying, ’What do I do now?’”
Yellow security tape surrounded the barely recognizable home this week, and not far away was a Ford F-150 pickup with a melted tail light.
There wasn’t any visible damage to the vineyard, which is managed by a foreman and provides grapes for two local wineries, Gianquinto said.
Gianquinto returned to his property the day after the fire and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“I was out there (Tuesday) and I almost threw up,” he said.
Rick Powers and Merlin Kolb, who both captain charter boats in Bodega Bay, launched a gofundme.com fundraiser for Gianquinto.
He’s currently staying with friends in Windsor, but Powers said there’s an effort to find housing in Bodega Bay, where he’s enjoyed fishing for years.
“This is all just to help someone who’s devastated by a fire,” Powers said. “He’s touched a lot of people over the years.”
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @colin_atagi.