If someone told you about a vacation they had that ended two years after it started, you would probably think it was pretty memorable.
Well, for Nichole Morley, Shanna Ulven and their five best childhood friends from Rose Creek, Minnesota, the vacation to Wine Country they just finished was truly memorable for both good and bad reasons.
In 2017, the woman rented a Glen Ellen vacation home for a girls’ weekend to celebrate their 40th birthdays. Their vacation, however, was frighteningly interrupted when the Nuns Fire bore down on the house the night of October 8th.
“I woke up because I was hot and opened the window, at about 12:45 am, and shut it almost immediately because I smelled smoke,” said Ulven. “That's kind of where things started to get interesting,” Morley said.
Within minutes, embers from the fire were blowing onto the property. “I turned around and said to her, 'We need to go, we need to wake everybody up and we need to go'.
The women packed their belongings and fled to safety, catching flights later that day back to their hometowns. The rental property, owned by Beth Wald, burned to the ground.
“I thought if anything happened to them, it doesn't matter about the house, it's the people,” Wald said. “I was so worried that they were OK, that they got out, I was panicking, absolutely panicking that they were OK.”
Wald was relieved to know the women made it home safely, but couldn’t help but feel poorly about how they didn’t get to finish their vacation. It was while she was in the process of rebuilding the vacation home that she got an idea.
“I could see the structure going up I thought, ‘I should have those women come back on the anniversary’, it would be the second year anniversary,” Wald said. So, she reached out to the women and invited them to come back as the rebuilt vacation home’s first guests. For free.
The women arrived earlier this month and spent four days at the home. They took tours of local wineries, like the Kunde Family Winery in Kenwood and had a laughter-filled, relaxing vacation.
“This means the world,” Wald said. “That night was tragic. The weeks to follow were horrible. We survived something that's unspeakable. So them coming back and the joy in their faces and being able to share the rebuild of this house is so meaningful.”
Wald also hopes the gesture serves as a message to others. She wants the world to know that not only is Wine Country recovering from the fires, it is open for business.