Sixteen Classic Cars Up In Smoke

By John Sweeney & Ken Albers • Reprint courtesy of Cruisin News, Oct. 2020

I very seldom watch the TV news, but on a day that I did I saw the Vacaville fire taking place and I saw some classic Chevies on fire. Later, I see pictures and go check our subscriber database. The cars that I saw were Ken Albers’ Collection in Vacaville.  I felt helpless. I tried calling his number, but of course  his phone was dead.  A week or so goes by and I finally get in contact with him. I asked him if I could do a story on the fire and his thoughts about it, so, here’s the story.

Ken doesn’t want to see the burned cars crushed … he said that he’s willing to sell the remains of some of the cars for $500 each. Ken said that “there are still some savable parts on those Chevies. He wants to make sure that they go to the “correct guys”.  If you are interested call Ken at 707-631-2756. 

“What Did We Learn? Fire Does What It Wants To.”

Ken’s Story

Our phone rang at 2am.  It was PG&E telling us that our power was out.  As I answered the phone, I could see the wildfire about 300 yards away and headed towards us.  I threw some clothes on to go warn our neighbor, but they had already left.  We live in the country on nearly 6 acres at the end of the county road.  As I headed back to our house, I met a fireman who told me that we had to get out or we would be trapped.  He said that he had no firefighting support and that he was just trying to warn everyone to get out. When I got back to the house, the county called and said that we had a mandatory evacuation.  With the wind blowing 30-40mph right at us, I had no idea how long we had so, my wife threw on some clothes, we grabbed our two dogs and left in my pickup and her BMW.  We were out by about 2:20am.  We felt confident that our house would survive because it was stucco and had a cement tile roof.  All along the 1 1/2 miles to the first cross street, fire was on the side of the road.  Mostly just grass, but still the flames were up to 6’ high or more, but not like in a forest fire.

We called some friends in town and asked them if we could go there.  We got there and turned on the TV and watched the news.  The fire was all that they were talking about.  One reporter had been to our street and said there were several homes on fire.  Not what we wanted to hear.  About 9am, they were evacuated so, we headed to the evacuation shelter at the Senior Center.  We tried to get back home, but they wouldn’t let us in. We tried all the back roads we knew of, but all were blocked.  We finally were able to get onto the large ranch behind our house to see what we could see. A couple of minutes before we got to where we could see our house, a friend returned our call and told us that she was pretty sure our house was gone.  We both cried.  We had lived there for 30 years and we had 30-40 years of collections gone.  A couple of days later, when we were finally allowed back in, we discovered that not only had our house burned to the ground, but both my metal shop and wood, 4 car garage were destroyed, and all 16 of our classic Chevys, from 1936 to our 2016 Z06 Corvette along with it.

What did we learn? Fire does what it wants to.  I kept my weeds mowed down and my neighbor across the street even mowed his weeds with a lawn mower so his weeds were no taller than your yard and he still lost his home.  I heard of one man, who had a 75’ fire break of plowed ground around his place and he still lost his home.  Make sure that your insurance is enough to cover the replacement of your house.  Just because you may have replacement coverage, there is probably a limit and probably not enough.  To build a nice house today costs $300-$350 a square foot.  AND, if you have a mortgage, the insurance will pay that off out of the amount that they give you.  Personal items, i.e., anything that is not nailed down, literally, is where most people will lose the most.  Take pictures of every room, then go through and write down EVERY item and then try to determine its replacement value.  It will add up real fast.  And don’t forget your tools.  I know that you have way more invested in them than you think you do.  Car insurance, I have Hagerty and they have been great.  I should be getting the entire, agreed upon value, for all of my cars, as they were all destroyed.

We are just in the beginning of cleaning up so that we can rebuild so, I don’t have much information along that line, but get signed up with FEMA, SBA and the county as they all have ways of helping you both immediately and later.  I have heard that some folks suffer with mild cases of PTSD.  This can be a very traumatic experience.  I’ve only had a couple of nights where I have slept all night through and it’s been a couple days short of a month.  Don’t be so proud as to refuse help and support from friends.  You can also probably get on with Meals on Wheels.  It was set up for us by a friend and it sure is nice not to have to cook or think of something to cook in a time like this.  And the meals are not bad. AND, don’t make any major decisions for at least a month.  You need to get your head around what has happened so, don’t shoot from the hip.  Take your time, you’ll be glad that you did. – Ken Albers