100-year-old walnut tree damaged in Tubbs Fire reborn; family finds renewal

A Sonoma County family that lost their home in the Tubbs Fire has come full circle with the return of their iconic tree. 

"It was about 115 years old according to several arborists," said Brad Sherwood of Larkfield Estates, describing how the sprawling walnut tree anchored his front yard and was a longtime neighborhood landmark.

Sunday night, after a two year absence, the tree came back to the household as a custom table weighing 800 pounds. 

By Monday night, Brad and Brandy Sherwood, with children Grant and June, were making good use of it with a spirited board game. 

"It's beautiful, it's more than we ever expected," said Brandy, admiring the live edge table melded from four pieces, with a blue resin accent resembling a river, running down the middle. 

In the firestorm of October 2017, the Sherwood's home burned, along with most of their subdivision. 

"Everything was leveled except that walnut tree, and it was still standing but didn't survive the heat from the fire," explained Brad. 

The day the tree was finally taken down was tough.  

Experts said it couldn't be saved, and it was a hazard, but the Sherwoods felt a responsibility. 

"We felt pressure from the neighbors and the community, because everyone knew that tree, it was one of those symbolic trees, beautiful and unique."   

The couple turned to a wood artisan based in Cotati.

"When you show up to these people's properties, there's just stumps left," said Andrew Somawang of California Woods. 

Somawang huddled with the family to learn about the tree. 

Then he took the 1500 pound trunk to his shop, milled it into two inch slabs, and let them cure for two years. 

Two months ago, he began crafting the slabs into something new. 

"For this project and all the other fire victims, you want to make something very special for them so there's a lot of emotions involved in it," said Somawang. 

His table for the Sherwoods is the first he's completed for a fire survivor.

A few dozen projects for other survivors await, as the wood continues to dry.  

The table he delivered to the Sherwoods took 100 hours to build. 

"It's heavy, you could dance on it if you wanted to," joked Somawang, "and it should last another 100 years." 

For the Sherwoods, who moved into their rebuilt home in August, the table fills a missing link.  

"This is honestly the final piece, the closure the house has been waiting for," said Brandy. 

Like many survivors, the Sherwoods fled for their lives and lost everything they owned when the Tubbs Fire roared into Santa Rosa. 

"This is a family table for games and meals, and we'll have friends, share stories, this is meant to be the place we gather," said Brandy. 

The arrival of the table also revealed how disaster has actually enriched their lives. 

Most of those who jumped to help move it in were friends they've made since the fire.  

"Helping us out in a heartbeat," said Brad, "and coming over because everyone wants to be part of the rebuild, so that's awesome." 

The past two years have been a journey for family and tree- both resilient. 

Now the tree, instead of providing shade and a steady supply of walnuts, will be the center of new memories.  

"I can't wait to have neighbors over to break it in and have some cheer and joy around it," said Brad.