Fire claims collector cars and couple’s recently remodeled home

ST. HELENA — Madeline Buty and Jason Curliano had just put the final touches on their retirement home on a hill overlooking the vineyards of Napa Valley. They hung the last picture on the wall Saturday.

The couple, from Piedmont, had spent three years remodeling the home, a striking modern build with large windows and a wrap-around deck, along Silverado Trail, a few miles from downtown St. Helena.


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Less than 48 hours later, it was a smoldering pile of ashes after the Glass Fire tore through the area.

“We just put so much love and energy into that place,” Buty said Monday, as she sobbed after seeing a video of the ruins. “We spent a lot of years looking for a place. It was the perfect house for us.”

Their home was one of dozens destroyed as the fire scorched Deer Creek, Angwin and parts of St. Helena. The Glass Fire has burned more than 42,000 acres, destroying at least 80 structures including several wineries.

Buty and Curliano, both in their 50s, bought the home in 2017. They wanted a place to escape their stressful careers as attorneys in the Bay Area and, eventually, to retire to.

She were drawn to the Napa Valley foothills by their love of nature and good wine and food. They were captivated by the house’s setting, a hill surrounded by oaks and pines. Buty called it the “tree house.”

The couple spent long weekends there, entertaining family and friends.

“It was the one place that I felt like my husband could get away from work and relax,” Buty said. “It was really serene.”

They decorated the inside with modern art. In the garage, Curliano worked on a collection of rare classic vehicles: a World War II-era Willys Jeep, a Porsche 968 convertible and a Harley-Davidson.

All of it was destroyed in the fire. They didn’t have time to take anything.

The couple fled at 5 a.m. Sunday, 10 minutes after police came to the door. The Glass Fire had ignited in the hills nearby and was moving quickly; the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Buty later watched in horror as videos posted on Twitter showed the fire raging close to their street, east of Silverado Trail. Flames billowed 30 feet into the air, fueled by wind gusts.

“I just knew at that point that the house did not survive,” Buty said.

Monday afternoon, the driveway winding up to the home was filled with the smoldering trunks of fallen oak trees.

The only thing left was the home’s metal roof, which the couple had installed as a failed fire precaution, and a porch railing. Burnt shells of the collector cars sat where the garage used to be. A clay fountain outside had shattered in the heat.

Buty learned that the home had been destroyed after she saw a video filmed by a Chronicle reporter. She hasn’t returned yet.

“I just can’t even wrap my arms around that right now,” she said as she wept. “We literally just finished all the construction.”

Buty said she’s overwhelmed by questions: When can they return to see the ruins? How much damage will their insurer cover? Can they rebuild on the same site? Do they even want to?

More than anything, she said, she worries about to what extent the Napa Valley will recover. She’s most heartbroken for those who lost the only homes they had.

“It’s just such a community up there. And they’ve gone through so much,” Buty said. “I just don’t know what our future is going to be.”

Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @dustingardiner

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