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Firefighters called to the front

By: Irene Hilsendager
November 8, 2019

As a spark burst onto dry forest material to ignite another big fire coming out of the Mayacama Mountains in northern Sonoma County, reminders and images came to light of another Oct. night in 2017.

Dry hot winds were blowing when the fire started Oct. 23. The fire was fueled by not only tremendous winds blowing at gale force, but embers were blowing into farmlands and vineyards and gunning for Healdsburg and Windsor.

More than 120 square miles were burned, and 175 homes were destroyed and not only were homeowners devastated but imagine what the firefighters feel as they are protecting areas of hot burning acreage, but many are from the local region. Are their families and homes in the path of the fire? Are they being evacuated?

With 200,000 people forced to load up and leave the area, where are they? On Hwy. 101, Stony Point Rd. or Petaluma Hill Rd.? There are not many roads leading away from a fierce fire especially when the freeway becomes a parking lot. Some evacuees said they were on the road for five hours and when they arrived in San Francisco, the hotels and motels were filled up. Where do they go now?

Sonoma County Sheriff Essick announced the first evacuation about one hour after the fire started near Geyserville. The fire allegedly started near one of PG&E’s high voltage line, but Cal Fire is still investigating what really caused the fire. Years of drought made the forest beds extremely dry and ready for a hot ember. With winds predicted to be over 60 miles per hour, where would this fire end.

There were already extra engine crews standing ready for defense throughout the county and ready to respond to another wildfire. 

The Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District firefighters were all on call and rearing to go. Every engine in the district headed north except two engines that were held back for local fire enforcement in the immediate area. The RAFPD rigs were placed in key positions but the worry was, will each hydrant have enough water? With the huge power outage that PG&E enforced to 27,000 home and businesses soon problems would arise. There were broken limbs lying over PG&E lines. Cotati even had downed lines-a fire could have started miles away from the big one.

There are five engines to a strike team with 20 personnel on board. The first dispatch call with one Battalion Chief and one strike team left first and Sat. another Battalion Chief and a second-strike team sat on Hwy. 101 to make sure the vicious fire would not jump the freeway and destroy homes and businesses all the way to the coast.

Battalion Chief Herb Wandel of RAFD said, “The county handled this correctly, warnings went out in time and the many resources that came to help out from all over the country was a success.”

The state of Oregon sent 15 strike teams; that means 75 personnel from Oregon were helping in Sonoma County-other trucks seen were from Nevada City, Pomona, Orange County and so many more.

When Herb was asked about the firefighters receiving any sort of counseling after catastrophes as such, are the troops given special care. Herb said, “We have peer support, the firefighters take care of each other and do a lot of talking.”

As of Tuesday, the fire was about 82 percent contained. Containment does not mean the fire is 82 percent out-it means a certain level of control-how much of the fire’s edge or perimeter, firefighters believe they can stop from expanding or removing potential fuel around a fire’s perimeter. California seems as if it’s on fire. There is fire in the North Bay and Southern Ca.

The Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District was formed in 1993 by a merger of the Cotati and the Penngrove Fire Protection District. The district provides services to Penngrove, Cotati and unincorporated areas of Petaluma. They cover an emergency response area of roughly 86 miles and serve 28,000 people.

Members of the RAFD district have the distinction among their peer as a dedicated hard-working group of individuals handing out outstanding services.