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Clean-up after Schellville fire will take time

KEITH MCCAFFREY walks through what used to be a 5,500-square-foot barn Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the barn, McCaffrey lost 16 trailers that were parked in his RV storage lot./ Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

KEITH MCCAFFREY walks through what used to be a 5,500-square-foot barn Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the barn, McCaffrey lost 16 trailers that were parked in his RV storage lot./ Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune

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Less than a week after a multi-million-dollar fire swept through a swath of Schellville, some things are returning to normal. But on a broader scale, it will be a while – maybe a long while – before normal completely returns.

Schell-Vista Fire Chief Ray Mulas said Thursday the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing. He knows how the fire started, but he hasn’t received a patrol car video from the California Highway Patrol that captured the origins of the incident.

Mulas said a CHP officer was following a tow truck as it transported a car that had been involved in an earlier accident. Mulas said that when the tow truck hit a chuck-hole by the railroad tracks on Fremont Drive, a chain dropped to the pavement. The CHP officer hit his lights to pull the truck over, and that’s when the video system in the squad car started.

The sparks from the chain started multiple fires, spread to a pallet factory and, in the end, it took 180 firefighters from four counties more than seven hours to douse the flames. Numerous fire crews spent the night at the scene putting out hot spots and preventing flare-ups.

Sonoma Pacific, the pallet factory, suffered a lot of damage, but it occurred around the perimeter of the site and spared the production facility.

Jeremy Foutch, president of Sonoma Pacific, said the company is doing better than expected and that they were very fortunate.

“The major damage was on the perimeter. Our production facility is in good shape,” he said.

While all available hands were cleaning up Monday, Foutch said the company restarted production on Tuesday.

“Our guys are working and we’re taking care of our customers,” he said. “Everyone who could come back Tuesday, did.”

The company employs about 35 workers.

Foutch said he doesn’t have a dollar value yet on what was lost, and that the company’s insurance adjuster is still looking into damage estimates.

“It’s fortunate all the firefighters are safe,” he said. “They did a good job.”

The property east of Sonoma Pacific, McCaffrey’s RV Storage didn’t fare as well.

Tuesday, owner Keith McCaffrey surveyed what was left of a 5,500-square-foot barn and could only shake his head. McCaffrey, a retired firefighter himself, said he’d fought plenty of fires, but said when it’s your stuff that’s destroyed, it’s different.

In addition to the barn, a number of box trailers, travel trailers and RVs were destroyed in the inferno. Some completely melted, leaving little more than a frame.

“I can’t begin to tell you what I lost (in the barn),” he said. Most of the stuff, he added, could be replaced. But he also had numerous antiques, that had been in his family for years, that are irreplaceable.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said.

McCaffrey had been at home in Napa, getting ready to watch the 49ers game, when his tenant called to tell him about the fire. By the time he got to the area, the CHP had roadblocks at Eighth Street East so he sat there until about 4 a.m. when he was allowed to see what was left.

“The only reason my office didn’t burn was that a helicopter dropped a bucket of water on it,” he said.

McCaffrey’s customers started coming to the storage lot on Monday to see if their RVs had survived. At least six of the surviving RVs have already been totaled, and McCaffrey said he couldn’t let anyone else in until after the insurance adjuster had come and taken pictures.

The fire spared a second outbuilding and a house, but only because the winds were blowing from the south and pushed the flames away from the structures.

He estimated there will be 30 to 35 different insurance companies involved in getting things straightened up. And he doesn’t expect a short resolution. He estimated the damages to the barn, RVs and trailers to be between $1 million and $2 million. He pointed out one RV that survived saying, “That fifth-wheel travel trailer alone is $85,000. It doesn’t take long before you hit $1 million.”

Mccaffrey said he has plans to rebuild his barn on the land that his family has owned for more than 50 years.

Jonnie and Ed McCormick, of Sonoma, had their boat and their business trolley, “Ed and Jonnie’s Trolley,” parked in separate, metal buildings, two-feet apart, on an adjacent storage lot. Ed’s 23-foot fishing boat, melted inside the building,while the nearby trolley came through unscathed.

“It was a miracle,” Jonnie McCormick said. “The trolley isn’t something you can just take to the dealership if something’s wrong.”

She said a friend who was in the area called to tell them about the fire. “We thought the trolley was gone,” she said. “We’re thankful no one was hurt. We’re counting our blessings.”

She said Ed drove the trolley and “it’s fine. We’re doing a wine trip on Saturday.”

Because there are no fire hydrants in Schellville, fire personnel in 18 water tankers ferried water from two sites – the corporation yard on Eighth Street East and the pump across from Traintown.

But by next year, firefighters will have access to a closer hydrant.

Mulas said that the Sonoma County Water Agency has approved putting in a hydrant with recycled water at the sewage plant on Eighth Street East near Fremont Drive. He said Brian Anderson, a water agency administrator, opened up the gates at the sewage plant for any water tenders.

Mulas couldn’t say enough for the cooperation and help from all over the Valley.

“This was a joint effort,” he said. “Volunteer and paid personnel alike came to help. Everyone gave up something to help their neighbor.”