More than 180 fire personnel fought a massive blaze for more than seven hours Sunday in Schellville. When it was over, damage was estimated at between $1 million and $1.5 million – and the total could grow.
But there were no injuries.
The blaze started innocuously enough with a spark from a tow truck towing a car that had been in an accident. Ray Mulas, chief of the Schell-Vista Fire Protection District, said a CHP officer spotted the truck on Fremont Drive at about 1:18 p.m. Sunday. The truck apparently started multiple small fires as it was westbound on Fremont.
Chris Bambury, a spokesman for Bonneau’s Towing, said one of their drivers was apparently at the wheel of the truck that started the blaze. He said the company is cooperating with the CHP but isn’t prepared to comment at this time.
One of the spots a fire apparently started was right near the Schell-Vista Fire Station, where the road splits and goes toward Sonoma.
“The fire got into the southwest corner of the (Sonoma Pacific) pallet complex and took off,” Mulas said.
“With all the old wood and the dried wood, that went up faster than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It lit up like gasoline.”
Besides fighting pallets that were stacked 20 feet high, firefighters also had to deal with 93-degree temperatures, low humidity and 15-mile-an-hour winds from the south-southwest, along with overhead power transmission lines.
The winds pushed the fire north from the road into the lumber yard and into adjoining fields and a tree-line.
The fire destroyed Sonoma Pacific’s drying shed – where a 1,000-gallon propane tank was located. The tank blew up in a huge fireball.
“We managed to save all of the unprocessed wood in the interior, the main manufacturing building, the main office and the maintenance building,” Mulas said
What the firefighters couldn’t save was as many as nine or 10 big-rigs trucks parked in the Sonoma Pacific yard, five outbuildings on adjoining parcels – one of which contained nine RVs that were stored there and another that contained various autos and at least one boat.
In addition, an estimated 40 acres were charred.
Mulas said there were at least 180 firefighters and 61 engines from four counties – Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano – in addition to both helicopter water drops and fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.
“We had two task forces come in at the end so we could get everybody fed,” Mulas said.
He started releasing units at about 8:45 p.m. Sunday, and told REDCOM, the county dispatch system, that they were going to keep 15 engines on site all night for flare-ups.
“I started sending some of them home by about 1 a.m.,” he said.
At 10 a.m. Monday, there were still crews on scene, and Mulas had been up all night.
In addition to causing massive damage to the Sonoma Pacific yard, the blaze spread to the adjoining All Truss lot where Mulas said some product was burned.