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.
Phones weren’t being answered Monday at Sonoma Pacific.
Jose Fernandez, an employee of All Truss, said the offices were open Monday, but the production area was shut down because PG&E hadn’t restored power to that area.
Matthew Nagan, owner of Schellville Grill, had a front row seat.
Nagan said the fire started on the north side of the highway and quickly spread to the corner of the Sonoma Pacific lumber yard.
“Then it just blew up,” he said. “It spread in the yard and blew up a couple of old semis and an overhead building went up.”
As it spread, numerous propane tanks exploded, including the 1,000-gallon tank.
“It was a mushroom cloud,” Nagan said. “It was unbelievable. I could feel the heat from 100 yards away.”
At one point, a large Cal Fire Caterpillar tractor began pushing large mounds of stacked two-by-four lumber into the raging fire to keep it from spreading outside the existing perimeter. Flames appeared to nearly engulf the tractor at some points.
At 5:30 p.m., Nagan could see fire crews still dumping water on the All Truss buildings trying to save them.
“We’ve got fire departments from all over,” he said. “I can see Forestville, Guerneville, Santa Rosa, Willmar, Napa, St. Helena, Bennett Valley … I’ve probably seen 20 different departments.”
Nagan, who shut the restaurant down for the day, estimated the flames were 60-feet to 100-feet high. He also saw at least four spot fires caused by exploding transformers between the restaurant and Four Corners.
Mulas had high praise for the firefighters and for PG&E.
“PG&E shut the power down quickly,” he said. “And this was two different divisions. And they restored power soon after.”
“I want to commend all the firefighters for following procedures,” he said. “The response was phenomenal.”
He also wanted to thank the Sonoma Valley command staff that he said was instrumental in the success of the operation.
“It’s great how well the Valley firefighters work together,” he said. “We help each other and cover each other.”
See photos here: http://www.sonomanews.com/galleries/schellville-fire/
See video at:
Of the explosion (2:06 minute mark) youtu.be/CSyU0_fnWHw
(12 second mark) youtu.be/pcYIDREpJy8
(25 second mark) youtu.be/OOpxRTzJWgU
Of the helicopter response: youtu.be/Lk38TcRInPU