Register | Forums | Log in

Newly remodeled Bennett Valley 'dream home' damaged by two fires

Firefighters check for hot spots on the roof of a Sonoma Mountain Road home on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.

JOHN BURGESS/ PD
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 7:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 6:25 p.m.

A newly remodeled farmhouse, described as a dream home by its owner, was damaged twice by fire within an 11-hour period ending Tuesday morning in Bennett Valley.

"About half the house is destroyed and half the house is saved," said owner John McChesney, a retired National Public Radio reporter. "I think we can put it all back together."

Firefighters on Monday night put out the initial chimney fire at the Sonoma Mountain Road home. But an ember hiding in insulation apparently caused the doused fire to reignite Tuesday morning, further damaging the structure.

Firefighters returned at 5:44 a.m. when multiple 911 callers said the house was on fire again. Firefighters found the attic in flames.

The initial fire caused about $75,000 in damage, mostly to the roof and attic. The second fire about doubled the damage, estimated Bennett Valley Battalion Chief Dan George, who supervised both efforts.

The home is owned by Wendy Wiederhold and McChesney, who retired from NPR about two years ago.

"It was our dream home," McChesney said Tuesday afternoon.

"The disappointing part of it was, we thought we had it whipped, then we lost another third of the house," McChesney said.

The couple bought the home four years ago and had just completed remodeling, including a new kitchen. They understood the farmhouse dated back to about 1895.

George said an ember from the first fire, apparently in the insulation, smoldered until it ignited.

He expressed frustration at the rare occurrence and said firefighters thought they'd completely put the fire out.

"We did our due diligence," George said.

As is standard procedure, firefighters initially had pulled out some of the insulation that hadn't burned.

George said firefighters have to decide how much water to use once the fire is out, because they don't want to cause added water damage.

He said firefighters checked extensively for hot spots in the attic and insulation before initially leaving the scene.

A crew returned to the house at about 1 a.m. to go through the attic and insulation again. Thermal imaging equipment showed no signs of trouble, George said.

McChesney said the original blaze started after he'd lit a fire in the fireplace and he and his wife had settled in to watch the evening news.

Smoke began to back up into the room and soon there were flames coming through the wall.

He called for help at 7:14 p.m. The first Bennett Valley engine, arriving from the station about one mile away, got there at 7:18 p.m.

Rincon Valley, Santa Rosa and Rancho Adobe firefighters also responded, and the initial fire was held to an area around the chimney and the living room.

Firefighters also protected the couple's other belongings, including a large collection of artwork by McChesney's uncle, Robert McChesney, who lived 50 years on Sonoma Mountain and was well known as an abstract expressionist painter.

Also saved were papers from the Civil War period McChesney was researching for a book.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top