Fire razes Frizelle Enos in Sebastopol
Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 7:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 7:15 p.m.
A huge blaze Saturday evening destroyed Frizelle Enos Feeds, a landmark Sebastopol business that anchored the eastern edge of downtown for about 80 years.
The fire is suspicious, Sebastopol Assistant Fire Chief Mike Reeser said. The cause was under investigation Saturday night, but Reeser said it was possible it was arson.
Reeser did not yet have a damage estimate but called the building and its contents a total loss.
Seven fire agencies responded to the three-alarm fire, which sent flames shooting into the sky and a plume of thick, brown smoke spreading over the region.
A large crowd gathered to watch more than 80 firefighters battle the blaze by dousing the flames from the ground as well as attacking it from high above with four soaring ladder trucks.
"It's devastating," said Suzie Campiglio of Graton, who's been a customer of the business for decades. Campiglio said she called her daughter, Nicole, and told her the news and "she was in hysterics."
Her daughter owns a horse named Duke, and they are regular customers for everything from feed to treats and supplies.
Many onlookers were employees of the business who watched their place of work — with its large Purina logo on the side of the building — destroyed before their eyes.
"My heart is broken," said Deanna Farley, office manager of the business for 17 years as she watched the spectacle from a nearby parking lot. "This is a Sebastopol landmark."
"There goes 12 years of my life," said Sharon Lewis, who now works at the company's Penngrove store but has many fond memories of working in the Sebastopol location.
Frizelle Enos Feeds, Seeds N'Country Needs, a west county country emporium for backyard farmers, offered far more than feed. Its stock ranged from new-age pet food to wood stoves, country clothing, folksy gifts and thick socks.
It was the largest feed store in the west county and Sebastopol's longest-running business.
At 5:38 p.m., five callers began dialing 911 to say stacks of hay bales were on fire next to the Petaluma Avenue building.
The first engine to get to the fire came from southern Sebastopol's Gold Ridge department and arrived at 5:47 p.m.
The fire spread quickly from the dry haystacks through the building's corrugated tin siding and into the business, Reeser said.
For about 15 minutes firefighters worked inside, hoping to get ahead of the flames.
But the fire moved too fast, devouring the feed section and moving into the new section on the west side, and Reeser pulled firefighters out for a defensive attack on the blaze.
One complication involved 12,000-volt lines near the building, making it a little dicey for firefighters using ladder trucks.
PG&E turned off the power at about 7:30 p.m. to improve safety for firefighters.
Sebastopol, Gold Ridge, Cal Fire, Graton, Santa Rosa, Forestville and Rincon Valley firefighters responded.
Tennyson Tucker, the building's owner and the former owner of the business, said Frizelle Enos Feeds dates to the 1930s when it primarily supplied the poultry industry.
The fire started in the rear of the building in the original wooden structure, which used to be a feed mill, Tucker said. That section of the building is now used to store hundreds of bales of hay, employees said.
Tucker lives in Petaluma and started heading north when he heard there was a problem he originally thought was just a small fire outside the building.
But it didn't take him long to realize how wrong he was.
"I could see the smoke all the way from Stony Point Road," Tucker said.
Tucker sold the business three years ago to three men — Glenn Bach, Darrel Freitas and Don Benson, all of whom watched their business burn, but declined comment.
Tucker said both he and the company's owners were insured and hoped to rebuild.
The large feed building butts up against a U.S. Postal annex. Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said fire officials asked police to contact postal supervisors about the fire.
The fire did not get into the postal building, which was separated from the feed store by a wall 8 inches thick.
"We did have some concern of fire getting in from the roof of the postal building," Reeser said. "We had people on the roof to make sure that exposure was protected."
A team of fire investigators was gathering Saturday night to start the process of figuring out the cause.
Reeser said one possibility was arson, as the hay would typically need something external to cause it to catch fire.
Police and public works employees closed Petaluma Avenue from Fannen Avenue to Burnett Street to allow for the 25 fire engines and trucks to take over the route. Drivers were being directed across Highway 116 and into Sebastopol.
State Fish and Wildlife officials also were alerted about fire suppression foam getting into the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa and possibly into city storm drains, according to initial reports.
Several employees who gathered to console one another got one welcome piece of news when employee Brandon Landon and another worker came around the corner carrying two cages, each holding six pullets that were rescued from the coop in front of the building.
Farley said the business, which often sells chicks, thankfully didn't have any in stock.
"At least all the animals are OK," Farley said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or email@example.com.
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