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Grass fire scorches 160 acres south of Petaluma

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.

Fire charred about 160 acres of pasture, eucalyptus trees and vineyards southeast of Petaluma Friday afternoon, driven by gusty wind pushing flames through the rolling hills.

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Crews worked to control a blaze south of town on Lakeville Highway Friday afternoon.

Sumner Fowler/For the Argus-Courier

Two helicopters and a half-dozen air tankers dropped water and pink flame retardant on flames on cow pasture behind Al Marcucci's barns on Niemela Road east of Lakeville Highway. Marcucci is a longtime board member of the Lakeville Volunteer Fire Department.

His 230 acres has been in his family for more than 100 years, he said.

“We never had a fire — except for the one on the stove,” he said as fire crews doused flames and bulldozers carved out lines to stop the fire's advance.

“I'm very impressed by CalFire, Shell Vista, Wilmar,” he said, naming some of the fire agencies that responded to the 2 p.m. fire.

No buildings were destroyed, CalFire Battalion Chief Jeremy Lawson said. Marcucci hoped a herd of 25 cows were able to escape.

Afternoon winds — common through the Lakeville corridor — were gustier than usual, Marcucci said.

“The winds howl out here at times,” Lawson said. “The winds presented us with some problems with some spot fires that would just run.”

The oil-heavy eucalyptus trees, too, presented challenges, he said.

Two crews of 17 firefighters each scrambled along the hills trying to cut off the fire's progress. The fire spread southeast, pushed by the wind, away from farm buildings, hay stacks and homes.

Marcucci and his family stood guard next to $10,000 worth of hay he just bought. His retired 1964 fire truck loaded with water was stationed nearby.

“We're lucky it's blowing away from here,” he said. “The only good thing it's doing is killing a lot of wild blackberries.”

CalFire dispatched two helicopters that delivered water from nearby ponds or the Petaluma River. One from Lake County carried a water bucket on a line, and another, called a “snorkel helicopter” that has an interior water tank and dangled a hose, came from the Santa Clara area, said CalFire Division Chief Todd Derum.

The air tankers dropped 1,200 gallons of fire retardant at a time, circling from the water source to the fire and back in a dance supervised by those in a “spotter plane” circling above the aircraft.

By Friday evening, firefighters were watching hot spots and the edges of the charred areas to make sure flames are fully extinguished, Lawson said.

A cause hadn't been determined.

Fire personnel responded from several agencies, including Lakeville, Wilmar, Shell Vista, Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley, Marin County Fire and Novato.

(Staff Writer Lori A. Carter can be reached at 762-7297 and lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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