Fire investigators Tuesday tried to pinpoint what started a five-acre Cotati area blaze that destroyed three homes and displaced three families.

It could have been started by a car backfire, as some people reported, or fallen power lines or other possibilities Tuesday's team of investigators were trying to narrow down, said Cal Fire Division Chief Eric Hoffmann.

The fire started on the south side of Highway 116, near Stony Point Road. It quickly jumped the highway, caught the dry grass on the north side and spread to the nearby homes.

A Rancho Adobe fire engine from downtown Cotati arrived within six minutes of the 4:06 p.m. dispatch Monday.

Battalion Chief Herb Wandel immediately called for a second alarm, wanting more help and more water because of threatened property and the potential for the fire to burn across the dry fields.

Firefighters quickly faced a challenge as downed power lines blocked their best route to the fire.

They couldn't safely cross the lines so had to approach the blaze by traveling across other properties and cutting through fence lines.

Embers carried by wind also caused a few significant spot fires up to half a mile away.

"It was a little bit tense... in the first few minutes," said Wandel.

The three burned homes, on two parcels, all had been occupied.

The residents have gotten help with temporary shelter by friends and family and in one case, a landlord, said fire officials.

The Highway 116 fire was at least the third of the day in the region and the second fire within minutes in Sonoma County.

At about 3:50 p.m. a vegetation fire broke out on the east side of the county, near Schellville, bringing firefighters from Schell-Vista and Sonoma.

Wandel's call for a second alarm scrambled firefighters from several Sonoma County agencies and Cal Fire to join the Cotati effort.

Some firefighting airplanes stationed in Sonoma County had already been sent to Mendocino County Monday afternoon for what became a 200-acre fire south of Fort Bragg.

Airtankers for Cotati came from Grass Valley and a helicopter came from Los Gatos, said Cal Fire's Hoffmann.

"We still have a long run of warm weather coming in," said Wandel. "The wildland still here."

[END_CREDIT_0]You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or

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