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Petaluma-area firefighters assist across county


Petaluma-area firefighters, who are accustomed to providing mutual aid on fires around the state, this week confronted blazes closer to home, and in some cases in the very communities where they live. As Petaluma was spared devastation from the deadly fires that scorched Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley, Napa and elsewhere in the North Bay, local firefighters spent an exhausting week helping battle the blazes to the north, east and south of the city.

Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Mike Weihman helped coordinate his crew’s response to the blazes even as he worried about the fate of his own home of 20 years near Sonoma Mountain.

The fire agency, which covers Penngrove and unincorporated parts of Petaluma, has been run ragged amid the unrelenting firestorm that’s been draining emergency personnel resources since Sunday night. The department usually operates three engines within its borders, but was down to one, he said.

The agency has sent out seven pieces of equipment and about 20 personnel in the past two days, Weihman said. Some crews have since come home, although there were still five engines deployed Wednesday morning in the Oakmont neighborhood and Bennett Valley.

“They said we can cut engines loose, but they’re going to at least want some back within 24 hours,” he said. “And so I’m OK with that. These guys need to come home and get some sleep and get a chance to say hi to their families. But then some of us will be going back – this fight is not going to be over.”

Besides Ranch Adobe, personnel from Petaluma Fire Department, Wilmar Volunteer Fire Department, Lakeville Volunteer Fire Department, San Antonio Volunteer Fire Department and Two Rock Volunteer Fire Department joined firefighters from across the state battling the Sonoma County fires.

About 15 personnel with four engines from Petaluma Fire Department were battling fires in Glen Ellen and Kenwood on Wednesday, said administrative assistant Suzie Terry. Earlier in the week, crews responded to the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, she said.

The department was also sharing resources with Rancho Adobe, and was fully staffed at home, she said.

“I think we are at maximum deployment right now,” she said. “The folks that are left here want to go out but we have to make sure we keep the city under normal manned capacity.”

In addition to sending an engine and three crew to Glen Ellen, Lakeville firefighters contended with a blaze closer to home off Lakeville Highway at Highway 37. The 2,000-acre fire came within about 10 miles from Petaluma, said Capt. Brian Clarke. Two engines and eight crew worked on the so-called Thirty Seven fire that, at one point, threatened Sonoma Raceway.

“Our firefighters are doing good,” Clarke said. “They’re a little tired.”

On Wednesday, the Lakeville-area fire was 75 percent contained.

Wilmar fire has had three engines and 11 personnel out since Sunday night fighting fires in the Bennett Valley neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Kenwood, Sonoma and Lakeville, according to a fire captain who did not give his name.

The tiny San Antonio fire department sent all three of its engines and 10 firefighters north to assist with mutual aid, said Capt. Matt Mattei. Two engines went to Sonoma while the third battled an inferno that tore through the Fountaingrove neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

“We drained the whole barn on this one,” Mattei said. “There’s been nothing like this, locally. To see entire neighborhoods decimated, it’s very overwhelming personally.”

At least 75 Marin County firefighters assisted in Sonoma County, including an engine with three personnel from the Tomales Fire Station, according to Engineer Darrell Galli. He said firefighters are fatigued, but their spirits are high.

“They’ve only had a few hours of sleep since Sunday, so they’re wiped out,” he said. “They’ll get some sleep and get back out there. We plan on staying until this is over.”