Fire crews score victory against Glass fire in Trione-Annadel State Park

Aided by favorable weather, firefighters hemmed in a branch of the Glass fire that threatened to roar through the heavily wooded park and into densely populated neighborhoods in eastern Santa Rosa.|

Fire crews scored a critical victory in Trione-Annadel State Park on Tuesday, hemming in a branch of the Glass fire that threatened to roar through the heavily wooded park and into densely populated neighborhoods in eastern Santa Rosa.

The 5,000-acre park was a key battleground in the massive fight against the Glass fire overnight Monday and into the day Tuesday, not only because the heavily used and well-loved state park is the crown jewel in Santa Rosa’s park system, but its location offered the fire a potential gateway into Summerfield Road neighborhoods and Bennett Valley.

At stake in that firefight were “the neighborhoods off of Summerfield Road and the Bennett Valley region,” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said. “We are doing everything we can to keep it out of all the communities moving forward.”

Using hand tools, drip torches and a chain saw, fire crews worked the northwest corner of the park, lighting control burns to corral the blaze in the northernmost reaches of the park.

There was little to no wind on Tuesday morning as Cal Fire crews monitored the flames on the ridge above Bader and Violetti roads, near a main access point for the swimming lagoon at Spring Lake Regional Park.

Firefighters caught a break from the weather. Windy, hot, dry conditions that fueled the fire’s explosive growth Sunday receded Monday night and Tuesday. A red flag warning, which signals dangerous fire conditions, was rescinded overnight, though temperatures are expected to be above average throughout the week.

That temperature spike and the potential for a return of higher winds has officials keeping a keen eye on the park as crews work to quash hot spots while the weather remains favorable, Gossner said.

Three strike teams with a total of 15 engines and two water tenders worked the fire Monday into Tuesday morning, with two bulldozers on standby, according to Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton.

The bulldozers went unused, though, because crews were able to use existing trails and natural topography to enforce fire lines.

“With the type of fuels that we have in the park we were comfortable using the current trail systems for control lines,” Brunton said. “If we have to use them to stop the fire, we’ll do that, but if we have success using the current trail system, then it doesn’t create any damage to the park that we’ll have to go back and repair later.”

The strategy worked. Firefighters were able to backfire and corral the blaze to approximately 100 acres by midday Tuesday, and Brunton expressed confidence that overnight efforts reduced what had been a major point of concern for officials.

The fire breached the park’s northern border after leaping Highway 12 near Melita Road, then jumping across Channel Drive near the Cobblestone and North Burma trailheads. Inside the park, the fire burned roughly southwest, with firefighters checking its progress well north of Lake Ilsanjo.

Though flames damaged relatively few of Annadel’s many popular trails, one key impact site is the Cobblestone trailhead — many newcomers’ main introduction to the park — as well as the climb into the park along that trail. The fire made the well-worn trail into a light-brown ribbon snaking through a black ocean of dead grass that crumbles to ash if touched.

Scars from that fire may churn the stomachs of hikers and bikers who’ve fallen in love with Annadel’s beauty, but the low intensity of the flames left many trees and even some typically flammable shrubs relatively unscathed, helping to create a healthier forestland in the future.

None of the homes along Channel Drive, nor the ranger’s station at the park entrance, appeared to have sustained any serious damage, though the fires came within mere feet of one home on the south side of Channel Drive. Homes in the Melita Heights area along Pepperwood Road also appeared undamaged as their neighborhood became a staging ground for firefighters.

Fire crews from across California tramped up an access road south of Violetti Road, wrapping around a knoll that rises above Annadel’s northwest corner and looks down over Spring Lake Regional Park to the west. One team chopped down small trees, branches and shrubs that could help the fire slop over from the state park to the county park, the roar of their chain saw punctuating the parade of feet trudging up the dirt path.

The control burn allowed flames to consume vegetation on an uphill march toward a spot fire ignited by the Glass fire at the top of the knoll.

On the south side of the knoll, several firefighters with a drip torch set the underbrush ablaze — almost accidentally roasting a rodent that fearfully scampered to safety.

“Most of the forward progress is stopped, but there are a lot of hot spots in there, so what they are actively doing in there now is mopping up and hitting all the hot spots so if you get some wind changes or wind gusts, it doesn’t blow embers over the line that we have established,” Brunton said.

Those wind gusts could return later in the week as temperatures soar and winds are forecast to pick up.

But authorities felt comfortable enough with containment efforts on the southeastern front, including the operations in Annadel, to downgrade evacuation orders into warnings for the nearby Summerfield, Spring Lake and Melita areas of Santa Rosa as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Annadel fire front was one of the most worrisome going into Monday night for officials. Its sizable forest area and long-unburned terrain, plus its proximity to civilization, raised the possibility that the fire could run through the scenic park into several neighborhoods in east Santa Rosa, such as Bennett Valley, and even on to Rohnert Park.

“That is a big fear of mine, because those are densely populated areas,” Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said Monday afternoon when urging residents to heed evacuation orders. “We’re not doing these evacuations for practice. We’re doing this for a reason.”

But the same smoke that grounded Cal Fire aircraft also kept direct sunlight off the fire front, aiding efforts to fight it from the ground, Cal Fire Capt. Ryan Bennie said. Fire crews indicated that their fire prevention work Tuesday morning was a matter of tying together containment on a calm front.

One of the East Bay firefighters paused from his zigzagging path with a drip torch above homes on Bader Road, where a Cal Fire hose line was visible downslope. The fireman and the others in his crew had been on the line for over 30 hours and were starting to gather hope for relief after a long slog.

“You just make sure to eat and drink,” the fireman said around a mouthful of chewing tobacco. “Yeah, you get tired, but there’s people’s houses there, you know?”

Brunton said the results of that labor Tuesday would be “telltale.”

“If we don’t get any more of the spread of the fire there, we’ll be able to get that mop-up done in there and actually button that part up,” he said.

“It’s looking really positive right now,” he said. “I just want to be cautiously optimistic, not promise anything at this point, but we did have a lot of success with that operation last night so should have slowed or stopped the fire in a good portion of the state park.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or On Twitter @Benefield. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @wsreports.

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