The Pocket Fire in the hills outside Geyserville flared up overnight Tuesday, threatening more than 16,000 structures in the picturesque wine country town and adding to the north state’s fire woes.
Rings of flames could be seen Wednesday morning in the grassy, oak- and redwood-studded hills as worried residents watched from town and waited to see if they would have to flee their homes.
Maria Tatman stood outside Geyserville Elementary Wednesday morning watching the smoke and fire a couple of miles away from the school, which is closed because of the fire situation. Tatman said she was nervous “because of how fast it spread in Santa Rosa.”
“It could jump from tree to tree,” Tatman said as a steady wind blew through town and increased the danger of the flames spreading.
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Throughout Northern California, firefighters are bracing for more heavy winds that could complicate the fight they have been waging since a series of huge blazes erupted during high winds that swept through the area on Sunday night.
Portions of Santa Rosa were devastated, and residents of Geyserville, about 22 miles north on Highway 101, are concerned that the Pocket Fire could merge with the Tubbs Fire, which has already burned 28,000 acres, killed 11 Sonoma County residents and destroyed 571 structures.
The Pocket Fire, which erupted Monday morning, has burned only about 1,800 acres so far, but concerns about its potential for spreading has shut down roadways in the area and placed downtown Geyserville under an evacuation warning.
Capt. John Maxwell and his crew of two firefighters from the National Park Service were among the 650 firefighters battling the blaze. Maxwell got a radio call Wednesday morning that hundreds of homes were threatened, and headed for the smoke.
The blaze was running through a valley beneath a row of homes.
Rudy Paredes, a landscaper, was frantically watering the lawn of one of those houses when Maxwell and his crew arrived. And not a minute too soon.
“It was coming,” Maxwell later recalled. “In maybe 10 or 15 minutes it was going to race up this hill and hit this area pretty hard.”
A small fire crew from Crescent City and a landscaper who normally trims the lawns of the mansions in the hills saved a home on Pocket Ranch Road.
In a disastrous week in Northern California, it was a small victory – but one these strangers were relieved to orchestrate.
Paredes, the landscaper, had spent the entire day Wednesday patrolling the homes he cares for. He said he had seen just one home destroyed.
“As soon as I saw them, I was like, ‘Whoa, they got it,’ ” Paredes said. “Because when you don’t see anybody, you’re saying, ‘Shoot guys, come help me.’ ”
Maxwell was confident his team’s efforts had, for the moment, halted the Pocket Fire on this front.
“We’re in great shape,” Maxwell said, adding that he has been fighting wildfires for 33 years. He said he’s responded to 20 this year alone, as far north as the Canadian border. “I’m ready for this season to be over,” he said.
Smoke still spiraled into the air in the early afternoon as helicopters dumped water on the flames and hundreds of people evacuated to safety.
Alexsandra Sagues and her husband, Peter, hurried around their home clearing downed branches as the wind picked up.
Sagues packed up her photo albums, art and cooking supplies.
“I’m nervous,” she said, her body trembling. “I don’t know what to grab. Most of it seems silly, but it’s dumb not to grab all you can.”
Bobbi Chamberlain said she got a call Tuesday night around 11:30 p.m. telling her to evacuate her home, and that a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy began knocking on her door a short time later.
Chamberlain loaded up her camper – “We grabbed what we could and took off,” she said – and is even more nervous now because of the devastation the fires have caused so far.
“A lot of people have lost their homes,” Chamberlain said.