Napa County wildfire defied expectations

February 24, 2012 11:14:14 PM PST
Fire crews are keeping a close watch on a rare February brush fire that burned 200 acres in Napa County.

Firefighters had control of the fire Friday but a Cal Fire helicopter kept up water air drops, putting out hot spots on Atlas Peak, as fire officials weren't willing to take any chances in the extremely dry conditions.

The blaze started Thursday afternoon as a controlled burn by a landowner clearing dead brush on Soda Canyon Road. But Thursday's summer-like weather and strong winds fed the flames. At one point, winds hit 25 miles per hour and flames reached 80-feet high in some areas. Three multi-million dollar homes were threatened, but the fire never reached them.

Rich Thornberry is one relieved neighbor. He said his house still stands because he had cleared back 200 feet of brush. That made the difference against a fire that defied expectations.

"When it hit the ridgelines and the manzanitas I had been trimming back, I thought the house was going to go," he said.

Fire officials are worried about what's to come during this summer's fire season. Firefighters were shocked when the call came in Thursday. Cal Fire isn't even fully staffed right now -- that doesn't happen until April or May. They had to call neighboring fire departments for help.

"I've been here since 1997 and I don't recall any fire burning like this at this time of year - incredible," said Cal Fire spokesperson Brian Hampton.

The fire began on Ron Davidowski's land when a crew began a routine burn. "They were burning roots and material from the work they were doing," he said. "It was a very tense night."

Crews worked through the night Thursday to fight the fire. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One hurt his ankle and the other hurt his back.

Fire crews hope to have the fire contained by Saturday.


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