Neighbors say Caltrans should take responsibility for Petaluma fire damage

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- Caltrans began cleaning up trees in Petaluma Monday after a freeway fire that burned homes a month ago. Local residents still blame Caltrans for creating conditions that allowed the fire to spread.

PHOTOS: Petaluma fire damages homes near Hwy. 101

Halloween will not be happening in the homes on Stuart Drive in Petaluma. They have been burned and boarded up since someone apparently tossed a cigarette on the freeway on Sept. 27. It destroyed four homes and damaged ten others. According to resident Donnie Brillhart, the Eucalyptus trees in back of the homes made it a lot worse.

"It was all the ash from these trees blowing," Brillhart said. "It was coming down like parachutes. My shirt was on fire."

Monday, Caltrans brought in a crew to begin ridding this neighborhood of the tree remains. But too little too late say residents, who asked for this a year ago.

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"If you had looked you would have seen fallen brush and tinder and flammable materials from those trees that have not been taken care of or cleaned up," added neighbor Monica Huerta.

A Caltrans spokesperson told us Monday it has no record of a cleanup request.

"We're not typically in the practice of removing live trees, of cutting down perfectly good live trees." said spokesperson Shannon Brinies.

These good, live trees are now burned trees on state property that spread destruction onto private property.

Does Caltrans bear responsibility? Brinies said, "That would be a legal question and I'm not authorized to comment on anything like that."

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Clearing the burned trees will take about ten days. Rebuilding the homes will take considerably longer.
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