Hanley Fire

Firefighters battle the blaze on Franz Valley School Road in September 1964.

Submitted photo

The swift-moving fire that spread west from Calistoga is wreaking havoc across two counties and drawing an eerie comparison to another fire more that devastated the area more than five decades ago.

The fire moved at an incredible pace from where it started at Tubbs Lane and Highway 128 across to Highway 101 in Santa Rosa in hours, a pace even faster than the 1964 Hanley fire, said residents familiar with the fires.

“This fire did exactly what the ’64 fire did,” said Kelly Blakeley. “It took a couple days (for the ’64 fire) to get to Santa Rosa. This one did it in eight hours. It is fast and hot.”

Steve Heller, proprietor of HLR Cellars on Sharp Road who said the fire did not reach his property but “it got close,” also likened the speed of this week’s fire, dubbed the Tubbs fire, to the Hanley fire.

From his property’s elevation he can see Hans Fahden about a mile away across Petrified Forest Road. He saw the fire go down the hill toward the property where the Fahdens also run Sonoma Vinegar Works.

“Our local fire department saved it,” he said. Heller is on the board of the Mountain Volunteer Fire Department that worked together in “very rugged terrain” to put out the fire there.

The historic Mountain Home Ranch, located on Mountain Home Ranch Road, is believed to be lost, yet neighboring Triple S Ranch survived.

Heller knows a couple other people who live on the same rugged and twisty road, and their homes survived though one lost some outbuildings.

“He said it was unbelievable, that (the fire) came like a flood. It was almost impossible getting out of there,” Heller said.

The volunteer firefighters placed themselves in dangerous situations that was recorded in video Heller saw where they were working to protect homes.

“There is no way any manned force could stop this thing,” Heller said.

Now they are turning their attention to watching for hot spots and smoldering areas that could flare up again especially if the winds shift back to the normal westerly direction, he said.

Blakeley said that her home and construction business were still intact at the time of the interview with The Weekly Calistogan and that Blakeley Construction, the company her family owns and operates out of their Franz Valley School Road – and is in the process of collecting signatures for a ballot measure to keep their business there – filled two water tank trucks and told the firefighters in the area that the water and other equipment on the property is theirs to use.

The Tubbs fire came within three parcels of the Blakeleys, she said.

“We were able to get out there before the electricity went out. We’re not certified to go out on fires, but we told them water trucks are there, and equipment is there if they want it,” Blakeley said. This fire “burned through like butter.”

“We wish we could do more.”

Blakeley said she has talked to people in the Franz Valley area who “barely got out” and were “driving through fire to get out.” Firefighters were cutting downed trees and limbs in the road to assist those who were trying to get out.

The Hanley fire started when a hunter discarded a cigarette. Over the course of a week more than 52,000 acres burned and destroyed more than 150 homes and other structures.

In an ironic twist, John Fouts, owner of Mountain Home Ranch, which is said to be burned, wrote a two-part firsthand account of the Hanley fire that ran in The Weekly Calistogan on March 20 and 27, 2013.

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