A potential disaster was averted on Tuesday, Sept. 24, when two neighbors noticed smoke arising from a nearby property on Spring Street and went to investigate. They discovered multiple vegetation fires in a vineyard and next to a house.
Sept. 24 was a red-flag warning day in the midst of PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff alerts.
According to one of the neighbors, who wished to remain anonymous, he first noticed a column of smoke from his living room window a couple of blocks away.
“I thought someone might be burning trash,” he said.
He quickly drove over to the property, 2998 Spring St., just west of the intersection with Sylvaner Avenue, and found another neighbor with a garden hose attempting to protect the house.
“I found a bucket and began to throw dirt on the fires in the vineyard,” he added.
When St. Helena Fire Chief John Sorensen and his team arrived, there were “four fires in the vineyard and the fifth one was around the structure and near the propane tank,” said Sorensen.
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“The one neighbor stopped the forward progress with a garden hose before it got into the steep terrain and heavy timber,” said Sorensen.
That courageous effort prevented the fire from continuing into the “thousands of acres back there – where the next stop is Kenwood,” said Sorensen.
“With a later response and without the locals to slow its progress, we’d have had a totally different outcome,” Sorensen said, “especially on that day.”
The fire was caused by sparks from the overhead power lines, produced by birds causing the lines to touch. Wind likely carried embers to the other locations.
“We found two dead birds in the fire and PG&E said that it appears they caused the lines to slap into each other,” said Sorensen, adding “these lines are right in the middle of the vineyard.” This is typically caused when birds, perched on the lines, take off together, he explained.
Sorensen’s advice to the community during the fire season: “Stay cautious and vigil until winter sets in.” He further encouraged residents to never hesitate to call 911 when they see or smell smoke.