By Emily Deans-HollandA few weeks ago, a small forest in the Sonoma Valley was engulfed in flames.
It was the first fire in more than three years, and the second in a span of several days.
The flames had burned for almost three hours.
A huge inferno had been lit, but it wasn’t a big one.
But it was a hell of a start for the Sonomas, an endangered forest that’s been under attack by the encroaching timber industry, and now by a deadly wildfire.
Firefighters have been battling the blaze for days, using small helicopters to plow through thick brush, then clearing brush and clearing the flames.
“I think the fire was starting to burn in the ground and it got so thick,” said Pete McDonough, the chief fire officer for the state’s Forest Service.
The fire had already started to burn up about 1,000 acres of the Sonomac National Forest, but a few weeks before that, flames had begun to burn through more than 200 acres, McDonouws firefighters said.
There are no trees in the forest.
The Sonoma County Forest Service estimates there are fewer than 10,000 trees left.
It was an incredible and terrifying start to the day, McDoough said.
But on Sunday, the fires were so intense that they didn’t look like fires at all.
The fire was burning at a scorching level of 80 degrees Celsius, McInnes said.
The air had been so hot that the air was so thick with smoke that it looked like it was coming out of the ground.
The fires were “totally out of control,” McInns said.
The forest service’s fire prevention coordinator, Steve DeFazio, said the winds had blown the smoke so far west that firefighters were now facing the possibility of being exposed to the wind.
Firefighters had to use a helicopter to plough through brush to clear brush and keep flames from blowing into the forest, and they had to work in very hot temperatures, he said.
Firefighting crews had to make a number of hard decisions on how to battle the fire.
They had to get out of Dodge County, about an hour away, and get into the fire, he explained.
That meant going into the Sonomoac, where there’s more brush, which means the fire has less cover.
And they had the task of fighting the fire in the heart of the forest in Sonoma, where they were faced with no protection.
So, they decided to go into the hills.
But the hills weren’t safe.
The fire started in a hillside and they got stuck.
They were stuck for more than a day and a half.
McInnys said that while they had their helicopters working, they were still having to make several long-distance calls.
They could have stayed on the hill, he noted.
But they decided that they would go back into Dodge County and use helicopters to drive around the hill.
McInnies said he didn’t think the fires would have escalated so quickly without firefighting support.
They were in a forest that was under attack, and there were other things going on, he added.
It was just a really tough day for everybody involved, Mcinnes said, and he was proud of the firefighters.
“They were doing everything that they were asked to do to try and save lives,” he said, but added that “I don’t think it’s a good look for us.”
McInnes and DeFagio did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment.