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Healdsburg firefighters battle vegetation fire near river

  • Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter helps battle a vegetation fire north of Veterans Memorial Beach on Sunday. (Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter unit via twitter @FriendsOfHenry1)

A fire that blazed through about an acre of reeds during the hottest hours of the day Sunday along the Russian River in Healdsburg led to beach evacuations and put neighbors on alert.

Flying embers sparked at least one small grass fire near Mason and Front streets, across the river from the original blaze, which started in the grove that runs between the river and gravel pits belonging to Syar Industries.

Neighbors were out with hoses and sprinklers, soaking yards and roofs to protect their property. Healdsburg firefighters, aided by more than a half-dozen agencies and the Sonoma County sheriff's department helicopter, contained the fire in about an hour to an acre of vegetation, Cal Fire officials said.

The fire began sometime before the first caller reported smoke at 3:43 p.m. in the grove near the gravel pits, just north of the popular Veterans Memorial Beach and the River's Edge kayak and canoe rental company.

Across the river, Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards, right on the river bank between Front Street and the water, was outside and looked up when he heard loud crackling.

“The noise - it sounded as though there were fireworks,” said Davis, owner and winemaker.

From the road, Village Avenue resident Laura Luna saw orange flames and smoke engulfing the grove as she drove home.

“Park rangers were clearing people away,” Luna said of the busy beach.

The first Healdsburg fire unit was on scene at 3:50 p.m. and crews had the fire contained by 4:45 p.m.

Embers were flying across the river and landing in the neighborhood, which is filled with homes, wineries and businesses. Davis said he and winery staff soaked the trees and roofs.

“We had a few sparks and embers that came across the river and landed on umbrellas, burned holes in the umbrellas,” Davis said.

He closed the gates early and asked guests to leave for their own safety.

The Sonoma County sheriff's helicopter crew of Henry 1 aided the firefight using a bucket to scoop water from the river and dump it on the fire.

Healdsburg, Sonoma County, Cal Fire, Forestville, Geyserville, Cloverdale, River Rock, Windsor and Rincon Valley fire crews were at the scene, emergency dispatchers said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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