A fast-moving fire destroyed a garage and motor home and severely damaged two houses, displacing the residents, Wednesday in a rural area south of Sebastopol.
The homes in the 1800 block of Schaeffer Road were rendered uninhabitable by the blaze reported at 4:07 p.m. and the cause remained under investigation, Gold Ridge Fire District Battalion Chief Darrin DeCarli said.
Lew Skidmore, who bought one of the homes 45 years ago, said he was mowing weeds behind his house when he turned and saw flames shooting through the roof of the garage, which was burned to the ground.
Skidmore, 71, said he tried to douse the fire with a garden hose but was driven back by heat that wound up melting the hose. The flames might have been only 30 feet high "but they looked like 60," he said.
"We had a lot of good times in the house," said Skidmore, a Santa Rosa native who often visited the house and as a baby was given baths in the kitchen sink by the former owner.
His daughter, Holly Skidmore, said she got multiple calls at her job in Petaluma from people telling her the home she lived in most of her life and now shared with her father was burning.
"I think we're all just kind of in shock right now," she said. A teenaged friend of the family also lived at the house.
DeCarli said he had not calculated an estimate of the damage. Flames spread from the garage to the two adjacent homes, he said.
Lew Skidmore said he was mystified by the fire because he had recently cleaned out most of the garage. The remains of a toolbox and a generator stood among the blackened rubble.
Spouses Deborah Washburn and Cyndy Grim stood outside the other home, which they have owned for 15 years.
Washburn said she was inside when she saw smoke moving across her lawn and "then it got really dark." One side of the house caught fire "so we skedaddled," she said.
"We're doing OK," Grim told DeCarli, who advised the women to contact their insurance company Wednesday night.
"I'm pretty happy we got a structure still standing," he said.
Washburn and Grim said they would stay at a motel Wednesday night.
The Skidmores said they hadn't made plans yet.
Firefighters from the Gold Ridge, Sebastopol, Graton, Rancho Adobe and Forestville departments and Cal Fire battled the blaze. No injuries were reported.
Staff Writer Julie Johnson contributed to this report.