Investigators probe cause of Cotati blaze destroying 3 homes

  • Firefighters work on a structure fire in a rural area along Highway 116, west of Stony Point Road, near Sebastopol on Monday, October 1, 2012. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Fire investigators Tuesday tried to pinpoint what started a five-acre Cotati area blaze that destroyed three homes and displaced three families.

Investigators are considering a car backfire, fallen power lines and other possibilities, said Cal Fire Division Chief Eric Hoffmann.

The fire started on the south side of Highway 116 near Stony Point Road. It quickly jumped the highway, caught the dry grass on the north side and spread to the nearby homes. One of the three homes was uninhabited, and a total of four people were displaced, Hoffman said.

A Rancho Adobe fire engine from downtown Cotati arrived within six minutes of the 4:06 p.m. call from the dispatch center.

Battalion Chief Herb Wandel immediately called for a second alarm, wanting more help and water because of threatened property and the potential for the fire to burn across the dry fields.

Firefighters quickly faced a challenge as downed power lines blocked the best route to the fire.

They instead traveled through neighboring properties, cutting fences as they went.

About 2,100 PG&E customers lost power at around 5:15 p.m., said Brittany McKannay, spokeswoman at PG&E.

"We had crews out in the area just ready to help in any way possible," McKannay said. "We de-energized some of the lines … so they would be safe to work around."

Embers carried by wind also caused a few significant spot fires up to half a mile away.

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