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Santa Rosa hillside grass fire draws all-out response under high-risk conditions

More than a dozen fire engines rushed up Los Alamos Road in Santa Rosa on Sunday morning as a car fire spread to a steep slope west of Hood Mountain Regional Park, but the blaze was quickly snuffed out after charring a quarter-acre of dry grass.

“Definitely a close call,” Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Matt Dahl said, citing the arid, windy conditions that had two firefighting task forces on alert and joining the response to the fire call shortly after 10 a.m.

The blaze was out in about 15 minutes, and Dahl complimented a landowner in the 1400 block of the narrow, winding road for trimming the grass to create a “defensible space” around structures on his property.

But at first glance, a woman who lives about 2 miles farther up the road was horrified.

Susan Clark was on her way to meet her husband at the movies when she rounded a bend and saw the hulk of an SUV engulfed in flames, with fire spreading into the grass on both sides of the road.

“I was immediately aghast because we live in fear of this happening,” she said.

Clark worried about the possibility that dozens of families who live above the fire might become trapped with no way out to Highway 12, a concern Dahl said firefighters shared.

As a precaution, Clark said she has already begun taking important papers, photographs and memorabilia to a storage unit.

“You guys are awesome,” she said to a group of firefighters in bright yellow fire gear.

Alfonso Barahona, the landowner on the uphill side of the road, said the fire started in the front of a Ford Expedition driven by a family on its way to a birthday party at his place.

The five occupants, including the birthday girl, quickly bailed out of the SUV as flames and smoke erupted from under the hood.

Wind blew the fire onto his land, and it moved quickly toward a building until firefighters cut if off, he said.

Next year, Barahona said, he intends to cut a line of bare dirt around his property, just like the one fire crews were scraping by hand Sunday.

Dahl said there were no injuries, but some firefighters said they were stung by yellow jackets.

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