900 homes evacuated, at least 1 damaged as firefighters stop blaze near Petaluma

Russ Morita was glad he went home.

The Penngrove resident, who works in construction, had stopped by his Christensen Lane house Tuesday afternoon to pick up a work shirt when he noticed smoke in the area, his wife, Melissa, said.

Melissa Morita rushed home after a pair of calls from her husband. The sight of a burning grove of eucalyptus trees near their property prompted her to call 911.

Soon, the Moritas and another relative were scrambling around the property, garden hose in tow, dousing ashes from the burning trees that floated toward their home.

Initially reported just after 1 p.m. as a structure fire along Ormsby Lane — not far from the Morita home — the blaze grew to approximately 15 acres just northeast of the Petaluma city limits.

It forced the evacuation of about 900 homes in Penngrove and drew approximately 150 firefighters to the area. Petaluma Fire Marshal Jessica Power said, adding that one firefighter suffered a minor burn-related injury.

At least one home was destroyed, and several outbuildings were damaged, Power said.

Called the Ormsby fire, the blaze crept dangerously close to the Morita home, Melissa Morita added. She said it singed a back deck and the exterior of the chimney.

“We got lucky,” Russ Morita added, as he stood next to a burned patch of dry grass a few feet from his home, hours after the blaze was first reported.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

At the height of the blaze, it spread quickly across the parched rolling hills that flank the northeast Petaluma city limits. Temperatures at the time surpassed 90 degrees.

Nearly 150 fire personnel from across the region were called out to fight the blaze, which moved west before it was stopped just after 3 p.m. and contained soon after, Power said.

Cal Fire aircraft also flew overhead, making occasional water drops over the area.

One such drop was over the flaming grove of trees eucalyptus and cedar trees near the Morita home. Several firefighting crews focused their attention there Tuesday afternoon as they tried to stop the flames from spreading to nearby homes.

The blaze stretched as far west as McCarter, a short, residential street off Ely Road.

Three fire trucks were stationed at the end of the street after the fire’s progress was stopped and a line of fire retardant marked the hillside around them where dry grass didn’t burn.

“We have rolling hills out here with vegetation, farmland and housing, and so that made some of the access difficult,” Power said.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced evacuations for zone 5K1 in Penngrove around 2 p.m. That included homes north of Corona Road, south of Old Redwood Highway, east of Petaluma city limits and west of Adobe Road.

California Highway Patrol cars blocked off Ely and Corona roads as authorities drove through Penngrove neighborhoods blaring hi-lo sirens, alerting residents to the evacuation order.

An initial survey of the damage included determined at least one home and several outbuildings were destroyed, though a better estimate of the blaze’s destruction was expected Wednesday, Power said.

As for the injured firefighter, Power added that he was taken to a hospital to be evaluated. She did not have additional information about how he was injured.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District stopped train service between Cotati and Petaluma because of the fire at around 2:15 p.m., though service was resumed less than an hour later.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at and on Twitter @Matt__Pera. Nashelly Chavez is at and @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   


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