Valley fire is personal for many firefighters

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As the destructive Valley fire tore through southern Lake County, many firefighters worked to save structures while wondering if their own homes were safe.

Hidden Valley Lake and other Lake County communities are home to many firefighters, dispatchers, paramedics and law enforcement officers who live there and commute to work in Sonoma and Napa counties.

A Sonoma Valley fire engineer assigned to a strike team that spent Saturday night helping to save parts of Middletown is a Cobb Mountain resident. He worked through the night saving homes without knowing the status of his own house, said Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Mark Freeman.

“He was totally focused on his firefighting efforts. He wasn’t distracted,” said Jack Piccinini, a Santa Rosa battalion chief who worked with the engineer. But still, everyone working with Freeman knew he’d want to know what had happened.

“We did find a moment to drive him up there, and he discovered his house had not burned,” Piccinini said.

The status of homes for public safety officers and first responders was a common thread of conversation on the fire line and throughout fire and police stations across the region as word spread that other homes belonging to public safety officers had been lost or saved.

Several Santa Rosa city employees, including police and firefighters, live in Lake County.

“We have had at least half a dozen officers who live up in Lake County who had to evacuate with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Santa Rosa Sgt. Ron Nelson said. “Not sure if they lost their homes. I don’t think they know yet. We are hoping for the best for them. Hard to imagine what those poor folks are coping with up there.”

A Cal Fire firefighter in Middletown lost his home. A Calistoga dispatcher’s home was safe. A Santa Rosa Police Department employee may have lost his, but a Sonoma County CHP officer’s Lake County home had been spared.

“Everybody we talked to” either lived in the area or knew someone who did, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who also worked the blaze in Middletown. “In one forestry crew, two of them lost their houses. I know deputies who lost their house.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or On Twitter @rossmannreport.

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