Russian River fire burns cabin, vehicles (w/video)

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Fire destroyed one structure, damaged five others and burned several vehicles Monday afternoon in a remote, wooded area west of Forestville along the Russian River.

One man suffered first- and second-degree burns when he tried to enter his burning residence, fire officials said. His name and condition weren’t available, but officials said he was taken to a hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries.

Witnesses reported an explosion like a propane tank bursting around 3:20 p.m., accompanied by a huge column of black smoke that could be seen or smelled as far away as Highway 101 in Windsor and Santa Rosa.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated late Monday, said Cal Fire Capt. Joe Fletcher. He said the fire didn’t appear to be started by a propane tank explosion although tanks may have vented during the fire.

The main structure involved was a cabin near Laurel Avenue at Summerhome Park, which has several vacation rental cabins and some year-round residences near the private Summerhome Beach.

Flames burned the cabin to the ground, Fletcher said, and damaged the others surrounding it on each side. Fire burned up the hillside and scorched about an acre of woodland.

He said it wasn’t clear which structures were lived in year-round and which were short-term vacation rentals.

“The house that burned down, the owner was on beach, and he tried to run inside,” said Fire Chief Steve Baxman of Monte Rio, one of many agencies that responded.

Firefighting crews arrived quickly but found it difficult to reach the remote property on the narrow, winding Summerhome Park Road.

“Emphasis on narrow, winding,” Fletcher said.

Compounding matters were motorists driving the opposite direction in an apparent attempt to leave the area quickly.

“Just getting to the fire was a challenge on that single lane road,” Fletcher said. “You’re sharing the road with people trying to evacuate.”

Flames roared up the Douglas fir trees, scorching about an acre of land around the cabin. Four cars and three motorcycles were destroyed, and two other cars were damaged.

Fire crews worked from the ground and above with aircraft, with several water trucks staging on River Road and entering when needed.

A helicopter from Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest in Lake County dropped water from above, as did two air tankers based out of the Santa Rosa airport.

“Surprisingly, they made pretty quick access up the road,” Fletcher said, describing hose lines that were laid around both sides of the fire. “We pinched it off at the top.

“This thing was putting out quite a bit of heat for a while. It was a quick, coordinated response. The airplane had very precise drops.”

About 90 firefighters from several regional agencies assisted.

Fletcher said the local residents have an evacuation plan that they practice annually, and most keep vegetation cut around their homes. When their fire alarms alert, the plan calls for them to meet at the river and out of harm’s way.

By Monday evening, officials were escorting small groups of people off the beach back to their homes.

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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