Man loses everything in fire near Forestville

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While lifelong Summerhome Park resident Jim Fay lies in a hospital bed suffering from burns, his friends in the Russian River community have started a fundraising drive for the man who lost everything in a fire Monday that destroyed his home and threatened the neighborhood.

“His grandfather built that cabin. He’s been a member of this community his entire life. He has lost every single last thing,” said Lisa Christensen, a longtime friend.

Summerhome Park is a private community west of Forestville that stretches from the beaches of the Russian River into the redwood-studded canyons above and is a vacation spot for numerous families who’ve owned property there for generations.

Fire officials Tuesday were at the Laurel Avenue scene, combing through the charred remnants for signs of what sparked the fire at the back of Fay’s cabin.

While they could tell it started in the upstairs living room of the split-level residence, what caused it couldn’t be determined as any evidence was destroyed, said Michael Franceschi, Forestville fire investigator. The cause remained under investigation, however, as a few more people needed to be interviewed.

Fay suffered burns and smoke inhalation. He was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and then transferred to another facility, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Christensen, his friend, said Fay now is at St. Francis Burn Center in San Francisco and was expected to be there at least a week.

Fire officials initially said the man was burned after he ran into his burning garage to try and save a vehicle. But Christensen said she understood he was burned while trying to dampen a neighbor’s deck, which is right in line with his role in the close-knit community.

“He does everything for everybody. He lives very simply. He’s just a good guy. He’s lost everything, and we want to try to help him,” Christensen said.

They set up a account called Help Jim Fay, Christensen said. The donation page can be found at By Tuesday night, it had raised more than $8,300 toward a $15,000 goal.

While the majority of families in Summerhome Park use their properties for vacations, Fay lived there year round with his 90-year-old mother. The Red Cross is helping his mother.

When the fire sparked at about 3:20 p.m., the family cabin was quickly consumed. The fire sent up a large, dark plume of smoke seen for miles.

The residence and garage were a total loss, as were four cars and three motorcycles. Two other cars were damaged, and as many as five other structures had minor to moderate damage.

But as the fire occurred during a drought, in a dry redwood forest with numerous vacation cabins and homes, it had the potential to be far worse, officials said.

At the height of the firefighting effort, one home was ablaze, 12 homes were threatened, several vehicles were burning, a grass fire was heading up the hill and fiery embers were floating into the neighborhood, landing on roofs and vehicles, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville, who was first to the scene and directed the firefight.

The complex effort included downed power lines, which prevented engines from getting close to the burning cabin. Firefighters lobbed water over the downed lines.

Turbeville and Forestville/Russian River Fire Chief Max Ming, who arrived right behind him, praised the first round of responders — firefighters on seven engines — for dealing with the power lines and narrow, steep roadways and keeping the flames from doing more damage.

“They did a stellar job of keeping others from starting to burn. It was quite a save,” Ming said.

If the flames had crested the ridge over the community, the fire could have raced downhill to nearby Odd Fellows Park, also a longstanding private river community open only to residents and homeowners.

Because of the potential for further trouble, Turbeville called for five additional Cal Fire engines and fire more water tankers.

Numerous explosions heard during the fire were due to typical household items, Turbeville said. Car tires, gas tanks and anything under pressure was exploding, and power lines and service lines to the home were popping and cracking. A propane tank connected to the house didn’t explode, he said.

At the height of the effort there were 90 people involved, including 18 fire trucks, which squeezed along the narrow, steep lanes.

With the sound of the community fire siren, about 100 people still around at the end of the holiday weekend headed for the beach as part of their community emergency plan. Several Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies also responded, helping to evacuate people.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or

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