Cal Fire credited with saving 40,000 Willie Bird turkeys from Sonoma County fires

Willie Benedetti, owner of Willie Bird Turkeys, at his farm in Santa Rosa, on Sunday, October 15, 2017. Behind him smoke can be seen from a fire burning near Hood Mountain Regional Park. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)


It’s been a week of fires and roadblocks and worrying about the potential loss of 40,000 turkeys for brothers Willie and Riley Benedetti.

First came the fire that roared toward Calistoga Road last Sunday night. Only a stand by Cal Fire on the western side of the road kept the flames from jumping over and onto the Benedettis’ 400-acre ranch northeast of Santa Rosa and turning Willie Bird Turkeys into Willie Bird Roasted Turkeys.

Then came the daily struggle to get 16 tons of feed through roadblocks meant to keep everyone out except firefighting personnel.

“Cal Fire saved these turkeys early last Monday morning.” Willie, 68, said Sunday afternoon.

Not wanting to risk it again, he and his brother started evacuating the birds.

They used six tractor-trailer trucks and a portable conveyor belt to load 13,000 turkeys for a trip to Turlock in the Central Valley for processing.

Willie, who joined the family business in 1963, estimated the entire rafter of turkeys was worth “$2 million or so.”

It takes more than a fire and roadblocks to slow the Benedettis down.

They got their feed trucks through last Monday, but when the CHP blocked them Tuesday, they called the California Poultry Federation. Then the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Then Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

Within 90 minutes, they said, the Commissioner of the CHP had ordered the roadblock opened.

“The turkeys don’t know what’s going on,” said Riley, 66.

The evacuation will continue through Tuesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or On Twitter @danarts.