On Monday, fire tore through Villa Capri, an assisted-living and memory-care facility on Fountaingrove Parkway across from Keysight Technologies in Santa Rosa.
A main building next to the parking lot was obliterated, but Varenna residential structures remained intact. Four fire engines from San Francisco’s fire department were on site Tuesday morning, one day after the flames. They arrived at about 5 a.m. just after fire raced through Fountaingrove. San Francisco sent another five engines to fight fire near Glen Ellen.
The Fountaingrove business district was patrolled Tuesday by police and firefighters from San Francisco, Oakland, Contra Costa and San Mateo Counties, plus many others. Firefighters from Los Angeles stopped into the REI store on Santa Rosa Avenue to buy needed gear.
A wheelchair draped with a blanket sat abandoned in the parking lot in front of a structure in ruins, apparent signs of hasty evacuation by residents, many of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
“We’re standing by,” said Ian, a San Francisco firefighter who commutes to the city from his home in Cotati. He declined to give his last name. “We do 24-hour shifts,” he said. He has been fighting fire for 19 years.
“We had a structure fire up there last night,” he said, nearly a day after the giant flames whipped through, powered by wind that gusted beyond 50 miles an hour. “It was a big two-story apartment complex,” Ian said.
“Amazing,” he said of the fire’s remains. He relieved a crew of San Francisco firefighters who had come even earlier. “They went over to the Kmart” on Cleveland Avenue across Mendocino Avenue, he said.
“When they got there it was totally involved. They saved a bunch of homes on that side. They stopped it. It could have kept going. I do a lot of road cycling out there (west of Santa Rosa). I’m pretty familiar with all those roads. It would have been incredible, gone all the way to the coast.”
When gargantuan fires burn out of control, firefighters are sometimes overwhelmed and can do nothing to stop the inferno, Ian said.
“I imagine they will keep us all around,” Ian said, as he sat in the driver’s seat of a fire engine.
On Monday his crew worked at the Fountaingrove Golf and Athletic Club up the hill.
His buddy who lives in Larkfield lost his home on Pacific Heights Drive near Molsberry Market in the Larkfield Shopping Center on Old Redwood Highway. “It looks like something from a movie set,” Ian said.
His San Francisco firefighting crew worked to defend some of the structures on the Keysight Technologies campus on the south side of Fountaingrove Parkway.
“Our guys actually saved the roof of that building yesterday,” Ian said, likely Building 1 next to modular buildings Vista East and Vista West, which both burned completely. “It started catching on fire. They are very lucky,” he said. “It’s weird when you drive into the parking lot and see the car sitting there” that was incinerated. “Then the one next to it is fine.”
In nearly two decades battling blazes, Ian studied fire behavior, noting that it has become a distinct scientific discipline. “Lately they have been doing a lot of studies in structure fires where firefighters have died,” he said. “They’re relating it to fire flow path. That has to do not just with the way the fire moves through the building because of what’s there to burn,” he said, “but with the construction of the building, how different pressures (exist) from having a door open or closed. It’s pushing the fire and affecting it.”