SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — It was a battle waged on the northern edge of Sonoma’s wine country, fought along a wooded canyon bordered by wineries and the county’s sprawling juvenile justice center.

“We’re in a real good spot,” says Captain Richard Clark of the Pasadena Fire Department. “We’ve got a good water supply here. We’re going to make a stand and see if we can protect these structures in this area.”

Managing a strike team on the southern flank of this fire, Captain Clark was also paying close attention to the wind.

“Couple things we’re looking at right now is the ash field is doing,” he said. “What we’re getting dropped on us gives us a good idea of what the fire is doing.”

On the northern flank, it was a strike team lead by Battalion Chief Jim McCoy of the Santa Barbara City Fire Department.

“This fire is backing down the canyon,” explained McCoy. “We’ve got a big dump pile here we want to keep it out of cause this would burn real hot.”

Right in the middle of this battle, Lieutenant John Johnson and his crew, all the way from Gig Harbor, Washington.

Together, they stormed through trees and brush to protect buildings, cleared debris from rooftops, and beat down flames that seemed to spring up in all directions, all as the air cavalry pounded away from the skies above.

“We’ve also got the air crews above us,” says Captain Clark. “So when that happens, the fire front is getting pretty close.”

And the air assault is as relentless as the fire itself. The water is coming from a nearby pond, sometimes two helicopters at once, and all of this requires precise coordination with the men and women fighting the fire up on that hillside.

“Yep. The way it has to be really,” says Lieutenant Johnson of the air resources. “The water drops from that height could hurt us, so everybody has to be on the same page.”

This, of course, just one of the fires unfolding across the region, just one of the ad-hoc teams of firefighters assembled from across the western United States, and just one small piece of a catastrophe that refuses the burn itself out.

“I’m from Santa Barbara City,” says Battalion Chief McCoy. “I have a strike team from the county, Montecito, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Carpenteria. So we’re a long way from home.”


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