VACAVILLE (CBS SF) — During the height of the battle as the Hennessey Fire ravaged homes in the Vacaville area, sending residents in a panicked flight for safety, a PG&E worker assisting first responders was found unconscious in his truck and later died.
The unnamed worker became the first casualty of the massive wildfires that continue to blaze throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
“We can confirm that a Vacaville-based troubleman passed away while assisting first responders as they dealt with the LNU Complex Fire,” the utility said in statement released Thursday. “Out of respect for the family’s privacy, we won’t be sharing additional details at this time.”
Cal Fire also issued statement.
“On Wednesday August 8, 2020, in the afternooon, a PG&E employee was located in his vehicle in the Gates Canyon area, unresponsive. CPR was preformed, the employee was transported by ambulance, and pronounced deceased at a local hospital,” the release said. “The employee was in the Gates Canyon area clearing infrastructure (pole, lines, etc) to make the area safe for emergency responders. Please keep the family and PG&E in your thoughts and prayers.”
When some residents make their way back to their neighborhoods on Thursday, they will find piles of rubble where once their homes stood.
As the fire moved through the area, a home on Cherry Glen Road was one of many that burned to the ground. According to longtime Vacaville resident John Pierson, nobody was living in the house.
“About 3, it started coming over the mountain. I called 911 and told him, but nobody showed. Nobody,” said Pierson.
The fire jumped I-80 late Wednesday afternoon, forcing the highway to close in both directions. For roughly three and a half hours, not a single car on the road.
Meanwhile, it was deja vu for those living in the Paradise Valley community in Fairfield.
“It was horrifying. We didn’t have to evacuate but it was scary,” said resident Jackie Alexander.
Alexander and many of her neighbors lived through the scare of the Atlas fire in 2017. While this area was put under a mandatory evacuation Wednesday, many decided to stay put.
“They said they’re not going to drag you out, but they want to know who’s staying just in case it gets bad,” said resident Samuel Hunter.
Some who decided to leave regretted the decision.
“It took 49 minutes to get to this spot and we’re about a mile from our house,” said Dean Barnhart
But with so many homes lost already in this fire, the Barnharts say there really isn’t much to complain about.
“It’s scary, but you realize it’s just stuff. My family got out safely,” said Kristin Barnhart.
Wednesday morning, flames roared over Mt. Vaca in the early morning hours, knocking out a communication tower and then quickly moved toward I-80 and the neighborhoods nestled in northwest Vacaville.
Along Pleasants Valley Road, multiple homes were burned to the ground in scenes reminiscent of the 2008 wildfire that destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise.
Driving the 12-mile stretch of roadway Wednesday afternoon, the damage from overnight becomes apparent quickly with mailboxes marking the spots where homes should be.
Not far beyond that, the danger that still remains becomes apparent as flames march down rugged hillsides toward more properties.
“My wife and my daughter and I were evacuated this morning,” said area resident Sean Kerwin.
Kerwin wasn’t just waiting for news. He and dozens of others were trying to rescue horses that had to be set loose from barns overnight as flames advanced.
Flames creeping down a hillside on Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville.
I passed multiple burned homes on the way up here.
Sky is the same color as I remember from Paradise.
The only glimmer of good news – no winds at the moment. @KPIXtv pic.twitter.com/QjOgCUfHfe
— Andria Borba (@AndriaKPIX) August 19, 2020
“In this area, when it’s a fire, it don’t matter. Everybody’s family at some point,” Keira Mackenzie told KPIX 5.
On the other side of the sepia-tinted skies, new evacuation orders were sending residents fleeing. Dave Ritchey of Green Valley was there helping his mother and sister get out.
“This is our second time in two years. This fire…God, I get choked up. This fire is 10 times worse than the Atlas Peak fire,” said Ritchey.
Just up the street, Jack Mackall had gone to the store before heading home to collect his wife and father in law.
“Get the heck out of Dodge,” said Mackall
Ritchey also offered advice for anyone impacted by the fires.
If you get a warning, get out. If you feel it’s not safe, get out. Because it’s not, said Ritchey.