Community members help protect property in rural fire

Krista Petrillo-Hefner battled flame encroaching on fuel pumps near on her neighbor’s property near Putah Creek Road and Pleasants Valley Road Oct. 30. (Courtesy photo)

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Video courtesy of Christa Petrillo Haefner.

Community members helped to save a rural residence from a grass fire that may have been ignited as power was restored following a five-day planned outage in Solano County near Winters Wednesday afternoon.

According to Winters Fire Department Chief Brad Lopez, the fire burned a quarter acre for about an hour starting around 1 p.m. on Oct. 30 off of Putah Creek Road and Pleasants Valley Road before firefighters from the WFD, the Vacaville Fire Protection District and Cal Fire extinguished it. No significant damage to structures have been reported.

The fire coincided with the power restoration to the area following a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Public Safety Power Shut-off (PSPS) event in response to high winds last week. Although Cal Fire has not conducted an investigation into the cause of the fire, reports from Lopez and first responders confirm downed power lines were found on the property.

This month, millions of Californians have been repeatedly affected by PG&E’s PSPS events, used when high winds increase the chance equipment malfunctions will ignite a fire. Before power is restored, technicians are supposed to inspect potentially damaged power lines that could spark. However on Wednesday, PG&E restored power because PSPS events can legally only remain in effect for five consecutive dayseven if the high-wind weather event were to continue or crews had not inspected all lines for damages.

At least five community members rushed to help the owner of a threatened home, help tend to livestock, prepare for the arrival of fire engines and hosing down flames.

Christa Petrillo Haefner, who lives within eyeshot of the threatened home, captured a dramatic scene on her phone as she helped to beat flames back from structures using a garden hose connected to a generator-powered water well. She joined two work men in reflective vests, her neighbor Susan Hasset, and an unknown woman to help defend the property before firefighters arrived.

Haefner said it was lucky the well was powered by a generator, or else she wouldn’t have been able to keep the flames away from nearby fuel tanks.

“The concern was if something got those going, you’d have a fire-ball,” Haefner said. “And that would take forever to put out.”

She emphasized the fact that it was truly a group effort, which wasn’t captured by the footage of her battling flames posted on social media. Haefner said neighbors responding to wildfires is normal in her rural neighborhood, which has seen five fires in as many years. Haefner said she thinks a transformer ignited and caused the fire when power was restored, and that PSPS events aren’t the best solution to wildfire risk. “I think there’s a better method. There has to be. [PSPS events are] preventing wildfires but they’re also causing them, because when they’re turning power back on they’re having issues too,” Haefner said.

Haefner’s mother, Rhonda Petrillo, who posted the video to the Winters Community Info and Tips Facebook page, said this fire showed why neighbors in rural communities need to connect and help protect each other’s homes.

In another post, Petrillo began reaching out to community members to organize in defense of wildfires.

“Identifying problem areas and coming up with viable solutions is necessary to keeping our ‘neighborhood’ safe,” Petrillo said.

If you were one of the the unnamed community members who responded to the fire and would like your name included or to share your experience, please contact the writer at]]>

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