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The Octopus Mountain Fire

CalFire called it the Peach Fire. Locals, depending on their community seniority, called it either the Tarwater Hill Fire after an old timer family named Tarwater who lived at its foot, or the Octopus Mountain Fire, its more contemporary designation inspired by the landmark’s tentacled topography.

When the fire broke out about 3:15 last Thursday afternoon everyone knew exactly where it was from its announcing smoke — due east of the Little Red School House Museum about a mile north of Boonville. A prompt response by CalFire and the Anderson Valley Fire Department would finally contain the blaze to about 90 acres, but not before apprehensive tremors that a far more serious blaze had begun was sweeping through the Anderson Valley. The Upper Peachland area and Dear Meadows Estate are now home to an estimated five hundred locals; the flames initially appeared to be burning straight at them, and the clamor of the emergency response seemed to herald a much more serious fire than it turned out to be.

Those first ominous billows of white smoke had appeared just east of Elke Vineyards. Fire trucks soon sped through Boonville, sirens screaming, and a few minutes later a CalFire spotter plane circled over the blaze, closely followed by Helicopter 101 scooping water from Mary Elke’s pond to dump just ahead of the flames. A fire bomber soon arrived to drop three large loads of pinkish fire retardant on the flames, which were being urged up the mountain by the gentle winds off the Pacific typical of this time of year and time of day. Firefighters were soon scrambling to flank the blaze, eventually surrounding and extinguishing it after it had left the Octopus shorn of its grass and brush, singeing only two barn-like outbuildings belonging to the Wasson Ranch.

Residents of Peachland Road and Deer Meadow Estates spent an anxious couple of hours, terrified that the blaze might not be contained fast enough to spare their homes.

MendoSportsPlus’ Paul McCarthy — the man is everywhere! — happened to be driving through Boonville on his way to his Elk headquarters when the fire broke out. McCarthy filmed the fiery excitement off and on for about an hour and a half until the fire had been beaten into final submission. The ubiquitous Elk-based reporter stuck around to record a post-fire video, declaring the overall response, “a great job.” (McCarthy’s videos are available on the MendocinoSportsPlus facebook page. Like Glidden’s Paint, he covers the world!)

When the smoke cleared Friday morning, AV Fire Chief Andres Avila said crews were still mopping up, inspecting every foot of ground for hotspots on the mountain’s precipitous flanks. Chief Avila said Calfire had not yet issued a definitive statement on the cause of the fire, but two points of origin are being looked at without either believed to be suspicious.

Two dozen local firefighters with 12 pieces of equipment fought the fire in addition to six full Calfire crews of three each, plus a water tender, a CalFire dozer, a private dozer from Hiatt Construction, plus one more water tender from Elk, and two Calfire helicopters reinforced by the fire bomber.

Additional fire crews drove to the Anderson Valley from the Mendocino Coast to backfill our stations while Anderson Valley crews were on the fire lines.

“Everyone did a great job,” said the exhausted Avila. “That steep uphill terrain was a lot of work.” Much of that inch by inch mop up was accomplished by inmate crews from Parlin Fork and Chamberlain Creek. 

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