Locals save historic Olema butcher shop


Fast-acting residents preserved the historic Gamboni butcher shop in Olema last Friday after an errant driver hit a power pole, dropping lines onto a field and igniting a brush fire along Highway One. With emergency vehicles stuck behind a pole blocking both lanes, a handful of locals wielding garden hoses, shovels and fire extinguishers snuffed out flames that came within a few feet of a grove of trees and several historic buildings—all before fire crews arrived.

Dennis Rodoni was discussing a job with Petaluma painter Rigo Diaz when he noticed flames in the field across the highway from his house at around 5:30 p.m. “It was a slow-burning fire, but it kept approaching, and we realized the emergency vehicles were stuck on the other side of the power line,” said Mr. Rodoni, a general contractor who has lived in town for 20 years. “All the neighbors got together.”

The pair grabbed three hoses from Mr. Rodoni’s house and a neighbor brought another. It was Mr. Diaz, who grew up on a ranch in Mexico, who jumped a fence to spray water on the lower edge of the fire, which was creeping south with the wind. “To me it seems like pretty easy to put it out—not in big trees, not anything dangerous,” he said this week, recalling numerous times he’d extinguished similar fires in his home country.

For Mr. Rodoni there was also an element of nostalgia. His mother and her six siblings were born in a farmhouse on the burned property, a pocket of private agricultural land now a part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He recalled his mother telling him stories of getting candy from the butcher shop. “It was a nice feeling [to protect it],” he said, adding that the interior of the shop now belongs to the Smithsonian, though it is not on display.

The three-acre fire was entirely quenched within a half an hour with additional help from a county bulldozer that cut through a fence and dug a fire line on the upper edge of the blaze. 

The residents’ communal and critical efforts went unrecognized by the Marin County Fire Department, however. The agency’s press release on Friday evening credited the lack of any structural damage to “quick action by firefighters.” 

Both the release and the Marin IJ’s article also mistakenly identified the butcher shop as a schoolhouse. In fact the town’s historic schoolhouse lies on the other side of the highway.

“With all due respect, the fire department did a great job, but the buildings were saved by the time they got to it,” Mr. Rodoni said with barely discernible pride. He described seeing the Point Reyes Station fire captain stomping at flames with his boot as the fire trucks were stalled up the road.

No one sustained injuries from the fire. The driver of the vehicle went home unscathed, but her car had come to a stop at the North Marin Water District pump-house, which was out of commission the next day for repair. District officials urged residents and business in the valley to conserve water, but the tank had been filled for the holiday weekend and the supply held up.

Mike Giannini, battalion chief for the county fire department, said his staff was unaware of the residents’ efforts. “Had we known, we certainly would have shared that,” he said, asking the Light to extend “his apologies to those folks.”