Mount Vision fire: What happened

10/01/2015

 

The Inverness Ridge Fire of October 1995 (a.k.a. the Mount Vision Fire) was big—even for a state that has become accustomed to large wildfires. The amount of damage was staggering.

The fire, which began on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 1995, destroyed 45 homes in Inverness Park. The blaze charred 12,000 acres, including 15 percent of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

It took firefighters five days to contain the fire and 13 days to fully stop its spread. Even so, hotspots remained for a month.

The fire was accidentally started by four teenagers camping on Mount Vision in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Their campsite was illegal, although others had camped there before.

The teens tried to be fire safe, carefully burying the ashes of their campfire under dirt and rocks before leaving. Over the next two days, however, the smoldering fire burned its way up through forest duff, arriving on the forest floor during a high wind.

Immediately it started spreading eastward, sometimes jumping from ridgetop to ridgetop. By that evening, several homes in Paradise Ranch Estates subdivision were already on fire.

Some 104 crews totaling 2,134 firefighters ultimately showed up to battle the blaze, with county, park, and Inverness crews the first on the scene.

Two members of the Inverness crew, Bill Hart and Scott Patterson, would later file a dramatic report on that first night of the fire:

“Around midnight, we were sent as part of a strike team to protect the Environmental Education Center [in the park]. Because the two of us were the only team members familiar with the road and the area, our engine led the way.

“Visibility on Limantour Road was nearly zero, with 100-foot flames from one side of the road blowing across the roadway to mingle with 40-foot flames on the other side.”

It was unnerving to drive through a tunnel of flames that consumed approximately 7,000 acres in two hours that morning—roughly one acre per second—but the fire engines made it, and the ed center was saved.

Other fire crews arrived from the California Department of Forestry, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, and fire protection agencies in Mendocino, Solano, and Sonoma counties as well as throughout Marin County. One fire crew showed up from Oregon, but exactly where was not recorded.

In addition, 850 California Department of Corrections inmates were bused in to help and ended up camping at the Stewart Horse Ranch in the Olema Valley. West Marin residents showered them with appreciation, which, some inmates said, gave them a sense of pride.

Having so many visiting firemen in town, however, led to an odd confrontation.

Many firefighters travel widely fighting fires and routinely bring back souvenirs from each battle. A couple from Calaveras for several years had been selling t-shirts to firefighters at each blaze around the state, but when they set up a stand in Point Reyes Station, some local residents — thinking the souvenirs were for the general public, not firemen — took offense.

“You shouldn’t be making money off a tragedy like this,” complained one man. “You ought to be set on fire.” Two men made death threats. Firefighters, however, said they were glad to have a chance to get a shirt.

Printed on the shirts was: “Cuttin’ line and kickin’ ash—Mount Vision Fire, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California, October 1995.”

Although the fire was believed to be mostly out by Friday night, two hot spots sparked fires that burned another 11 acres Saturday.

As for the boys who started the fire, they quickly turned themselves in. After a three-month investigation, the district attorney decided not to prosecute them because there was no evidence of arson or negligence.

And much to the frustration of insurance companies for the burned-out homeowners, the judge declined to make public their names.

It would be impossible to calculate all the misery of residents who lost their homes, their belongings, and sometimes their pets. A few moved away and did not return. Most, however, soon began rebuilding.