Residents evacuated for Barnabe fire

David Briggs
A downed PG&E line is faulted for a 150-acre fire on Monday on the southern flank of Mount Barnabe. Valley residents evacuated three roads but returned Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was 80 percent contained.  

A fire started on Monday evening after an electric line fell on the south side of Mount Barnabe, leading residents of three roads to evacuate and closing Lagunitas School the following day. The Irving Fire—so named because it sparked in the Irving picnic area of Samuel P. Taylor State Park—had burned 152 acres by Wednesday afternoon, when it was 80 percent contained. Marin County Fire anticipated that crews would combat the fire through Thursday.

“It’s pretty steep terrain,” county spokeswoman Laine Hendricks said. Helicopters, which are able to dump thousands of pounds of water, don’t fly at night, “so it really prevented us from making as much progress as we’d like.” 

Two hours after initial reports of smoke came in shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday, the fire department ordered an evacuation of Mountain King Road, Portola Avenue and Alamo Way down to Barranca. Adjacent areas in upper Lagunitas and Forest Knolls were given a warning, but not evacuated. Ms. Hendricks said 150 structures were threatened in the evacuation and warning areas.

Alerts were disseminated primarily through Alert Marin, a reverse 911 system that sent out messages via landlines and, if residents had signed up to receive them through other mediums, by cell phone call, text or email. As a final measure, Marin County Sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door to notify residents of the impending danger. Two residents refused to leave. 

About 150 evacuees arrived at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber said. Just nine spent the night, and 25 returned the next morning for breakfast. The Salvation Army provided snacks and cocoa on Monday and three meals on Tuesday. 

“We had a huge outpouring of volunteers,” Jack Sayers, director of operations at the community center, said. “We’ve been getting good practice at this, so now we know what to do.” Last year, the community center served as an evacuation shelter for 10 days during the fires in Santa Rosa. 

Evacuation orders were lifted on Tuesday afternoon after the fire reached 35 percent containment, but over 50 households were still without power.

Although Lagunitas School initially indicated it would remain open on Tuesday, that decision was reversed because teachers and students had been evacuated.  

On Monday and early Tuesday morning, before helicopters could be deployed, Marin County Fire used bulldozers, hand crews, water tenders and engines. Novato Fire, Ross Valley Fire, and Central Marin fire provided support that night, and on Tuesday their efforts were joined by Cal Fire and numerous other local fire departments. 

The burn area on Mount Barnabe, before and after the fire. (Photo courtesy of Marin County Fire)