Sparks from a tow truck's dolly are suspected of causing a 40-acre brush fire that tore through a pallet factory near Schellville a few miles south of downtown Sonoma Sunday afternoon, causing $1 million in damage and destroying three buildings and dozens of vehicles and trailers.
The fire, which sent flames shooting high into the air when a propane tank on the property exploded, began at 1:18 p.m. near Highway 121 and Eighth Street East, according to Ray Mulas, chief of the volunteer Schell-Vista Fire Protection District.
Sparks were seen coming from a tow truck using a tow dolly in the area around that time, but it is unclear what caused the sparks, CHP Officer Anna Paulson said. A CHP officer was following the tow truck at the time, she said.
The sparks ignited dry grass along the side of the road and the fire quickly moved towards nearby Sonoma Pacific Co. at the corner of Highway 121 and Fremont Drive, igniting 40-foot stacks of wooden pallets and a number of buildings on the property, Mulas said.
"It's a pallet factory, so it was just full of shavings and sawdust and it wasn't the cleanest place," Mulas said.
At 3:20 p.m., a 1,000-gallon propane tank on the property exploded, sending flames shooting into the air, Mulas said.
The fire ended up destroying three buildings on the property and damaging two others. In all 11 vehicles were destroyed, including 10 RVs, as were 15 commercial trailers and nine miscellaneous trailers, Mulas said.
The fire damaged power lines and a transformer in the area, causing a power loss in the area, Paulson said. PG&E is on scene.
Mulas said the fire has been contained to 40 acres and his department's effort is primarily focused on putting out "hot spots." An effort that involved 180 firefighters from 61 units and four counties – including Cal Fire aerial attack planes and a pair of air tankers – has been scaled back to a volunteer force from Schell-Vista and one additional firefighter from Sonoma Fire.
Road closures were in effect on Highway 121 at state Highway 116 and at Eighth Street East, at Watmaugh Road and Broadway and at Napa Road at Eighth Street East.
All roads were reopened overnight, according to California Highway Patrol Sgt. William Bradshaw.
–Bay City News Service contributed to this report. Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. – Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.