“This scale is off the charts. When you look at historic fires we’ve had, it doesn’t even
compare in terms of the devastation of property, the environmental loss and the fatalities,”
says Marin County Fire Department Battalion Chief and Public Information Officer Bret
Mc Tigue. “This was an unprecedented fire. We’ve never experienced anything like it.” In the
face of this disaster, Marin County put every single Marin firefighter in the department on
duty and deployed eight strike teams (five engines per team) to fight fires across Northern
California, including the Nuns, Atlas, Tubbs and Redwood Complex fires, as well as the Bear
Valley Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Marin Fire Agency also took over management of the Highway 37 fire for five days, as the California Department of Forestry and Fire
Protection (CAL FIRE) was over whelmed.
According to the most recent numbers, the multiple fires that ignited in the windstorms
across Northern California that night burned 245,000 acres, destroying 8,900 homes and
commercial buildings and displacing more than 102,000 people. Most significantly, 43 lives
were lost in the three counties. “We spent the entire first 24 hours in lifesaving mode,” says
Novato Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Whittet, whose strike team of 22 worked for 10 days straight,
some days on 72-hour shifts without a break, battling the Atlas Fire.
As an unprecedented disaster devastated our
neighbors to the north, many of us watched
from the safety of our screens. Here are tales
from seven people who had to act, and act fast.
BY KIRSTEN JONES NEFF • PHOTOS BY BRUCE FARNSWORTH
In Marin County we looked out our windows on the morning of
Monday, October 9, to discover surroundings bathed in a strange
orange glow. We might have heard distant sirens, smelled smoke
in the air, or received a text from faraway family, checking on our
whereabouts. As the veiled amber sun rose higher in the sky and the
smoke and ash began to wash across local neighborhoods, we turned
to our televisions and social media to discover the magnitude of what
was unfolding next door in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties.