A hillside home set among the trees above Guerneville’s main drag burst into flames Wednesday afternoon, sending columns of fire and black smoke skyward as crowds of onlookers gathered to watch amid the blare of sirens.
The 12:10 p.m. blaze consumed much of the two-story shake house, expanding so quickly through the wooden structure it appeared inevitable at one point that it would spread to nearby homes and wooded areas.
“Good thing it’s not the heart of summertime. That whole hillside would have gone up,” one local resident, Greg Peddicord, said from his position in front of Jerry Knight’s River Theater, directly across the street from the fire.
The burned house — a duplex occupied by six people, four cats and a dog — has a Palo Alto Drive address but is perched on a steep embankment overlooking Main Street, sitting about 50 feet above the road into town just east of the downtown plaza.
Scores of people were immediately drawn to the spectacle, filling the sidewalk in front of the River Theater, where one could feel the heat of the flames.
Dan Lantz, a resident of the house who arrived among the onlookers, at one point shouting, “‘We’re all accounted for,” said he lives there with his partner, Gregg Wion, two caretakers, a downstairs resident and a young woman. All of the residents and pets made it out of the building.
“We’re all safe. It’s a total disaster,” he said.
Lantz said he and Wion had gone out on an errand and arrived back just as the flames were coming up from the first floor, where the fire apparently started, and immediately went to the entrances to learn if anyone was inside.
One of his caretakers, Jason Wright, was on his way out at that precise moment.
Having just awakened, he was sipping coffee in the upstairs when he smelled smoke. Looking out the window to investigate, he could see smoke and then flames reaching upward from the floor below.
“Then I heard crackling,” Wright said.
Russian River firefighters, coming from just a couple blocks away, arrived within three minutes of being dispatched to find flames coming out the front door, according to initial dispatch reports.
Because of its location, on a steep, wooded hill just overlooking Main Street, the fire and smoke were quickly visible. At least seven people began dialing 911 at 12:10 p.m. to report the blaze.
Russian River, Forestville, Monte Rio and Cal Fire firefighters responded.