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Firefighters inspect the burned area on Healdsburg Avenue, just south of Alexander Valley Road
photo credit: Marc Albert

Sonoma County police and fire investigators continue to work on finding a cause for a string of suspicious fires that started Monday night. Between 8 and 10 p.m.,15 spot fires started burning along roadsides in Healdsburg, Geyserville and one in Guerneville.

The first fire was reported at about 8:10 p.m. Monday night on the eastern side of Healdsburg. For the next hour and twenty minutes, fourteen other fires were confirmed in the greater Healdsburg area, the largest growing to two acres. Cal Fire officials said all fires were contained by 10:30 p.m. before any structures were damaged. 

By midday Tuesday, there was still caution tape and firehose at the site of one of the fires just north of Healdsburg, but few other signs of the drama that played out Monday night. Officials with the Healdsburg Fire Department were still keeping an eye on the burn scar on Healdsburg Avenue. A half dozen live oaks, their leaves still green, punctuated the burnt grass along the road as it gently climbs to Alexander Valley Road. 

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, investigators with Cal Fire, including Battalion Chief J.T. Zulliger, arrived to start their inquiries.

"We're still looking into it,” Zullinger told KRCB. “Everything is under investigation at this point and we'll be out here for the day."

While officials declined to speculate on what ignited the blazes, a reporter overheard inspectors looking for signs of fireworks.

On Tuesday afternoon Cal Fire Operations Chief Ben Nicholls said the investigation is still in the early stages.

“We have our trained, professional investigators looking at these fires and as soon as we have a cause determination, we will release it,” Nicholls said.

Nicholls said each fire is being investigated separately at this time through a scientific process.

“Arson is one of the causes that will be addressed during the origin-and-cause investigations; however, we have made no such determinations at this point and we will be looking at all potential causes for the fires,” Nicholls said.

District 4 supervisor James Gore said while officials haven't confirmed arson, all signs are pointing to someone purposely setting Monday night's fires.

“We are used to [ignition] starts being from either PG&E equipment, lightning blasts like we had last year, or in another case..something happening like somebody running a lawn mower at the wrong time or something like that.” Gore said. “But to have this many irregular fire starts in such a quick time, especially in an area like North County that’s bone dry, it’s definitely suspicious.”

Miguel Pena, a retired Cal Fire wildland firefighter and resident of the Parkland Farms subdivision on the north side of Healdsburg, said he was alerted by a neighbor and went to see for himself Monday night, but turned in when he felt the danger had passed. He said he's feeling relieved.

“I'm glad it didn't happen when the conditions were more ripe to take off and really be a destructive type fire, but that's always a possibility,” Pena said.

About midday Tuesday, while out for a run, he stopped by the spot. Pena said there are few conclusions, as there is no obvious way the fire could have ignited naturally.

"Well, the only thing I can say is, it's suspicious,” Pena said. “Unless there's wires down or a car with exhaust or something...but yeah, it's got to be suspicious.” 

Pena speculated that if human-caused, the motive could be anything. 

"There's all sorts of people in this world,” Pena said. “I've seen firefighters who light [fires], people who want to take advantage of it financially, people that get hired to do it...some people are just not sane or whatever, just have bad intentions."

Pena and fire and civic leaders urged community vigilance. Gore said anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious in the areas of Monday night’s fires is urged to call the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at (707) 565-2121 or call 2-1-1. 

“All information is warranted, and it’s a reminder for people to be vigilant,” Gore said. 

We will update this article as more information becomes available.

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