The Coastal Post - November, 1995

Beware Of October For Wildfires

BY JOAN REUTINGER

October seems to be the month for wildifres. It was in October when the wildfire ravaged the Oakland Hills, and it was October when the Mt. Vision fire erupted.

The only wildfire that I could find in the summer was on July 2, 1929, when Mt. Tamalpais burned down Blithedale Canyon, ruining 110 homes in Mill Valley.

This was the fire which left passengers on the Mill Valley-Tamalpais Scenic Railway. Jack Mason writes of it in his book The Making of Marin. "Sixty-five passengers escaped down the mountainside through suffocating heat, trainmen wetting handkerchiefs to cover the faces of women and children. Rattlesnakes driven from cover lined the right-of-way. Coach sides blistered and rail ties smoldered., but engineer Jake Johnson guided his train into Mill Valley without injury."

Dewey Livingston reported in the October 5th issue of the Point Reyes Light that the Mt. Vision wildfire was not the first Inverness fire. In 1927 the entire village of Inverness was threatened by a wildfire that started on Sunday, October 9 on one of the then-Shafter ranches. It burned, according to newspaper reports of that time, to within one-half a mile of Inverness and the entire male population was out fighting it. This time approximately five square miles were burned, but there are no reports of houses being set on fire.

Mildred Sadler has equally bad memories of the fire that started in Woodacre and burned down Olema Valley to near the McKennan Ranch. It is recorded in Group Memories complied by Steve Aikenhead. Sadler reports: "The fire in 1945 burned from Woodacre all the way over here. They fought the fire for a whole week. We closed the school because at that time the town had no central building (such as the current Community Center), so the Red Cross took over the school. We fed at least 100 servicemen who had been brought in from Treasure Island and various military bases.

"Stinson Beach was covered with ash, and when I would go to the school as District Chairman for the Red Cross, it was like driving through a tunnel, the smoke was so heavy. All the houses and the ground were just covered with ash.

"When the children went back to school, the smell didn't last long, but there was one aftermath. The firefighters had finished all the student workbooks. We had to use the workbooks by correcting what they had done."

Sadler doesn't remember what month it was, but it was probably October, because school had started and her husband came back home in November after serving in the military and he wasn't home yet.

The earliest recorded fire on Mount Tamalpais was in 1861 when the mountain burned "from the base to the summit." I'll bet that was in October, too.