FAIRFIELD — As flames raged on the hillside bordering a north Fairfield neighborhood and consumed several homes, hundreds of people lined the south side of Marigold Drive, mouths agape in disbelief as a fast-moving, seven-alarm brush fire raged through the area.
For about four hours, the 2700 through 3000 blocks of Marigold Drive were an impassable maze of firefighters, police officers and dozens of emergency vehicles as crews from as far away as Woodland and West Sacramento battled the flames.
For the residents of Marigold Drive, it was a sad day as they stood helpless, watching neighbors’ homes go up in flames.
At least five homes were hit by flames and close to a dozen more had their backyards scorched.
Martin Lalor was in his home on the 2800 block of Marigold when the flames reached his front yard.
“I was taking a nap with my daughter, I smelled smoke, I saw that my front bush was on fire,” said Lalor, 32. “I was like, “OK, my bush is on fire.’ I thought maybe that was just it. I go out, I saw fire trucks left and right and I could see my backyard on fire.”
It was then that the enormity of the situation sank in.
“I grabbed my daughter, I jet out and I go bring her to grandma’s,” Lalor said as he watched a gust of wind fan the flames on his fully engulfed home. “I come back and I come back to this. It’s just more on fire, more on fire. I see fire trucks down here working on some houses, fire trucks working on this house.”
As the flames leapt higher, Lalor was concerned they might catch a large ash tree in his front yard.
“I hope they don’t allow that front tree to catch on fire,” he said. “That’s going to set the whole neighborhood on fire.”
While the fire did take several trees in the front of the house, the large tree was largely unscathed.
The shock of the loss was still sinking in for Lalor.
“This is going to set in more and more,” he said. “This is all I’ve got right here. I got my car keys, my cellphone. I don’t even have my charger. That’s it.”
Lalor wasn’t the only narrow escape Tuesday.
LaRue Montgomery, who is deaf, was alerted to the fire by his chihuahua, Lucy, who was barking at the back door of the house on the 2800 block or Marigold.
“My dog was barking. I said, ‘Stop,’ ” Montgomery said in a written statement. “I went outside and saw smoke coming from the tree. I took my dog and my kid out of the house.”
Darrol Prill, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, also lost his home on the 2900 block of Marigold to the fire.
Prill stood across the street, in front of a neighbor’s house, as he watched fire crews clear their hoses out of his home.
The garage was open and fire damage could be seen all the way to the back of the one-story home. Among the few things that were saved were a photo of Prill’s son and daughter, both of whom have served in the armed forces.
He also had his retirement plaque from the Air Force. Both items were grabbed by firefighters as they went through the home.
“I probably lost a lot of pictures in the house, but my son and my daughter both have copies of that picture,” Prill said. “That can be replaced if it had to be. Obviously the fire department, they didn’t consider that, they considered the value of it and got it out for me. Same thing with the retirement plaque, that could not have been replaced.”
After leaving work – he works for the Air Force as a civil servant at Travis Air Force Base – Prill said he saw the smoke rising.
“As we were coming back into town, I could see the smoke coming up and we were betting on where the fire was,” he said. “As a matter of fact, one of the police officers shot past us as we were coming up Cement Hill Road and as we came around and came through the housing area down on the other side of Dover, we started going, ‘That is awfully close to the house.’ ”
He just didn’t realize how close.
“By the time we got here, my backyard was on fire, but the house was still good. Then we just progressively watched the fire move forward and take the house,” the 20-year Air Force veteran said. “I will admit that I was a little bit angry in watching the fact that the firemen were busy in other places and it just seemed like the house wasn’t being protected. There was a shed that my neighbor has that was fully engulfed. I was like, ‘Come on guys, get a line in there.’ ”
Prill said he wasn’t sure what’s next.
“I work out on Travis Air Force Base, and I work for the 60th (Operations Support Squadron) and the OSS commander just called me and offered whatever assistance they could offer and the only thing I’m asking for is a hotel room for the night to get us started and then we’ll work from there,” he said. “We’ll just sort though it. If worst comes to worst, we have our motor home that’s parked right over here next to our friends’ house, so we can stay in that if we have to and we’ll get by till we can figure out what we’re going to do with all this. The plan is to be here next year. Say what you like, the (plastic lawn) flamingos survived, so the house is worth salvaging.”
There were more helpers than people needing help at the evacuation center in the Fairfield High School gym.
Jackie Diaz saw the smoke and dropped by to see how she could help. Senior Airman James Ferguson was just getting off work at Travis Air Force Base when he heard about the fire. He quickly ran to the store and picked up a few cases of water.
The scene was repeated a few times as people dropped by, asking how they could help.
The Red Cross was set up at the entrance of the gym.
One real example of neighbor helping neighbor surfaced when Calvin Clothier was reunited with his yellow Labrador mix dog. Mandy, 10, had been rescued by neighbors after the dog got loose.
Clothier, who lives on Marigold Drive, was on his way home from work and school when he spotted the traffic backup on eastbound Interstate 80 and headed home.
His one dog, Hutch, a purebred yellow Labrador, was safe at home. Clothier’s house was also safe.
The family that found Mandy let police know they had the dog. Clothier made his way to Fairfield High to be reunited with her in the school parking lot.
While Crystal Yarbrough wasn’t evacuated, she came by the center because she couldn’t get home to her North Texas Street apartment and had no diapers for her 2-year-old daughter, Keira-Jolie.
“I’m just trying to get home and I can’t get home,” she said.
Amy Maginnis-Honey contributed to this report. Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.