FORT BRAGG, 11/25/20 — Ordinary heroes with garden hoses staved off flames long enough for firefighters to arrive and prevent fires from spreading in the vicinity of two different Fort Bragg mobile home parks on Tuesday. However, one man died Wednesday at UC Davis after his neighbors pulled him out of his trailer, unconscious, at the Leisure Time RV Park, off Highway 20.
Cameron Michael “Mickey” Gray, 69, had lived at Leisure Time for nine years and was well known in Fort Bragg. His family has been notified of the tragedy.
It could have been much worse.
“We definitely earned our keep yesterday,” said Fort Bragg Fire Chief Steve Orsi in an interview. It was an odd and unexpected day for potentially catastrophic fires — the weather was chilly, damp and foggy, with wind only coming in bursts and not coming to most of the town.
Police report that they saw smoke and investigated the first fire, which began about 1:25 p.m south of Airport Road and east of SR-1. Four Fort Bragg police officers jumped right in to do evacuations, even using garden hoses to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby home and to a mobile home park. The nine acre grass fire started with a controlled burn on Noyo Bida Ranch, Chief Orsi said. That property is used as an intertribal summer environmental learning camp for teens. Tuesday was a permissive burn day in Mendocino County.
Orsi said wind kicked up quickly, causing the fire to spread. “At the station here — not even a mile away — you couldn’t even feel any wind. But when you got out into that field it was blowing pretty good ,” said Orsi. “It was a burn day. They weren’t doing anything illegal. Nobody is really in trouble.”
The 69 acre Noyo Bida Ranch property is owned by the six member Potter Valley Tribe of the Pomo Indians, chaired by Salvador Rosales. Rosales said he came to the property Friday. With Saturday a permissive burn day, Rosales began burning green yard debris around 6:30 a.m Saturday. The fire had been out since Saturday but somehow flared back up on Tuesday, Rosales said. A security camera caught activity on the reservation land, which was patrol cars investigating the smoke. When Rosales arrived back on Tuesday, the wind had driven the fire first west, then south toward the 69 unit Ocean Lake Adult Mobile Home Park. The weird wind pattern was confirmed by others and resulted in flames appearing before smoke. The flames now threatened the mobile home park.
“The police were really heroes here on Tuesday. They were really doing their job and more, “ said Paul Geng, manager of Ocean Lake.
Park assistant manager Bill Betts said it looked like police officers actually went into the edge of the flames while wielding garden hoses found behind the units on the north side.
Firefighters then arrived and stopped the fire just yards away from the age 55-and-up mobile home park. Evacuation by Fort Bragg police had commenced, with police knocking on all the doors on the threatened north side of the park, but finding only four people at home to evacuate, Betts said. The park has a large pond that separates the north from the south side. The Fort Bragg Fire Department, and Cal Fire, then arrived and put out the fire.
Only six hours later, a separate fire erupted in Cameron Gray’s trailer at Leisure Time Mobile Home Park, which is located at 30801 State Route 20. When the fire department arrived in the dark at about 7:30 p.m, they came upon Gray’s trailer fully “involved” in flames, Chief Orsi said. They also found that neighbors had entered the burning trailer and carried Gray out, still alive but badly burned.
Park Manager Kimberly Murphy called 911, then the victim’s son. She said her husband, James Murphy, and park resident Tanner Heflin went into the burning trailer and carried Gray out. James Murphy went into the burning trailer first by himself, was unable to remove Gray and went back with Heflin.
A group of residents had wetted the structure and nearby homes with garden hoses before firefighters arrived, possibly helping save the park from a fire that could have spread with disastrous consequences, Orsi said.
“It could have been really bad. Anytime a fire burns like that in a mobile home park, it can take other mobile homes out really quickly,” Orsi said.
Firefighters were able to cool the raging mobile home fire down while waiting for the propane to burn itself out, then put the fire out without further damage to any other trailers in the RV park.
“We are looking at the fire as accidental. All indications point to a propane heater,” Orsi said.
Murphy said the fire spread to a tree nearby and could have been much worse, if not for park residents with garden hoses and the fire department. She said it seemed like the fire department took forever to arrive but it was probably only 5 to 10 minutes and credited them with helping prevent disaster. “It was so chaotic. There were a lot of key players involved in saving the park and trying to save Mickey’s life,” Murphy said.
A press release issued by Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty described what happened at the Noyo Bida Ranch fire, at 21801 North Highway 1, on property also known as the old White Ranch.
“Officer (Angie) Wilder, Officer (Joseph) Shaw and Officer (Colin) McHugh arrived at the location; once they were able to get through a closed gate, they observed a three to five acre grass fire actively burning on the property,” the press release said.
“The fire was spreading in a southeastern direction. Officers quickly grabbed a garden hose to protect a residence from the fire. Officers called for immediate assistance since the fire was spreading towards The Ocean Lake Adult Mobile Home Park at 1184 N Main Street,” the press release stated.
At the same time, another officer went to work ahead of the fire. “Sgt. (Jonathan) McLaughlin arrived on scene and quickly began an evacuation of the Mobile Home Park. Mendocino Coast Ambulance, Mendocino County Sheriff’s, State Park Rangers, and Mendocino County Probation, responded and assisted with the evacuation of residence as well as utilizing garden hoses to slow the fire progress towards the Mobile Home Park. Fort Bragg Fire (and Cal Fire) quickly responded to put out the fire. The fire came to approximately 10 feet of the Mobile Home property fence line before being extinguished,” the press release added.
Naulty praised officers Wilder, Shaw and McHugh for their quick response to investigate the source of the smoke. “And Sgt. McLaughlin for his quick actions of beginning evacuations and all of the Allied Agencies [sic] on the Mendocino Coast who responded to assist. I would also like to credit the owners of the Best Western Motel; they called 911 to report the large amount of smoke drawing the emergency response. Today we avoided a huge disaster. This is a reminder we still have dry conditions from lack of rain and even the North Coast is not exempt from fire disasters, “ Naulty said in the press release.
Indeed, Betts, who does maintenance for the park as well as being assistant manager, said he has been worrying about fire coming from the brush on the neighboring Noyo Bida Ranch. He said he would like to see more fire prevention done, including removing brush with a grader. Rosales said he mows a 60 foot section buffer every year, but based on the fire might need to consider bulldozing a fire break beyond just mowing. Betts would like to see at least a 100 foot buffer, if not 100 yards. Geng said he has worked closely together with Rosales and the tribe on the issue and hopes to continue to do so going forward.