OAKLAND, Calif. (Azenith Smith/KTVU) - It is a rare look into the firefight through the perspective of a firefighter. A Berkeley firefighter capturing on video what first responders went through in the first hours of the Tubbs Fire burning in Santa Rosa.
The Berkeley firefighter who shot it was Mike Shuken. He started recording for training purposes with no expectations. The video is now posted on YouTube. So far, it's been viewed more than 60,000 times. The Berkeley firefighters thought they would be responding to a large grass fire. They had no idea the level of destruction and were stunned at what they encountered.
When Berkeley Fire Engine 6 got the call at 5 a.m. Monday morning that Santa Rosa Fire Department needed help, they along with four other engines from San Francisco headed north. What they encountered was a lot more than they imagined.
What they thought were initially hills on fire were homes and businesses. The flames came from all sides. Berkeley firefighter Mike Shuken shot the video and added captions.
“For the three of us that were on that fire engine that day on October 9, that was the biggest incident we ever responded to,” said Shuken.
They were told to stage at the Kmart parking lot only to find the 100,000-square foot store was on fire. They didn’t stop because a building that involved in flames they said is already lost.
Firefighters admitted they got uneasy as the fire rapidly spread. Then they came across a housing subdivision, the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa burned to the ground. Hundreds of homes were gone.
“It’s still hard for all of us to wrap our minds that thousands and thousands of homes have burned within moments,” said Shuken.
They said they were searching for something they could save yet only chimneys and foundations were left.
At one point, they were worried about falling power lines. Then they heard thousands of rounds of ammunition cooking off in the distance from a sporting goods store.
Using chainsaws to cut through fences and trees to gain access, they fell back on their training. They hosed down what they could. As the fire jumped from house to house their focus was to break its forward momentum. With the wind shifting, by late morning they saved 30 homes.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” said Shuken. “Those are people's homes. Other than their families it's the most important, special thing to them.”
One of the homes they could not save belonged to a firefighter from their own department. They ended the video by saying they were happy to make a difference but wished they could have saved more homes.
The reason the firefighter posted it on YouTube was to raise awareness in hopes to get donations to help the neighborhoods recover.
If you’d like to help, the Berkeley Fire Department asks donations to be sent to the Sonoma County Foundation: www.sonomacf.org
Here’s a link to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rdk4d74j3p8&feature=youtu.be