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‘Improperly disposed of’ materials caused fire

A fire started in a trash can on the roof of the new courthouse under construction at the county administrative center in Santa Rosa and briefly spread inside the building before firefighters contained it Saturday afternoon.

The fire was started by “improperly disposed” of materials in a large plastic commercial trash receptacle on the roof of the six-story building, Santa Rose Fire Chief Paul Lowenthal said.

Although the building is constructed of mostly noncombustible materials, Lowenthal said, the trash can melted and ignited a portion of the wooden deck. The melted plastic also “leaked through openings and ignited a second trash can on the sixth floor,” he said.

“While we won’t know exactly what ignited in the trash can, I think it’s fair to say that the heat in that area of ​​the roof probably contributed to it,” he said.

“You could see a lot of shooting going on,” said Ubaydah Harris of Santa Rosa, who was driving with his family when he saw the flames and stopped to look at them.

The second-alarm fire was reported at 3:18 p.m. Six fire engines and two ladder trucks responded to the scene. A total of 30 fire department personnel were present, Lowenthal said.

“A very quick second-alarm deployment and getting that many firefighters to a multi-story construction project like that made a huge difference in limiting the amount of damage,” he said.

The fire was contained at 3:50 p.m.

Firefighters were able to use the building’s standpipes (fixed pipes that run directly from the bottom floor to the top floor) that allowed them to pump water onto the fire and also from ladder trucks, Lowenthal said.

“Systems like that are critical for multi-story buildings,” he said. “They just allow us to get water to fires much faster.”

The new 167,147-square-foot courthouse was originally scheduled to open in 2022. Delays have plagued the state project, many of them budgetary, and pushed it back. In 2022, officials said construction was expected to finish this year. An updated projection was not immediately available Saturday.

The new building on Paulin Drive, which will have 15 courtrooms, is directly across the street from the Sonoma County Jail and the existing courthouse. The project has a construction budget of $205 million, according to the Judicial Council of California.

Once completed, it will have 450 parking spaces above and below ground level and consolidated procedures for criminal matters, traffic, juvenile dependency and inheritance matters.

Staff writer Jeremy Hay can be reached at 707-387-2960 or [email protected]. On X (Twitter) @jeremyhay