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Sonoma: Threatened by fire; saved by wine

Sonoma Valley Hand Pumper

Photo courtesy of Sonoma Valley Historical Society, via the Sonoma-Index Tribune.

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Here in Sonoma County, you could say we’re immersed in wine. Even locals who don’t consider themselves wine aficionados benefit from living in Wine Country: great climate, locally grown and produced food, world-class wineries and restaurants, and activities and events.

But, did you know that wine once played a role in saving businesses in the town of Sonoma from burning down? It’s true. History buffs can view the heroic hand pumper at the Sonoma Fire Museum, located within Sonoma Valley Fire Station No. 1, 630 Second St. W., Sonoma.

The museum displays photos, uniforms, fire-fighting equipment, and artifacts of Sonoma Valley Fire Department, founded in 1888. It’s open to the public 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and admission is free.

“Disastrous fire in the business section,” declared a banner headline in the Sept. 23, 1911, Sonoma Index-Tribune. The story accounts that the Sept. 18, 1911, blaze, which began as a small kitchen fire, quickly engulfed most of the businesses along First Street East.

Firefighters pushed the hand pumper — which was used with other equipment — to the fire to quench the blaze. A lack of a municipal water supply hampered their efforts. When the fire was threatening his buildings, business owner, Agostino Pinelli, directed fire fighters to his 1,000-gallon tank of wine in the cellar of the Blue Wing Inn, on Spain Street. (It’s still standing today.)

They connected a large hose to the tank and, according to the I-T account, “a powerful stream of red wine was directed on the burning wine cellar and wood and the building was saved.” They also saved Pinelli’s stone building on First Street East.

Historian Gerald Hill wrote about the blaze in depth for the I-T in 2011. Read more about it at www.sonomanews.com

That delicious Sonoma Valley Zin you’re enjoying today may just well be the descendent of the wine that saved the town of Sonoma in 1911. We’ll drink to that.

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