Former Northstate fire chief loses home in Wine Country fires


SHASTA, Calif. - A former fire chief from Shasta lost his home to the fire in Santa Rosa, but he continued to help others.

Ted Blankenheim said he's known Tom Welch for two decades volunteering for the Shasta Fire District.

Welch is now chief in Mill Valley, but was home in Santa Rosa when a fire ripped through his neighborhood.

"Tom got his family into a car and sent them off to safety. Then for the next 24 hours straight at least, he drove from house to house with law enforcement and other first responders kicking in doors and pulling people out," Blankenheim said.

Despite learning that his house had been destroyed by the fire, Welch continued to save as many people as he could.

"I believe, personally, he probably saved the neighborhood of ten people. At one time he had a house that was engulfed in flames where he had already taken four people out, and he lost one person he was trying to save," Blankenheim said.

Blankenheim said that has been hard on Welch.

Welch's neighborhood along with many others were destroyed.

"It was his day off. He had his chief's vehicle from Mill Valley with him so he just started doing what any other firefighter would've done," Welch said.

Blankenheim is planning a fundraising dinner next month to help out his friend.

"Tom and his family are going to be there, so at that time people can come by and say 'hey Tom, how are you doing brother?'"

Blankenheim said Welch has taken some time off because of what he has been going through, but has also been receiving a lot of support.

He adds that Welch is being called a hero, but Welch said any firefighter would have done the same.