Man Saves 40 Homes, 400 Lives From Glass Fire With His Vintage Bulldozer

October 13, 2020 Updated: October 13, 2020

A Santa Rosa rancher single-handedly started a mission that saved 40 homes from the Sonoma County Glass Fire. He also helped alert 400 residents to the impending danger.

The man’s trusty steed that helped him on his selfless endeavor was a 50-year-old vintage bulldozer—a 1970s John Deer 550.

I noticed on the map that the fire just stopped at a horizontal line just out at Gates Road, and I thought, well that’s really odd.
— Kathleen DeFever, Vinny's neighbor

On the fateful day of Sept. 28, rancher Vincent “Vinny” Martin’s bulldozer became his weapon against the wildfires encroaching upon his neighborhood, KGO-TV reported. The Glass Fire had erupted the day before.

“I knew that it was going to go all the way out to Gates Road,” Vinny told the outlet.

The rancher and grape grower knew that he could protect his own home with a fire break. But after succeeding in creating a 12-foot-wide break around the ranch, Vinny decided to expand his defense line for a stretch of 2 miles to help protect his neighbors.

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Flames ravage a home that was destroyed by the Glass Fire in Santa Rosa on Sept. 28, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Diana Martin, Vinny’s wife, stayed close by, knowing that her husband’s selfless impulse would drive him to help as many people as possible. She wanted him to be safe.

“I knew that he would be more cautious if he had to worry about me, too,” Diana told KGO-TV.

Vinny then enlisted the help of a group of friends to record a “blast message” for the more than 400 residents of the St. Helena Mountains area, advising them to evacuate, the report said. Vinny, his son Justin, friend Charlie Newbold, and neighbor Tom Graham stayed back to work on the fire breaks.

Since Sept. 27, the Glass Fire has burned through 67,484 acres of land across Napa and Sonoma Counties and is 92 percent contained, says Cal Fire.

Vinny learned how to deal with wildfires as a teenager under the tuition of his neighbor, Tom. Vinny’s handiwork on Sept. 28 made an immediate impact.

“He’s like my dad,” Vinny said, “he put me on a tractor when I was 14, and by the time I was 17 I was working for Cal Fire.”

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The remains of a home that was destroyed by the Glass Fire in Santa Rosa, as pictured on Sept. 28, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Two of Vinny’s neighbors, Rick Grossman and his partner, Kathleen DeFever, were watching the Glass Fire spread via satellite imagery when they noticed a curious change, reported Talk Radio 1370.

“I noticed on the map that the fire just stopped at a horizontal line just out at Gates Road, and I thought, well that’s really odd,” Kathleen told the radio station.

It was Vinny’s fire breaks. The couple’s home was saved as a result.

“We just bought this property a year ago,” Rick said. “It’s become a haven for us.”

To the suggestion that he is a hero, Vinny responds humbly.

“I’m just a guy,” he told KGO-TV, “a bulldozer operator doing my job. You know, when times get tough the tough get going, and that’s what we did.”

On Oct. 7, nine days after his heroic mission, Vinny drove up to visit the scorched land he couldn’t save. Yet, without Vinny’s expert intervention, it would have been much worse.

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