A day of calm winds and an intense air attack aided firefighters battling the Kincade Fire Monday to gain a foothold on the western edge of the massive blaze, allowing evacuation orders for nearly a dozen communities including Guerneville and Sebastopol to be downgraded to warnings.
The Sonoma County Sheriff said residents of the far western reaches of the massive evacuation zone that extended from Geyserville, Healdsburg and west to the Pacific Ocean at the height of the firefight over the weekend could return home.
Officials said residents could return to their homes unimpeded by law enforcement officers patrolling the area.
“This means that you can return home now at your own risk,” the sheriff’s department said in a news release. “This area is still at risk from the Kincade Fire, and much of this area does not have power or natural gas due to the power shutoff. Remember, if you hear the hi-lo sirens, it’s time to evacuate.”
“There will still be more peace officers in your neighborhood,” authorities said. ” You do not need to check in with anyone and you do not need a peace officer escort.”
Here are the areas where the evacuation order has been downgraded to an evacuation warning.
- Bodega Bay
- Monte Rio
- Rio Nido
- Duncans Mills
- Graton (west of Highway 116 only)
- Twin Hills
- Western unincorporated Santa Rosa
The situation was much improved than over the weekend when strong winds drove the massive wildfire beyond containment lines, growing to 66,231 acres – 103 square miles – by early Monday and destroying 96 structures, including 40 homes.
Cal Fire said there were 4,000 firefighters manning the lines early Monday and they were being assisted by troops from the California National Guard. Nearly 80,000 homes were being threatened by the blaze.
“The fire was extremely active during the day yesterday (Sunday),” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mike Blankenheim told reporters at a Monday news conference. “The fire more than doubled in size and that did present some challenges for us. The priorities for today (Monday) are we are going to work on the Mt. St. Helena area in the northeastern corner (of the fire.) Working in the Mark West area and the Shiloh area.”
“The fire made it that far south last night,” he added. “We are going to be really aggressive today, working on perimeter control.”
Cal Fire Monday AM update on Kincade Fire:
Firefighters had the blaze 10 percent contained before Sunday’s howling winds whipped it further out of control, expanding the evacuation area from Geyserville to the Pacific Ocean and driving some 180,000 residents from their homes.
Local residents filled evacuation centers from Petaluma all the way to San Francisco, waking Monday morning hopeful their homes would not be damaged or destroyed by the blaze.
By sunrise, containment had tumbled to five percent, but firefighters were able to save homes in Windsor from mass destruction.
“We had a very scary day today,” Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli told KPIX 5 Sunday night. “We could have lost a lot of homes in Windsor…Thanks to the absolute valiant effort by first responders…They have been able to save pretty much all of Windsor.”
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essink said with the intensity of the fire fight in Windsor on Sunday, had the area not been evacuated far in advance, there would have loss of lives.
“Yesterday in the northeastern area of Windsor, we had a very aggressive fight of the fire by our partners at Cal Fire,” Essink said. “Had that area not been evacuated those firefighters would not have been as effective they were…We had a lot of success yesterday in Windsor…The northern area of Windsor was saved by their efforts.”
Around Healdsburg, several buildings were damaged or destroyed including the more than 100-year-old Soda Rock Winery that was turned into a smoldering pile of ruins with just the front brick wall still standing early Monday.
Two firefighters were injured Sunday fighting the blaze, Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox said during an afternoon press conference. One suffered minor burn injuries, but another suffered significant burn injuries and had to be airlifted to the UC Davis Medical Center.
Around 10:15 p.m. Sunday evening, the fire flared up again in the area of Markwest/Larkfield Wikiup, where mandatory evacuations had previously been issued.
Deputies used Hi-Lo sirens to warn residents on Faught Road from Shiloh to Old Redwood Hwy in Larkfield-Wikiup. The fire’s movement over the Shiloh Ridge was threatening homes and residents in Napa County by Monday morning.
“If in this area, you need to leave immediately!” the Sonoma County Sheriff asserted to people that hadn’t yet left.
Firefighters were racing from one spot fire to another along the roads surrounding the ridge, trying to limit damage and the blaze’s advance.
Essick said the magnitude of this event struck him while visiting evacuation shelters.
“There is certainly a sense of fear out there,” he said. “A lot of people have questions about what’s going on…Ladies and gentleman, we are doing the right thing by keeping you out of these evacuated areas.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed issued a proclamation Sunday evening, declaring a local emergency to provide shelter for Kincade Fire evacuees. The city will open a temporary disaster shelter to help those displaced by the fire at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption at 1111 Gough Street.
“San Francisco stands with our neighbors to the north and is ready to help in every way we can,” said Breed. “Our City departments are working in unison to provide shelter and care to those who have been displaced, while first responders continue to fight the fire in Sonoma County.”
More than 200 law enforcement officers were patrolling the evacuation zones for safety and to prevent looting. Essick said there was one arrest Sunday of a suspicious person in one of the evacuation zones who could not provide a location for where they were headed.
The conditions that are making the Kincade Fire so dangerous will remain in effect in the coming days as PG&E warned of another wind event and possible power shutoffs beginning Tuesday.
At an evacuation center at Napa Valley College, Francisco Alvarado, 15, said he, two younger brothers and his parents decided to leave their Calistoga home in advance of evacuation orders. Two years ago, the family had to flee, but in the middle of the night.
“I’m pretty mad that we have to keep evacuating,” he said. “I just want to be home. I’m trying to leave here tomorrow; I want to sleep in my bed.”
Hundreds of people arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa by Sunday. Some came from nursing homes. More than 300 people slept in an auditorium filled with cots and wheeled beds. Scores of others stayed in a separate building with their pets.
Among them was Maribel Cruz, 19, who packed up her dog, four cats and fish as soon as she was told to flee her trailer in the town of Windsor, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of San Francisco. She also grabbed a neighbor’s cat.
“I’m just nervous since I grew up in Windsor,” she said. “I’m hoping the wind cooperates.”