California fires: Kincade fire grows as winds bring more danger to Sonoma County – Los Angeles Times
Northern California residents and firefighters will get a brief respite Tuesday morning before the winds pick up, prompting additional power shut-offs and stalling progress in containing the massive Kincade fire.
The fire in Sonoma County grew overnight by nearly 10,000 acres, but firefighters have been taking advantage of lighter winds, finally increasing containment of the massive 75,415-acre blaze to 15%. At least a dozen more homes burned in the past day, bringing the total to 57.
Tuesday morning in Santa Rosa, smoke lingered in the air, but the wind was still and the skies were blue. At a morning briefing, officials weighed the weather forecast for the next 24 hours.
“Today’s a transition day,” said Jonathan Cox, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “If we are looking good as far as fire growth this time tomorrow morning, I feel like that cautious optimism will be solidified. If we’re not, if we have explosive growth tonight, we have our work cut out for us.”
Two firefighters have been injured while battling the blaze — one who was seriously burned and airlifted to a UC Davis hospital. The person was now in stable condition, according to Cal Fire.
Despite the fire’s massive scale and the large number of structures that have been damaged, there have been no deaths reported in the blaze. Fire officials say that’s partly because of a proactive approach and vast evacuation zones that have taken many out of harm’s way.
Because the heavy winds were widely anticipated and the fire started in a less-populated area, crews had much more time than during the 2017 Tubbs fire to evacuate people and get prepared, even with the looming blackouts, authorities said.
Cox told The Times that fire crews, in anticipation of the coming blackouts, tried to get people evacuated this weekend before the power went out.
“Firefighters are very good at operating without power,” he said. “A lot of times, we ask for it to be closed down on fires to minimize the risk. … I think, for us, it kind of reinforces the message that early evacuation is so important because of the potential that you may not have power later down the line.”
Additionally, strike teams were already in the area around the Kincade fire before it broke out, allowing for a swift response.
On Tuesday, firefighters were awaiting dangerous winds that will peak this evening. Gusts will reach up to 65 mph after 6 p.m. in the mountains and up to 35 mph in the valleys where the fire is burning, according to Spencer Tangen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The weather will continue to dry out into Wednesday, posing another challenge for fire crews.
Tangen said a red flag advisory would be in effect until 4 p.m. Wednesday and warned residents — even those without power who are using generators — to be extra cautious because fires can spark more easily in this weather.
“The good news is after we get through this wind event, things do look favorable for the next five to seven days,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said at a morning briefing in Santa Rosa. “No rain in the forecast, but also no more offshore wind events.”
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Even as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has implemented shut-offs to prevent additional fires, Northern California continues to see small fires exploding throughout the region. The utility revealed Monday that its equipment malfunctioned near two fires that broke out in Contra Costa County on Sunday afternoon, and the California Public Utilities Commission announced it would investigate how PG&E handles its shut-offs.
The utility said about 596,000 customers from the Northern Sierra to Kern County may be without power again as winds pick up this evening. In Sonoma County, more outages were also expected.
“It is possible that customers impacted by the Oct. 26 [public safety power shutoff] could be part of the Oct. 29 shutoff,” the utility said in a statement Monday night. “It’s also possible that power restoration for some customers impacted by the Oct. 26 shutoff will not be complete before the next safety shutoff must begin.”
PG&E advised customers who have power restored to charge medical equipment, phones and other equipment and restock their emergency kits in case of another outage.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said residents are eager to return home, especially those at a distance from the fire line who feel their homes are safe. But because of Tuesday night’s windy conditions, officials have paused repopulation efforts.
“We could see additional evacuation warnings or orders in the east Santa Rosa area, [which is a] heavily populated area,” he said. “So there is a possibility we could see some changes.”
Officials also warned evacuees to anticipate below-freezing temperatures, which will plunge to the high 20s in some areas, according to Tangen. The cold could be difficult for those used to having heat in their homes.
Whether it’s the cold, lack of access to medical equipment or food, the power outages are beginning to wear down evacuees.
For Heidi Santos, a mother of two children ages 8 and 10, the lack of power meant she couldn’t cook for her young son, who is allergic to many foods. Her family has been without power since Saturday and their food has long since spoiled.
Now, eating outside is her only option.
The list of what her son can’t eat — soy, eggs, gluten, almonds and fish — is long, and Santos said that it’s often difficult to be certain of what ingredients have been used in a restaurant meal.
On Tuesday, Santos’ children were playing at a nearby Boys and Girls Club while she charged her cellphone at a PG&E resource tent in St. Helena. The blackouts have also meant lost wages and financial hardship. The home where she works as a housekeeper in the mountains of St. Helena was evacuated over the weekend, making Tuesday her second day without work.