Sonoma County Fire Explodes to 10,000 Acres, Prompting Additional Evacuations

Pushed by wind gusts that topped 70 mph, a monster brush fire spread rapidly overnight in a rural section of Sonoma County, California, threatening communities and forcing evacuations.

Source: LA Times | Published on October 24, 2019

The Kincade fire is an estimated 10,000 acres and has no containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and local officials. It is being driven by strong north winds and is moving south, a Cal Fire spokeswoman said Wednesday night. It started in a mountainous area near Kincade Road and Burned Mountain Road, according to preliminary information.

At least two structures have been damaged in the blaze and authorities will continue to assess further damage though the day, according to Cal Fire officials.

Early Thursday, fire officials ordered the entire community of Geyserville to evacuate after the fire crossed Highway 128 and continued moving west toward homes in the area.

Red Winery Road; all of Alexander Mountain Road; California 128 from Geysers Road to River Road, including River Rock Casino in Geyserville; and all roads off River Road are also under mandatory evacuation orders.

Residents have been advised to leave immediately.

“If you’re in Geyserville, leave now,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in an advisory Thursday morning. “Head south to evacuation centers at Healdsburg Community Center or Windsor High School.”

The northern Healdsburg community is under an evacuation warning. Officials are advising residents in those towns to be ready to flee.

The area around the blaze is seeing severe fire weather with sustained winds of roughly 50 mph and gusts as high as 76 mph, said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle. Temperatures around midnight were about 70 degrees, and humidity levels were about 10% to 15%. Wind speeds in some of the valleys around the fire were lower, around 25 mph.

Mehle said that based on cameras and satellite data past midnight, he was continuing to see what firefighters call rapid rates of spread that can contribute to potentially extreme fire behavior. Based on his observations, the overall footprint of the fire is moving from the northeast to the southeast.

A video of the fire posted on Facebook by the Geyserville Fire Protection District was narrated by Capt. Joe Stewart from the top of Pine Flat Road on a fire trail, looking north. The fire was burning northwest, whipped by winds of 40 mph to 50 mph, perhaps 60 mph.

“The fire is moving at a dangerous rate,” Stewart said. “If you are woken by emergency alerts, please heed those warnings and evacuate.”

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said on Twitter that the fire “may well burn all the way toward east side” of the Alexander Valley, “where [a] nearly continuous line of vineyards will hopefully act as broad firebreak. 65mph+ winds in hills, but nearly calm in valleys.”

The fire comes two years after a series of blazes devastated Santa Rosa and other wine country communities, leaving dozens dead and thousands of homes lost. Residents of Santa Rosa were on edge early Thursday morning with the fire burning to the north.

The fire comes amid a night of intense winds, with gusts topping 50 mph in areas around the fire.

Large swaths of California are facing red-flag fire danger this week because of hot temperatures and strong winds. That has prompted preventive power outages in many areas, including parts of wine country.

More than half a million utility customers could lose power this week.

Southern California Edison said more than 308,000 customers in seven counties — Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Kern and Santa Barbara — could face blackouts starting Wednesday night and rolling into midday Thursday.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Wednesday shut off power to customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 2 p.m. An hour later, counties in the north San Francisco Bay Area began to lose service. By 1 a.m. Thursday, portions of San Mateo and Kern counties were also to be in the dark. In total, 179,000 customers were expected to have their power cut.

PG&E said in a statement early Thursday morning that the company was aware of the Kincade fire in Geyserville and had no further information, deferring to Cal Fire for additional questions.

The Kincade fire is near the utility’s power shut-off footprint, and the company said late Wednesday night it was working to gather more information. Almost 28,000 customers are without power in portions of Sonoma County, which was de-energized about 3 p.m. Wednesday.