A wildfire in Northern California’s wine country forced nearly 180,000 people to flee their homes over the weekend as historic winds pushed the state’s largest utility to cut electricity for millions of people in an effort to prevent more fires.
Two firefighters suffered burn injuries in the blaze, Cal Fire said late Sunday. One of them had to be airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
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The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major highway prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders into parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by a wildfire two years ago. The latest evacuation orders after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to 2.3 million people across 38 counties starting Saturday evening.
About 90,000 residents were already under a mandatory evacuation order Saturday night that encompassed a huge swath of wine country stretching from the inland community of Healdsburg west through the Russian River Valley and to Bodega Bay on the coast, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said.
The current wildfire, dubbed the Kincade Fire, began Wednesday night and is only 5% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday. It grew to 54,298 acres and has destroyed 94 structures. with 80,000 more structures threatened.
Cal Fire said it did not expect to get full containment on the wind-whipped wildfire until Nov. 7. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a statewide emergency due to the fires and extreme weather conditions.
The fire was expected to be especially unwieldly Sunday due to powerful winds. On Sunday morning, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts topped 90 mph in Healdsburg Hills North, a popular tourist attraction in Northern California’s wine country. Winds could lead to “erratic fire behavior” and send embers for miles, Cal Fire warned.
Concern that gusts could knock down power lines and spark devastating wildfires prompted two blackouts in recent weeks.
PG&E said the new wave of blackouts was affecting about 940,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for 48 hours or longer. The city of San Francisco was not in line for a blackout amid shut-offs for most of the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country to the north and the Sierra foothills.
The sheriff pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to get out immediately, citing the 24 lives lost when a wildfire swept through the region two years ago.
“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Essick said. “You cannot fight this. Please evacuate.”
The wind event expected to peak early Sunday would likely be the strongest in several years, said PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel.
Evacuations also hit inmates at the North County Detention Facility in Santa Rosa and about 100 Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital patients.
Several thousand people in neighboring Lake County were warned to be ready to evacuate if an order is given. A 2015 wildfire in the area killed four people and burned nearly 2,000 buildings.
What sparked the Kincade Fire is unknown, but PG&E said a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville malfunctioned minutes before that blaze erupted Wednesday night.
The utility acknowledged a tower malfunction prompted a strategy change for determining when to kill high-voltage transmission lines, Andrew Vesey, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said Friday.
The possible link between the wine country fire and a PG&E transmission line contained grim parallels to last year when most of the town of Paradise burned, killing 85 people in the deadliest U.S. blaze in a century.
State officials concluded a PG&E transmission line sparked that fire.
Click here to view live map of evacuation areas. Here's a running list of evacuation orders:
10 p.m. Sunday: Flames have reached the area of Shiloh Ridge and Faught roads east of Windsor. Fire officials warn to stay out of area, and those not evacuated should leave now.
1:45 p.m. Sunday: Sonoma Sheriff says if you are in Windsor in the area of Hembree Lane at Vinecrest Road, leave now. It is smoky and windy, and there's an immediate threat of fire.
12:53 p.m. Sunday: Evacuation advisory issued for the City of Calistoga and surrounding areas: North of Diamond Mountain Road to Dunaweal Lane, East of Sonoma County Line, South of Lake County Line, and west of Picket Road.
11:25 a.m. Sunday: Sonoma Sheriff says anyone in the area between Windsor and Healdsburg, near Milk Barn Road and Limerick Lane should evacuate now. CHP says Highway 101 in the Windsor and Healdsburg area is also shut down.
Before 7 a.m. Sunday:
All 10 zones in the Kincade Fire are now under immediate mandatory evacuation orders. Zone one is Geyserville; zone two is Knights Valley; zone three is Healdsburg and Windsor; zone four is Dry Creek Valley; zone five is Mark West, Larkfield and Wikiup; zone six is northeast Santa Rosa including Fountaingrove, Oakmont and Rincon Valley; zone seven is Forestville, Guerneville, Duncans Mills, Jenner, Bodega Bay and Occidental; zone eight is Sebastopol and Valley Ford; zone nine is Coffey Park and Santa Rosa north of Guerneville Road and Steele Lane; zone 10 is west of Stony Point Road between Guerneville Road and Ludwig Avenue. Officials have confirmed that anyone in these areas needs to leave immediately.
Several lanes on Highway 101 were shut down early Sunday in the area of Santa Rosa. Lanes have since reopened.
4:30 a.m.: mandatory evacuations are ordered for zones six, eight and nine of the Kincade Fire. These areas include Calistoga and Petrified Forest Roads to the Sonoma and Napa County lines; west of Fulton, Graton South to Hessel.
According to Cal Fire, parts of the city of Santa Rosa are under mandatory evacuation, including all areas east of the western city limit, north of Guerneville Road, Steel Lane, Lewis Road and Chanate Road to Montecito Avenue to Montecito Blvd. to Calistoga Road, north to the Santa Rosa city limit. Cal Fire lists this as zone nine.
But according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, areas of zone six, also in Santa Rosa, are not under mandatory evacuation. These areas include Oakmont, Fountaingrove and Rincon Valley and were previously reported as under evacuation order. Other parts of zone six are still under mandatory evacuation. Sheriff's officials said that the parts of zone six that are being evacuated are in unincorporated Sonoma County, not in the city limits.
Mandatory evacuations are now in effect for the following areas: Sebastopol, Bloomfield and Valley Ford. Mandatory evacuations are also ordered in the areas west of Fulton Road in Fulton and west of Llano Road and Pepper Road up to the Marin County line.
An alert from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office at 3:31 a.m. Sunday said that heavy smoke and strong winds have been reported in the Windsor area. Anyone remaining in Windsor needs to evacuate immediately.
The city of Windsor will be moving its Emergency Operations Center to Sonoma County Administration Center.
An alert posted by the city of Healdsburg at 3:18 a.m. said the fire activity in the area has significantly increased and the fire is heading in that direction. Healdsburg is under mandatory evacuation and anyone in the area needs to leave immediately.
Just after 3 a.m. a structure was reportedly on fire at Soda Rock Winery on Hwy. 128, according to Kent Porter of the Press Democrat, who is on the scene.