s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Firefighters make progress against Geysers fire


A total of 1,758 firefighters and personnel were assigned to the McCabe fire Saturday. The blaze was 25 percent contained by 8 p.m., according to Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency.

No injuries were reported.

Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean said the work went "really well" after winds died down later in the day.

"It was a pretty good effort that was put out by the aircraft," which slowed and cooled the flames for the crews on the ground, he said. "It's a concert of everything working together. It's not one thing that puts the fire out."

That said, the diminishing winds played the biggest factor in firefighters' headway Saturday, and the weather should remain in their favor for the start of this week. Sustained winds are forecast to drop below 10 mph in the region, with rain predicted for the middle of the week.

"I'm thinking things will start coming together for us (today)," McLean said.

The North Bay was raked by heavy winds in the aftermath of a light rainstorm last week. The warm, dry gusts fed scores of smaller vegetation fires across the region and fanned two larger wildfires, including the McCabe fire, first reported about 2 a.m. Friday.

The other blaze, sparked late Thursday in the hills east of Silverado Trail in Napa County, was fully contained at 300acres Saturday. Residents of 50homes threatened by the fire on its first day were let back into their neighborhood off Soda Canyon Road Friday night.

The causes for both fires are under investigation.

Smoke from the McCabe fire was faintly visible on Highway 101 just north of Santa Rosa and could be seen clearly north of Healdsburg rising over the eastern hills of Alexander Valley.

Firefighters set up unmanned barricades on Geysers Road at Red Winery Road in the south and Pine Mountain Road in the north. Portable road signs at each location continuously flashed the same message: "KEEP OUT / ROAD CLOSED / FIRE CREWS ONLY."

Officials struggled throughout the day to estimate the size of the blaze, their views obscured by smoke and complicated by the steep terrain. At 8:30 a.m. they downsized the estimate to 2,000 acres after a Friday evening report pegged it at 2,500 acres.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, they estimated it had grown to 3,500 acres. At 8 p.m., in their final report for the day, they settled on 3,000 acres.

Calpine Corp., the principal operator of the Geysers geothermal field spanning the Sonoma-Lake county border, began moving employees back into the area after evacuating all non-essential personnel Friday.

The fire scorched cooling towers on the company's McCabe power plant, forcing it to shut down, and damaged other energy infrastructure in the area.

The Houston-based company operates 15 geothermal plants in the area. A total of two are offline because of the fire, a Calpine spokeswoman said Friday.

The houses threatened by the fire are interspersed among the power facilities. Some of the residents are Calpine workers.

Crews on the blaze include state personnel and firefighters from 14 local departments.

The fire continues to burn to the northeast, toward Lake County. It was moving through oak woodland, brush and grassland that is parched after a long dry season and several winters of subpar rainfall.

Veteran firefighters said moisture levels in area vegetation are near all-time lows. Combined with the heavy, erratic winds, the past several days have cooked up the perfect recipe for extreme fire behavior just days before Thanksgiving.

Rain expected later this week could put an end to it all. Firefighters were hoping for a quicker drop-off in the wind.

"If the wind dies down, we should be able to get a handle on it," McLean said.

Staff Writer Robert Digitale contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.