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North Coast fire season hits critical stage

Wildfires have charred more than 108,000 acres on the North Coast this season, but firefighters are bracing for more trouble this month with a tinder-dry landscape and no soaking rain coming soon.

At a time when it would typically be closing stations and laying off seasonal firefighters, Cal Fire remains on alert with its major natural nemesis — a dry offshore wind — expected this week.

Winds up to 70 mph propelled Oakland's firestorm, the most destructive blaze in state history, over the East Bay hills in October, 1991. The four-day fire, which killed 25 people, also destroyed more than 3,300 homes and did about $1.5 billion worth of damage.

Temperatures are expected to be moderate this weekend and next week, with daytime highs in the 60s and 70s in Santa Rosa, and some light rain is possible but Cal Fire is bracing for offshore winds along the North Coast starting Wednesday and continuing through Oct. 15.

"That's what we're concerned about," Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. Dry wind blowing from California's sunbaked interior is the "biggest challenge" in containing a wildfire, he said.

Offshore winds are the opposite of the region's normal summertime flow, which brings in damp, cooler air from over the ocean.

Cal Fire already has responded to more than 5,300 wildfires this year, 1,300 more than last year and nearly 20 percent more than average, Berlant said.

On the North Coast, 16 major fires in Cal Fire territory and on federal lands have scorched more than 108,000 acres. Sonoma County has largely been spared, with only one significant blaze, a 40-acre fire along Highway 101 south of San Antonio Road on Aug. 8.

But three fires — two in Colusa County and one in Mendocino County northeast of Covelo — covered nearly 90,000 acres, more than 80 percent of the region's total.

And the 272,000-acre Rush fire in Lassen County in August became California's second most extensive wildfire in history.


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