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LIVE UPDATES: Firefighters gain on Sonoma, Oakmont, Napa, Mendocino fires

Brittany Alejos carries out a wall clock from her home in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The Alejos home was not damaged by the fire that destroyed homes all around theirs, but smoke damage and no power make it unlivable for now. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

RANDI ROSSMANN,

Here is the latest on the fire and related issues from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

5:30 p.m.

Classes will resume Wednesday at Sonoma State University, 10 days after the North Bay fires struck the region and one week after the campus was closed.

University said they plan to hold two events that let the campus community gather and express gratitude in the fires’ wake. All students, faculty, staff and the news media are welcome, a campus statement said.

5 p.m.

Firefighters took to steep and rocky terrain on Mount St. Helena to battle the northern spread of the Tubbs fire Tuesday, said Cal Fire Section Chief Steve Crawford.

“(We) had some really aggressive firefighters who took the initiative to create a great plan,” Crawford said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

The steep slopes didn’t allow for crews to use a bulldozer to create a containment line in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Crawford said. The fire has burned a large section of the park in both Napa and Sonoma counties, according to Cal Fire maps.

The ground was covered with fire retardant and made the rocky slope very slippery for hand crews working to create a fire break, he said. Bulldozers worked up from the bottom of the ridge with helicopters working from the sky to put out active fires, he said.

“Crews have made very good progress yesterday and today” Crawford said.

3 p.m.

An evacuation order has been lifted for a portion of Geyserville from Highway 128 north to Vanoni Road, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced in an update.

The Pocket fire has burned 12,243 acres between Geyserville and Cloverdale. The blaze was 58 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire said.

“Our biggest struggle had been to keep (the fire) from moving to the east and to the south,” said Cal Fire Division Section Chief Steve Crawford. “Our comfort level is pretty good there.”

On the north flank of the Pocket fire, crews are back burning containment lines to avoid a dangerous active fight in difficult terrain, Crawford said. There will be a lot of smoke, but fire officials hope northern progress of the wildfire will burn out on the fire break, he said.

3 p.m.

Napa County officials have identified the victim of a fire-related water tender crash Monday as a volunteer firefighter from Missouri named Garrett Paiz.

Paiz, 38, died Monday morning while trying to negotiate winding Oakville Grade into Napa County in the dark of Monday morning.

The CHP said he was on his way to refill a large water tanker being used to battle the Nuns fire, which has spread north from Sonoma County into neighboring Napa County.

The tanker went off the road, broke through a guardrail and plunged about 20 feet into a ravine not far from the bottom of the grade and Highway 29, authorities said.

Paiz is a volunteer firefighter with the Noel Fire Department in southwest Missouri but was working as a driver under contract to Cal Fire and would have been unfamiliar with the steep and curving roadway.

The 1993 Kenworth water tender overturned, and the tractor detached from the tanker during the 6:45 a.m. crash, authorities said.

2 p.m.

The number of missing people dropped to 53 and total fatalities in Sonoma County remained at 22, Sheriff Rob Giordano said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

While active firefighting is ongoing in some areas of Sonoma County, emergency response officials are transitioning to recovery efforts to clean up destroyed homes and get people back on their feet, said Incident Commander Bret Gouvea at the same press conference.

Nearly 60,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Tubbs fire that has ravaged the area since Oct. 8., but as of Tuesday afternoon roughly 36,000 people have been allowed back into their homes, Gouvea said.

The Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Rosa police have broken up the search for the remaining missing persons and are handling cases of people who lived within their jurisdictions, Giordano said.

1:30 p.m.

Cal Fire announced the lifting of several more evacuation orders around Sonoma County as firefighters continued to gain control over the blazes burning around the region.

Orders were lifted for Oakmont south of Highway 12 east of Calistoga Road to Pythian Road. That does not include Skyhawk or Rincon Valley east of Calistoga Road. Northbound roads off Highway 12 remain closed.

View an evacuation map here.

As of 1 p.m., evacuations also were lifted for the area north of Highway 128 until Varoni Road outside the perimeter of the Pocket fire burning in the northern county, Cal Fire said.

Additionally, residents will be allowed back into some unincorporated neighborhoods east of Sonoma, including areas stretching from 4th Street East to Lovall Valley Road at Thornsberry Road, Lovall Valley Court, south from Lovall Valley Road to East Napa Street, east from 7th Street East toward the fire perimeter and Highway 121 and all streets south between East Napa Street and Napa Road, Cal Fire said.

The medical complex at 3536 and 3540 Mendocino Avenue in north Santa Rosa is also open, although the mandatory evacuations around the complex still remain, according to Cal Fire. The complex is accessible via Steele Lane and Mendocino Avenue.

1:15 p.m.

The Oakmont fire continues to grow into Tuesday afternoon with crews battling the flames in rough country off Pythian Road and Adobe Canyon Road outside of Kenwood.

“We are very concerned with this fire,” said Jerry Fernandez, Cal Fire spokesman, a mile from the fire line. “It is very active.”

Homes are scattered throughout the mountains and wind had picked up at higher elevations, Fernandez said.

White smoke bellowed up from Adobe Canyon as helicopters dropped water on active fire zones at noon. A 747 supertanker is on standby to drop flame retardant on the blaze, Fernandez said.

The Oakmont fire was sparked from the Nuns fire Saturday morning forcing the evacuation of many Rincon Valley residents.

As of Tuesday morning the blaze had scorched 1,029 acres and was 27 percent contained. Fernandez was unsure if the fire had connected with the Nuns fire burning at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Crews plan to light backfires in the afternoon to hold their containment lines, Fernandez said.

Through the smoke hanging over the valley floor, scorched forest and pasture could be seen behind Ledson Winery, which was threatened by flames Saturday.

1 p.m.

Of the about 1,900 missing persons reports related to the fires in Sonoma County, just 65 remain outstanding, Sheriff Rob Giordano told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning. He said he expected the number to drop further today.

Giordano also reported 14 arrests related to potential looting, but he believed all suspects were caught before they were able to steal anything. One suspect entered an area in a decommissioned fire truck and another pretended to be a security guard, he said.

11:30 a.m.

All mandatory evacuation orders were lifted Monday in Mendocino County as firefighters were able to make gains battling the Redwood Valley fire, said Lt. Shannon Barney, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.

Eight people lost their lives in the blaze. Redwood Valley residents who’ve been identified as victims include Kai Shepherd, 14, Irma Elsie Bowman, 88, and her husband Roy Howard Bowman, 87.

The number of fatalities will not likely increase as those living in areas affected by the fire have been accounted for, Barney said.

The fire has burned 35,800 acres and destroyed more than 300 homes north of Redwood Valley, Barney said. Containment had reached 60 percent as of Tuesday morning, according to Cal Fire reports

10 a.m.

Napa County’s Atlas fire, at 51,064 acres and 77 percent containment, on Tuesday included 3,428 people on the effort, according to Cal Fire.

Equipment totaled 373 engines, 21 helicopters, 60 hand crews, 47 dozers and 30 water trucks. No air tankers were included in the day’s statistics.

Almost 1,000 structures remained threatened and 388 have been destroyed.

With more than three‑quarters contained, the most active part of the fire is burning on the northern end, southwest of Lake Berryessa. “It’s burning out in open country now. We have a lot of dozer lines and we’re working on good containment.”

Six people have died in the Napa fire.

9:30 a.m.

Weather conditions Monday night helped firefighters gain further traction on the deadly wildland fires burning in the region and multiple backfiring operations conducted Monday night and planned for Tuesday were expected to help tie down additional containment lines, officials said.

Tuesday afternoon’s high temperatures were due to be in the mid 80s, with very dry conditions.

“We’re still struggling with lower-than-normal humidity in our area,” said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner Tuesday.

The extra-dry air kept some pockets of the fires burning through the night, but not nearly as actively as they had Sunday night, Gossner said. “We’re still getting some spot fires but we’re jumping on them quick.”

Containment on the Tubbs fire was at 82 percent, with active fire only burning in the northern end including Mount St. Helena in Napa County. “The Tubbs fire that burned into Santa Rosa is cold at this point,” he said.

The Nuns fire still is burning on the Napa Valley side of the almost 53,000-acre blaze. It’s also still moving in the Oakmont branch, burning in the hills across Highway 12 from the Oakmont residential community. That fire continues to move north at a moderate rate.

“We’ve got so many dozers on that fire alone,” Gossner said of the Oakmont section of the Nuns. “It’s still on fire. It’s still active, but it’s changing. We’re pushing line around it.”

In the north county, the Pocket fire continues to burn slowly eastward toward The Geysers. The fire’s entire footprint includes very lightly populated areas and fire officials knew of one home lost.

As of Tuesday the fire continued to pose no threat to Geyserville although residents remained on an advisory evacuation notice.

That fire is more than half-way contained and firefighters Tuesday planned to set a fire in the Sulphur Creek drainage in the fire’s path to the east, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshal Turbeville. “That should hold the fire. They burned in three miles of line last night and that’s all held so far.”

He expected about 1,000 acres burned during the night from backfires managed by firefighters.

The Sonoma County fires, two spreading into Napa County, have burned 102,785 acres, killed at least 22 people and still threaten almost 30,000 homes and structures, according to Cal Fire. Almost 5,000 people were on the effort Tuesday, said Gossner.

With a new fire burning in the Santa Cruz mountains Tuesday, Gossner expected some equipment and firefighters would be released from Sonoma County at some point to help on that fire.

8 a.m.

Fire officials Tuesday morning reported gains in containment lines overnight, some small, some substantial.

The Nuns fire centered in the Sonoma Valley is 52,894 acres and 68 percent contained, up from 53 percent Monday night.

The Oakmont fire was listed at 1,029 acres and 27 percent contained.

The Pocket fire in northern Sonoma County is 12,430 acres and 58 percent contained, up from 45 percent.

The Redwood fire in Mendocino County is 35,800 and 60 percent contained, up from 55 percent.

The Sulphur fire in Clearlake is 2,207 acres and 92 percent contained, up from 90 percent.

7:30 a.m.

Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa re‑opened Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

The hospital had been closed since Oct. 9, as the Tubbs fire swept into Santa Rosa and hospital employees evacuated patients as fire ravaged nearby neighborhoods.

“We are open,” said employee Catrina Vasquez. “It feels great to get back to normal and be helping the community, We already have two patients. We are trucking.”

The Sheriff’s Office said the hospital would be fully operational from the start of the day. Access to Sutter is from Mark West Springs Road and Highway 101.

Fire officials early Tuesday released new statistics on two of the deadly ongoing fires.

The Tubbs fire centered in Santa Rosa now is at 82 percent containment, up from 75 percent Monday night. The fire has burned 36,432 acres.

The Atlas fire in Napa County is 77 percent contained and 51,064 acres.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.