Firefighters entered the final stretch Wednesday in their bid for complete containment of the deadly wildfires that have raged across the North Bay, getting the most destructive blazes almost entirely under control as thousands more evacuees returned home and local officials laid the groundwork for letting residents revisit burned neighborhoods.
Ten days after California’s deadliest and most destructive fires began in Wine Country and other areas of Northern California, a Cal Fire official said about 42,300 residents have been allowed to return home, most of them in the Santa Rosa area.
Overall, the Northern California fires have claimed at least 42 lives, 23 of them in Sonoma County, including one victim whose remains were found Tuesday in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood.
Sheriff’s officials identified two more victims in the Tubbs fire: Monte Neil Kirven, 81, and Marilyn Carol Ress, 71, both of Santa Rosa.
As firefighters have improved their control over the wildfires in recent days, law enforcement officials have steadily allowed more people back into evacuation zones. On Wednesday, residents of east Santa Rosa, including in Rincon Valley, Skyhawk and the Los Alamos area were allowed to return home.
Evacuation orders also were lifted in parts of Napa County.
While those developments were welcomed by the many anxious and weary residents desperate to finally sleep under their own roofs again, numerous others remain permanently displaced, their homes destroyed.
Now, government leaders are set to begin a discussion about allowing those residents back into their neighborhoods for visits.
“We’re really at a place where we’re talking about recovery rather than the emergency at hand,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “I know that there’s a lot of anxiety in the community right now from people who still haven’t been able to get back into their neighborhoods and back into the burn areas to see what happened to their homes.”
A pair of public meetings are planned today in Sonoma and Santa Rosa, where leaders will address re-entry for residents into burned areas, the cleanup process for damaged and destroyed properties and the search for replacement housing.
The meetings are set for 1 to 3 p.m. at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building, 126 First St. W.; and 6 to 8 p.m. at Santa Rosa High School’s South Gym, 1235 Mendocino Ave. The meetings will include question-and-answer sessions, officials said.
Coursey said he hoped to see re-entry allowed in burned areas soon, but he did not have a precise timeline, suggesting more clarity would emerge at today’s meetings. At the same time, he warned of health risks and other dangers residents will face when coming back to the ruins, which include toxic materials and debris.
By Wednesday evening, all but one of the North Bay’s major wildfires were more than two-thirds contained. The Tubbs fire, the deadliest blaze, was 91 percent contained and had burned 36,432 acres in Sonoma County. The Nuns fire was 80 percent contained and charred 54,423 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties, while the Pocket fire was 63 percent contained and had covered 14,225 acres east of Geyserville.
Altogether, the fires have consumed more than 105,000 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties. Fire officials now expect to reach full containment on all three blazes by Tuesday, four days later than their previous estimate.