Rain finally fell Thursday on fire-scarred Sonoma County and a growing number of residents were allowed to return home as the region’s focus shifts from crisis to recovery.
Cal Fire officials said crews have halted the advance of devastating fires that swept through the region over the last 12 days, consuming 87,382 acres in Sonoma County. Containment lines are approaching 100 percent, though some areas within the perimeters are still on fire.
There was welcome news for residents of several fire-ravaged Santa Rosa neighborhoods, as well. Residents who lost homes in three neighborhoods — Coffey Park, and the Journey’s End and Orchard Park mobile home parks — were given permission to visit what remained beginning at 10 a.m. today and check for any personal property they might be able to recover.
Despite profound loss, fire officials spoke of growing optimism.
“We’re getting close to the end,” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said.
An unprecedented series of fires driven by extreme wind conditions have devastated several counties in Northern California over the past 12 days, killing at least 23 people in Sonoma County and destroying at least 5,791 structures, though some estimates are much higher.
State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that the region’s fires account for most of more than $1 billion in insured fire losses so far, according to preliminary reports of claims provided by eight California insurers. And the numbers are expected to climb.
“These numbers are just the beginning of the story as one of the deadliest and costliest wildfire catastrophes in California’s history,” Jones said in a news release. “The tragic death of 42 people and over a billion in property losses are numbers — behind these numbers are thousands of people who’ve been traumatized by unfathomable loss.”
Those who died in the early hours of the Tubbs fire as it swept across the Mayacamas Mountains from Calistoga to east Santa Rosa include a well-known wildlife biologist who played a critical role in preservation of the threatened peregrine falcon species. Monte Kirven, 81, died at his home on Linda Lane in the Mark West Springs Road area, authorities said.
The Mendocino County Coroner’s Office also identified the remaining five of eight victims killed in wildfires that burned through Potter Valley and Redwood Valley beginning Oct. 8.
They include Steve Bruce Stelter, 56, and his girlfriend, Janet Kay Constanzo, 71; Jane Gardiner, 83, and her caregiver, Elizabeth Charlene Foster, 64; and Margaret Stephenson, 86, all of Redwood Valley.
The rain that arrived in the region Thursday afternoon brought welcome moisture to the area, but was not expected to be sufficient to douse what remains of active fire, officials said.
“The rain that we will receive will not put the fire out,” Gossner said. “You need up to 2 inches of rain to make a dent.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson said Santa Rosa could expect less than a quarter of an inch overnight, with up to a half-inch in some higher elevations. But the rain was to be short-lived, with warm, dry weather returning by Sunday and dry, northerly winds expected to arrive Monday.
Fire managers expressed confidence in their command of the fires.