Updates: Cal Fire officials bracing for lightning, winds in fight against Walbridge fire
7:15 PM: Schools closed Monday because of Walbridge fire
Distance learning in the following districts will be canceled Monday because of the Walbridge fire: Forestville, Monte Rio, Guerneville, and Montgomery districts. Classes at El Molino High School in Forestville will also be canceled, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Families are encouraged to check with their school district offices for updates about distance learning.
6:15 PM: ’Just because you are back home does not mean you are home for good’
Officials explained the move to downgrade a number of evacuation orders to evacuation warnings Sunday afternoon as a response to a change in conditions.
“Those evacuation orders were put out with the idea of an abundance of caution,” said Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls during an afternoon briefing. “We didn’t see those fire conditions increase as expected which is what allowed us to go back to an evacuation warning.”
But with a weather system bearing down that could bring unpredictable and strong winds, Nicholls urged residents to remain vigilant and following fire updates.
“Just because you are back home does not mean you are home for good,” he said.
And Nicholls acknowledged the difficulty of any evacuation order during an ongoing health crisis like COVID-19.
“Please know that we are doing everything in our power to keep people in their homes, especially in these trying times of the pandemic that we are in,” he said.
Even as some evacuation orders are being downgraded from orders to warnings, Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies are dealing with people not adhering to orders to stay clear of fire zones.
“We are having a problem with people who are staying in evacuated areas and they are driving around in there,” Sgt. Juan Valencia said in a briefing Sunday afternoon.
Elsewhere in the LNU Lightning Complex fire, crews expect to have the Meyers fire north of Jenner 100% contained by Monday.
5:50 PM: Helicopters make water drops along Mill Creek Road to fight Walbridge Fire
Heavy smoke on Sunday prevented a full-fledged air attack on the flames of the Walbridge fire west of Healdsburg but helicopters were able to fly in some areas. One helicopter completed multiple water drops using a pond on the 2000 block of Mill Creek Road to douse flames Sunday afternoon, according to Cal Fire representative Paul Lowenthal, who is also an assistant fire marshal at the Santa Rosa Fire Department.
The work was in advance of a storm system that is expected to bring high winds and dry lightning between 6 and 11 p.m.
“The reality is, there are crews on all sides of the fire and they are trying to chip away at it while the weather is somewhat cooperating,” he said. “The other issue is this is shaping up to be a much dryer system than last time.”
“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said.
5 PM: Cal Fire officials bracing for lightning, winds in Sunday night fight against Walbridge fire
Cal Fire officials remain wary of an impending lightning-packed storm front that could spark more wildfires or bring winds to fan the infernos currently burning in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Officials say resources are standing ready to combat the Walbridge fire, which has taken top priority among a handful of regional fires sparked by lightning a week ago and totaling 314,000 acres as of Sunday evening.
“Tonight, specifically, is our largest concern due to the red flag warnings and the dry lightning forecast to come into the area,” Cal Fire Chief Ben Nichols said during a media briefing Sunday evening, adding that he was worried about winds pushing the fire in new directions. “We could have significant growth in any portion of the fire.”
3 PM: Sonoma County suffers through another day of poor air quality
Wildfires raging in Northern California continue to impact air quality in the Bay Area, leading to some of the worst Air Quality Index readings in the world this weekend.
In Sonoma County on Sunday, air quality remained in the “unhealthy” category, which ranges from 151-200, out of 500, on the Air Quality Index. Sebastopol’s 182 was the worst, followed by Guerneville, which is tucked just south of the Walbridge fire.
Poor air quality prompted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to extend Spare the Air alerts through Wednesday. The alerts prohibit wood burning and encourage residents to reduce vehicle travel that contributes to unhealthy air. And that unhealthy air was a fact of life Sunday for all but one air quality monitoring station in Sonoma County – a sensor at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay.
Elsewhere, from the Sonoma Valley to Petaluma to Cloverdale, residents were advised to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors. And on Saturday, the air was so bad in Healdsburg, due west of the Walbridge fire, it beat out a record San Francisco reading set during the Camp fire in November 2018, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.