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Glass fire updates: residents of Oakmont, Kenwood, Calistoga allowed to return home

Authorities Sunday afternoon lifted evacuation orders for thousands of people in Sonoma and Napa counties who had been kept away from their homes since the Glass fire erupted one week ago across the Napa Valley and spread into Sonoma County.

Residents of Oakmont and Kenwood along Highway 12 and communities along the Porter Creek Road corridor and the Mark West Springs drainage were allowed to return Sunday as Santa Rosa police and sheriff’s authorities announced evacuation orders were reduced to warnings.

Calistoga residents were also allowed to return, according to Napa County officials.

The lifted orders affect most communities outside the burn perimeter of the Glass fire. Still under evacuation are rural areas along Los Alamos and St. Helena roads in Sonoma County plus burned areas of White Oak Drive and addresses off Pythian Road in the city.

Click here to view the current evacuation zones.

The announcements come as the threat from fire has dramatically decreased in some areas of Sonoma County, especially those close to Santa Rosa city limits.

Fire crews expanded containment lines around the Glass fire on Sunday as a red flag warning in the Napa County area expired with minimal fire growth reported overnight, but new evacuation orders were issued near the northern county line. And southern edge of Lake County was issued its first evacuation warnings.

The fire, now entering its second week since igniting Sept. 27 in the hills on the eastern rim of the Napa Valley, reached 68,885 acres with 17% containment, Cal Fire reported Sunday morning. Despite windy conditions and hot and dry weather, the fire grew 435 acres and containment increased by 2% since Saturday night.

Most of the fire’s activity was on the northern end, along Highway 29 above The Palisades near Mount St. Helena, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Sean Norman said during a press briefing Sunday morning.

New evacuation orders were issued Sunday in that area near the north Napa County border with Lake County. Anyone still in the mountainous area between Highway 29 at the Robert Louis Stevenson trail head, Livermore Road and Aetna Mine Road near Pope Valley was ordered to leave immediately.

Officials extended those mandatory evacuation orders around 3:30 p.m. to Highway 29 in the west and to the Lake County line to the north.

The increased fire activity Sunday afternoon prompted the first Glass fire evacuation warnings for Lake County, south of Middletown. The areas south of Rancheria Road, east of the Sonoma County border, north of the Napa County line and west of Highway 29 were put on notice. The zone south of Mirabel Road, east of Highway 29 and west of the Three Peaks ridge line was also alerted.

Crews kept patrolling areas where the fire’s progress had stopped, watching for flare-ups that could threaten control lines — particularly in the west zone of the blaze where the potential for spotting was high, Cal Fire said. Efforts to construct and reinforce fire breaks there continued.

More than 21,600 structures remained threatened in Napa and Sonoma counties. The number of homes reportedly burned did not change since Saturday, with 173 residential properties destroyed in the Napa Valley and 120 in Sonoma County.

There are 12 inspection teams surveying the damaged areas across entire Glass fire, Cal Fire Assistant Chief Billy See said during a press briefing Sunday morning. So far, about half of the fire zone has been assessed.

You can view the 11 a.m. Sunday press briefing in Santa Rosa below.

“Plans continue to be made between the city of Santa Rosa and county of Sonoma to have services and support for when areas are ready to be repopulated,” said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa’s assistant fire marshal.

Cal Fire had hoped to make an announcement around 3 p.m. Sunday about its plans to allow people to return home, Santa Rosa City Councilman Chris Rogers said in a Facebook post Sunday morning.

"They are quick to caution, though, that it is much easier to repopulate in areas that were evacuated who ultimately saw no fire damage than it is to repopulate areas impacted. Areas ’within the fire line’ will take much longer due to downed utilities and other safety factors, such as hot spots,“ Rogers wrote.

The National Weather Service lifted its red flag warning Sunday morning after the most dangerous fire weather had passed. Weather conditions are taking a favorable turn with temperatures expected to peak at 89 degrees today in Santa Rosa and drop over the course of the week, with the potential for rain this weekend, the National Weather service reported.

Saturday was the hottest day and driest day since the Glass fire began, and passing it with minimal fire growth was a positive step, said Cal Fire meteorologist Tom Bird. The agency’s models indicated there could be rain this weekend, and expecting a quarter-inch of precipitation was “something we could hang our hat on,” he said.

“Yesterday was probably the most critical weather day we’ll see for the next week or so,” Bird said. “That was the high point and bump we needed to get past. We’ll start slowly, slowly moderating toward cooler weather.”

While there is a chance of meaningful rain at the end of the week, it is unlikely to be enough to end fire season in Northern California, said weather blogger Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist.

The cleaner air Saturday also provided opportunities for a significant air attack. Cal Fire planes and helicopters dropped about 200,000 gallons of fire retardant and 180,000 gallons of water Saturday, said Cal Fire captain Matt Stanford.

When clear skies return Sunday, Cal Fire will “hit it again … with everything we have,” he said.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter Henry 1 took advantage of the improved air to survey the fire’s scar around Rincon Valley and Oakmont.

Cal Fire and several supporting agencies in Napa and Sonoma counties were scheduled to host a community meeting Sunday night at 6 p.m. on its Facebook page. The public will be able to pose questions to officials leading the state and local response to the Glass fire.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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