Geyserville residents ordered to evacuate as Kincade fire rages in north Sonoma County
Flames from the Kincade fire crept across a newly planted wine grape vineyard early Thursday morning at Wasson Family Farms in the sparsely populated Alexander Valley region.
Tracy McCall, granddaughter of the late Ruby Wasson, matriarch of the family, stood on the west side of Highway 128 with her husband, James McCall, lamenting there was no electricity to power the well pump that provides water for multiple family properties.
“We have no water to defend ourselves,” James McCall said surrounded by a smoky haze.
“This is my family’s ranch,” Tracy McCall said, as she looked at the stubby, scorched grapevines. “They just planted it. Watching it burn is heartbreaking.”
For the first time in memory, sections of north Sonoma County’s prime vineyards in the ?Geyserville area, as well as homes and structures owned by some of the county’s most prominent winemakers were torched by a wildfire. Driven by fierce winds, the blaze that ignited minutes before 9:30 Wednesday night made its way over steep Mayacamas Mountains rural terrain down into the Alexander Valley.
By dawn Thursday, residents who slept awoke to flames encroaching on the flatlands. Several homes along Red Winery Road and Geysers Road still were fully engulfed late in the morning.
Sean Olhan, who lives on Red Winery Road, said he was watching the fire far off on the other side of Black Mountain late Wednesday night. He went to bed thinking it wouldn’t reach the valley’s flatlands. But he was awakened by Cal Fire firefighters at 5:30 a.m. ordering him to evacuate.
“Everything was blowing everywhere and crackling,” he said, adding that the rolling hills just east of his property were on fire. “It was swirling wind, it was just havoc.”
Olhan took his mother to the Jimstown Store, where he had someone pick her up and take her to Healdsburg. Then Olhan returned home and watched as nearby hills erupted in flames and pine trees burned.
Many of Alexander Valley’s vineyards did not burn because their access roads and the vineyards themselves acted as firebreaks.
“There’s no real fuel in these vineyards,” Olhan said. “They’re green and they get watered. These are Alexander Valley vineyards. They’re pampered.”
Although he stayed put, many Geyserville-area residents did flee the smoke and fire and headed for an evacuation shelter at the Healdsburg Community Center.
“We want to be able to provide a comfortable place for the people who are being evacuated,” Mayor David Hagele said.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district encompasses the Kincade fire, as well as about half of the area burned in the October 2017 blazes in Sonoma County, said he has noticed a difference in residents’ reactions to this fire.
“I’ve never seen our folks so tight and so prepared,” Gore said. “Two years ago, that was my concern, is that there was cacophony.”
He’s hopeful the wind stays calm Thursday night to enable firefighters to get some traction on the Kincade inferno that burned uncontrollably throughout the day.
About 2,000 people living in the Geyserville area were forced to evacuate their homes, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Misti Wood said. About 300 of those people quickly fled their homes after the blaze ignited at ?9:27 p.m. Wednesday.
By 6:30 Thursday morning, the evacuation order included the town of Geyserville.
Sheriff’s deputies went door to door to homes and businesses, blaring sirens from their patrol cars to warn people of the encroaching fire. The county also sent Nixle alerts to people in the evacuation zones and issued notifications to residents’ cellphones.
In Geyserville, Bill Boutin and Kaylynn Reeb got a Nixle alert Wednesday night about the possibility of evacuations. So they were awake when a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy drove by early Thursday morning, announcing “mandatory evacuation, evacuate now.”
“It wasn’t like panic mode, it was like, ‘OK, what should we throw in the RV?’?” Boutin said.
They headed to the Healdsburg shelter with their two Schnauzers, Ranger and Watson, in the RV where the couple has been living since losing their home in the 2017 Pocket fire.
Alison Pomeroy of Geyserville got a Nixle alert about 10 p.m. Wednesday and then stayed up worrying all night. When she was about to fall asleep about 6:30 a.m. Thursday, police ordered mandatory evacuations, so she had to leave.
“I haven’t been asleep,” she said, noting she downed three Red Bulls. “I couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to sleep.”
Pomeroy took her son, Brent Brauninger, and daughter Lily Grace Brauninger to the Healdsburg Community Center, a designated evacuation center. Her husband is in Colorado.
Brent, who attends Windsor High School, and Lily Grace, who goes to West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg, planned to gather with friends since their schools were closed.
Although Pomeroy left the house with important family documents and passports, the kids and cats, she inadvertently left her cellphone behind during the rush to evacuate. Brent grabbed his phone, but his fingers are crossed that his 1972 Chevy C-10 doesn’t burn.
Some residents ignored the order to leave and stayed in Geyserville.
Dino and Sonja Bugica, owners of Diavola restaurant and pizzeria in the center of the small town were up all night when officials knocked on their door and ordered them to evacuate. The couple hosed down the roof of their home and went to their restaurant.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, Dino Bugica was making a half-dozen pizzas in his wood fire oven for firefighters and and first responders who were staging operations in town.
“You can always cook with a wood fire oven,” Bugica said. “During the last fire, people really needed somewhere to talk, somewhere to be normal.”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.