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Glass fire containment jumps to 41%; more than 550 homes destroyed in Sonoma and Napa counties

Firefighters battling the Glass fire in Sonoma and Napa counties reported substantial progress Monday, pushing containment of the 66,840-acre blaze to 41% as the wildfire burns into its second week amid a record California wildfire season.

The tally of single- and multifamily homes destroyed surpassed 550 Monday night, with 301 of them in Sonoma County and 256 in Napa County, according to Cal Fire. Almost 22,000 structures remain threatened Monday, a number roughly constant throughout the day.

Nearly 3,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation in Sonoma County and east Santa Rosa. More than 13,000 others are under warnings, meaning they need to ready to leave if the fire kicks up again. County and state officials had no timeline Monday for allowing the final group of evacuees to return home or lifting the existing warnings.

A Spare the Air Alert for most of the Bay Area remains in effect through Tuesday, as unhealthy air is expected to linger.

Forecasters are monitoring a weather system that has a chance of bringing rain to the Bay Area as early as Thursday and into the weekend. However, Cal Fire meteorologist Tom Bird said the North Bay only has around a 25% chance of getting a quarter of an inch of rainfall.

Strong progress suppressing the fire Monday allowed more residents of Kenwood in upper Sonoma Valley to go back to their residences. Others in Kenwood, Oakmont and Calistoga returned Sunday.

But authorities on Monday evening said they continue working to limit further spread of the blaze and clean up burned areas. The number of firefighters battling the wildfire ticked up from 2,774 to 2,801 from as of late Monday, according to Cal Fire, a sharp increase from the roughly 2,000 early last week.

“This is that point in the incident when we haven’t seen active flaming fronts for a while and there’s not as much smoke in the air and people are starting to wonder, ’What are they doing, why are they keeping me out?’” Cal Fire Chief Ben Nicholls said. “We have to make the area safe for folks to return.”

The Glass fire is one of dozens of major California wildland blazes that have contributed to the state’s still-climbing record of land burned, now over 4 million acres with weeks of prime fire season ahead.

Glass fire’s northern front in Napa County remains, and is expected to remain the most dynamic area of the conflagration east of Mount St. Helena. That includes along Highway 29 near Livermore Road, a rugged rural place where steep, heavily wooded terrain complicates firefighting.

In Sonoma County, Cal Fire is keeping a close eye on the areas along Adobe Canyon Road into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and near Sharp and Gates roads between Santa Rosa and Calistoga, Nicholls said.

Firefighters, public works crews and utility workers still need to do a range of mop-up work in evacuated areas, including putting out hot spots, replacing damaged power poles and trimming trees that may pose hazards. These tasks need to be completed before more residents can go home.

“We’re working as quickly and efficiently as we can,” Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro said. “But we’ve got to do it safe. We’re just asking for continued patience.”

Evacuation orders remained in place for about 2,900 residents, including 923 in Santa Rosa. Warnings remained in place for 8,764 people in Santa Rosa and 4,200 other county residents. Residents of 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 are still displaced.

The high mark of fire-related evacuations in Sonoma County was 34,000 residents.

Evacuation orders were downgraded to warnings for areas north of Nelligan and Nuns Canyon roads, east of Highway 12 and west of the Napa County line, and south of Goff Road and the burn scar, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

In another sign of firefighting progress, more Napa County residents Monday were allowed to return home in St. Helena, a north Napa Valley town threatened by the blaze.

The fire, which ignited Sept. 27 in the hills on the eastern rim of the Napa Valley, grew fewer than 2,000 acres overall Monday despite hot and dry conditions. Containment jumped from 26% to 41% since Sunday night.

On Sunday, thousands of residents of Oakmont Village outside Santa Rosa and Kenwood along Highway 12, and communities along the Porter Creek Road corridor and the Mark West Springs drainage were allowed to return.

On Monday, officials opened an assistance center in Santa Rosa to help Sonoma County residents replace important documents, access financial resources and file property insurance claims, among other services. The center at Maria Carrillo High School at 6975 Montecito Blvd. will stay open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In Napa County, although Calistoga residents were allowed to return home on Sunday, new evacuation orders were issued in the northern part of the county close to Mount St. Helena. Also Sunday, Lake County issued its first evacuation warnings, but Monday nobody was forced to flee, according to Cal Fire.

The blaze in that area near Highway 29 remained the most active part of the firefight Sunday night into Monday. Chris Valenzuela, a Cal Fire spokesperson, said winds picked up Sunday night and fanned flames, but crews were able to keep the fire at bay.

In Sonoma County, officials said control lines are holding and there are no immediate fire threats. On Monday, crews worked to completely clear a patch of unburned vegetation along Adobe Canyon Road above still-evacuated areas near Kenwood, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Sean Norman said in a video update on Facebook.

The National Weather Service expects the haze choking the sky in much of the North Bay to likely linger Tuesday, as plumes from the Glass fire mix with smoke from the massive August and North complex fires burning in Northern California. But the worst of the smoke likely will stay at higher altitudes, leading to better air quality at ground level.

“Most of the population base in the North Bay seems to be faring a little bit better than where they were last week,” meteorologist Matt Mehle said.

Bird, the Cal Fire meteorologist, tamped down the expectation for rain.

“Whereas we may see some rain on the fire this weekend, I do not believe it will be significant enough to be a season-ending event,” he said.

However, winds should shift to blowing from the northwest starting Wednesday, bringing a marine layer causing significantly cooler temperatures and more humid conditions for both the interior valleys and burn areas in the hills through the rest of the week.

“Going forward we are trending in a better direction,” Bird said.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5207. On Twitter @wsreports.

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