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Sonoma County wildfire costs reach more than $18 million

Initial wildfire costs reach $18.1 million for Sonoma County

Sonoma County’s wildfires already have cost local government an estimated $18.1 million so far in infrastructure damage and response costs, county Emergency Services Manager Chris Godley said Saturday.

That includes about $8.7 million in damage to roads, bridges, guardrails, signage and other public property; $5.3 million in emergency response measures, including staff time, supplies, food and materials for emergency sheltering operations; and about $4 million for removal of debris and trees that have fallen across roads, Godley said during a Saturday afternoon press briefing.

The initial estimate was required by the state after Sonoma County supervisors on Friday declared a local emergency, he said.

Meanwhile, North Coast Congressmen Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson, as well as Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, announced Saturday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved disaster relief for all five counties within the nearly 500-square-mile LNU Lightning Complex fire.

The agency has approved both Individual Assistance and Public Assistance disaster relief for Lake, Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.

Though Cal Fire had by Saturday morning put structure losses at 560 and damage at 125 buildings, Incident Commander Sean Kavanaugh said those numbers would rise steeply as areas of the burn zone deemed safe enough to re-enter allow formal damage assessment to begin.

“Wildfires in our community have become an all-too familiar occurrence, but through this experience we have learned how to more swiftly and effectively respond to these crises,”

Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in a news release that the “all-too-familiar occurrence” of wildfires in the region had at least taught swift and effective response.

“I am glad to be able to share the news that federal support from FEMA is on its way,” he said. “As your representative, I will work with my colleagues and government partners to make sure that federal emergency assistance is fully supported and readily available, just as that support must be there for all the other communities around the country who are dealing with natural disasters.”

Individuals can register with FEMA the following ways:

– Apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

– Constituents may call the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362; those who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.

“The LNU Lightning Complex,” said Thompson, D-St. Helena, “has caused great devastation in our communities, destroying hundreds of homes, displacing thousands of people and tragically taking four lives.”

Federal assistance, he said, “will be critical to our efforts to rebuild and recover, and I will continue to fight to ensure that we have all available federal resources.”

6:04 PM Lake County issues additional evacuation warnings

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has issued new evacuation warnings for two areas of the county.

The area under the new evacuation warning includes:

East of SR-29

North of Morgan Valley Road

South of SR-20

West of Sky High Ridge Road, from Morgan Valley Road north to SR-20.

This warning does not apply to residents living within the city limits of Clearlake.

It also includes:

East of Big Canyon, Perini and Seigler Canyon roads

South of SR-29

West of SR-29

North of Anderson Springs and Neft roads, and the Boggs Mountain Recreation Area northeast to the intersection of SR-29 and Hofacker Road

5:30 PM Tanker flights resume after grounded by smoke

An inversion layer that trapped the smoke from the Walbridge fire in Sonoma County, grounding the aerial assault after about four hours Saturday, has lifted again, allowing tankers and air attack planes to resume their support of ground crews on the 50,069-acre wildfire.

That includes at least one of the very large, DC-10 air tankers stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento and numerous other aircraft that for three days have been dropping retardant to reinforce containment lines in preparation for a wind shift expected to turn flames toward the northeast.

The very wind that was forecast is what raised the inversion layer, allowing smoke to clear and planes to fly, however.

“I’m getting told that the awnings over some of the tents in Calistoga at our base camp are having to be pulled because the winds have finally picked up,” Cal Fire Incident Commander Sean Kavanaugh said from LNU Lightning Complex base during a briefing on Saturday afternoon. “We were expecting that today.”

4:20 PM: Firefighters prepare for winds to drive Walbridge fire to the northeast

Winds kicking up around the North Bay on Saturday afternoon are expected to drive the Walbridge fire to the northeast, putting pressure on fire lines and firefighting efforts along the eastern front and accounting for new evacuation orders and warnings announced early in the day on the west side of Geyserville, Healdsburg and Windsor.

Though fire activity was observable around the perimeter of the now 50,069-acre wildfire in the rugged timberlands west and north of the Russian River, between Guerneville and Lake Sonoma, fire officials have been bracing for a shift in winds and what it would mean for that northeastern flank in recent days.

Sustained air support since Thursday has allowed bulldozers and hand crews to make good progress on critical containment lines south of Lake Sonoma and northwest of Healdsburg, Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers said.

“We’re trying to get ahead of this thing, so once the weather, or this wind shift, comes, we have those lines in, and that allows firefighters to get in there, too, to reinforce the lines,” he said. “You want those containment lines as strong as possible. Once that wind comes in, the fire will check those lines.”

As a precaution, Cal Fire and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which has a lieutenant and two sergeants embedded at incident command, decided early Saturday to expand evacuations and warnings in communities to the east of the fire.

Cal Fire Fire Progression Map for the LNU Lightning Complex, Walbridge fire, Aug. 22, 2020, 7 a.m. Bright yellow signifies fire activity on Aug. 19; orange on Aug. 20; red on Aug. 21 and cranberry on Aug. 22 so far.
Cal Fire Fire Progression Map for the LNU Lightning Complex, Walbridge fire, Aug. 22, 2020, 7 a.m. Bright yellow signifies fire activity on Aug. 19; orange on Aug. 20; red on Aug. 21 and cranberry on Aug. 22 so far.

The wind has generally been out of the northwest, pushing the fire toward the south on a path aimed at Forestville, its western flank fanning outward toward lower Russian River communities and the coastal hills around Cazadero and the opposite flank moving northeast toward Lake Sonoma and the northeast.

But the remnants of the same tropical storm forecast to bring lightning to the region Sunday night and Monday is also shifting winds toward the north, fire officials said.

“Typically we see winds out of the northwest,” Sheriff Mark Essick said, “but we could see winds out of the southeast, which could put Windsor at risk.”

The town itself is not in the evacuation zone, but some is under warning.

“We’ve still got plenty of warning time ahead of us,” Essick said, “but we wanted to issue that warning this morning, just to prepare residents so they could pack up important things – their pets, their medications, their important documents.”

3:40 PM: Evacuation order issued for area of Lake County

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has upgraded an evacuation warning to an evacuation order for residents who live in the area of Cantwell Ranch and Sprucegrove Road.

The mandatory evacuation area includes:

South of Morgan Valley Road

West of the evacuation border at Sky High Ridge Road to Highways 29 and 53

East of Highway 29 at Hofacker Lane to the mandatory evacuation border line

Residents who live south of Morgan Valley Road, west at Sky High Ridge Road

A temporary evacuation point is located at the Kelseyville High School parking lot, 5480 Main St. in Kelseyville.

1:30 PM: Reporter Bill Swindell reports live from near Lake Sonoma

Reporter Bill Swindell is reporting live from near Lake Sonoma. Follow him on Twitter here.

12:30 PM: Some evacuation warnings lifted in Napa County

Authorities have lifted an evacuation warning for areas along Highway 121 from Vichy Avenue to Silverado Trail.

All other current evacuation orders and warnings remain in place.

11:40 AM: Red flag warning issued for San Francisco Bay Area

A red flag warning has been issued for most of the Bay Area region, including the North Bay.

The National Weather Service - Bay Area warns that dry lightning and erratic winds caused by thunderstorms expected Sunday morning could spark new wildfires.

The warning will go into effect Sunday at 5 a.m. until Monday at 5 p.m.

The agency had previously issued a fire weather watch for Sunday at 5 a.m through Tuesday at 11 a.m. That watch is no longer in effect.

10:45 AM: Evacuation orders expanded to Dry Creek Valley and Forestville area

Authorities have significantly expanded mandatory evacuation orders in the Dry Creek Valley area near Healdsburg and Windsor; and to areas east and south of the Russian River near Forestville and Rio Dell.

An interactive map showing evacuation zones and their grid numbers can be found here. Click here if you are having problems opening the map.

In and near the Dry Creek Valley, mandatory evacuation areas include:

Map Grid 2F1

East of Dutcher Creek Road and the Dry Creek (the actual creek)

North of Canyon Road

West of Highway 101

Map Grid 2F2

South of Canyon Road

East of the Dry Creek (the actual creek)

North of Lytton Springs Road

West of Geyserville Avenue

Map Grid 2F3

South of Lytton Springs Road

East of the Dry Creek (the actual creek)

North of Westside Road

West of the Healdsburg city limits

Map Grid 2K1

All areas North and East of Westside Road

West of Highway 101

West of the Russian River

Map Grid 2K2

All areas west of Highway 101

East of the Russian River to the Windsor town limits

North of where Windsor River Road dead ends extending west to the Russian River

Near Forestville, mandatory areas include:

Map Grid 4A1

All areas East of the Russian River

North of River Road

West of Trenton Healdsburg Road and Eastside Road

South of the area between the western dead end of Windsor River Road and the Russian River

Map Grid 4C1

North of Guerneville Road

East of Covey Road and Highway 116

West of Laguna Road

South of River Road

In addition, an evacuation warning has been issued for the following areas:

Map Grid 4A2

East of Trenton Healdsburg Road

North of Mark West Station Road

West of the Windsor city limits and Windsor Road

South of Windsor River Road

Map Grid 4A3

East of Trenton Healdsburg Road

North of River Road

West of Slusser Road

South of Mark West Station Road

Map Grid 2A2

North of the Dry Creek and the northern fork of Lake Sonoma

West of Dutcher Creek, city of Coverdale city limits and Highway 128

South of the Mendocino County line

Map Grid 2C4

South and West of Asti Road

East of Highway 101

North of Highway 128

Map Grid 2G1

East of Highway 101

South and West of Highway 128

North of Alexander Valley Road

Town of Windsor Zone A Warning

North of Windsor River Road

West of Highway 101

All to the western and norther town limits west of Highway 101

10:05 AM: Creek fire near Covelo fully contained

The Creek fire near Covelo in Mendocino County had burned 820 acres and was fully contained as of Friday night, Cal Fire reports.

Two outbuilding structures have been destroyed in the blaze.

Fire crews will continue looking for hot spots in the area.

10 AM: Woodward fire in Point Reyes continues to grow

The Woodward fire burning in the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County grew to 2,259 acres and was 5% contained as of Saturday morning, Cal Fire reports.

That’s up from 2,100 acres by Friday night.

No structures have currently been destroyed or damaged. But West Marin communities including Olema, Inverness and Bolinas are under an evacuation warning.

The National Seashore west of Highway 1 now is closed to all visitors.

8:40 AM: Armstrong Woods redwoods so far spared from flames

Old growth redwoods in the Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve appear to have been spared from the Walbridge fire burning near Rio Nido as of Saturday morning, said Scott Ross, a Cal Fire spokesman.

“That’s amazing news,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of old growth (redwoods), so I’m glad to hear that.”

The fire had hit the upper part of the reserve on Friday, and it was unclear if firefighting resources would be sent to protect the redwood groves and historic structures in the park.

Ross was not immediately able to confirm whether or how many fire crews had been deployed to the area.

8 AM: Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter rescues two firefighters in Point Reyes

A Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter crew Friday night rescued two firefighters that were trapped battling the Woodward fire burning in the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The two Marin County Fire Department firefighters were rescued using a 100 foot-long line dropped from the helicopter.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said neither of the firefighters were injured and both were flown to safety.

Night Rescue of Marin County Firefighters

8-22-20 6:00 AM – While you were sleeping … (Espanol abajo) Night Long Line Firefighter Rescue **Warning Graphic Language** Tonight, at approximately 8:15 PM, the Marin County Fire Department (MCFD) requested the Sonoma Sheriff’s Helicopter “Henry-1” respond to the area of the Woodward Fire, which is burning in an area of the Point Reyes National Seashore, southwest of Olema. MCFD requested an immediate rescue of two firefighters who had become trapped by fire on a ridgeline and unable to make it out of the path of the advancing fire. Henry 1 is the only helicopter in the region capable of conducting a vertical reference long line rescue at night. When our Fire counterparts call for help, Henry 1 comes flying. Once on scene, Henry 1 located the two Firefighters, who were trapped approximately 75 yards from the advancing fire. To complicate the situation further, the fire was creating strong, gusting winds that intensified as Henry 1 flew closer to the head of the fire. Henry 1 landed approximately a mile from the Firefighter’s location and the Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) configured the helicopter for long line rescue with a 100 foot long line. The TFO subsequently attached himself to the long line and was flown to the location of the firefighters. Upon arriving at the Firefighter’s location, the TFO placed a Bauman Bag rescue device on one of the firefighters and a Horse Collar rescue device on the other. Having a variety of different pieces of equipment on board at all times enables Henry 1 to quickly adapt to dynamic and dangerous situations. In this instance, Henry 1 was able to lift three people, the TFO and both Firefighters, simultaneously to safety. This enabled the rescue to occur in one attempt, as time was clearly of the essence, and limit the amount of time any of them were in the dangerous situation. We have included the video from our TFO’s helmet cam, unedited, and it its entirety. This video does contain some graphic language, but we believe it is important for the public to get an accurate representation of how a nighttime long line looks and feels. Most importantly of all, we are thrilled that both Firefighters are unharmed and in good spirits. Our society depends on First Responders to charge towards danger and place themselves in difficult situations, such as fighting a wildland fire in pitch black nighttime conditions. Sometimes, even First Responders need a First Responder, and nothing gets to these remote locations faster than Henry 1. 8-22-20 6:00 AM - Mientras dormía… Rescate de bomberos en helicóptero ** Lenguaje gráfico de advertencia ** Esta noche, aproximadamente a las 8:15 p.m., el Departamento de Bomberos del Condado de Marin (MCFD) solicitó al helicóptero del Sheriff del condad de Sonoma "Henry-1" que respondiera al área del incendio Woodward, que se está quemando en un área de Point Reyes National Seashore, al suroeste de Olema. MCFD solicitó el rescate inmediato de dos bomberos que habían quedado atrapados por el incendio en una cresta y no pudieron salir del camino del fuego que avanzaba. Henry 1 es el único helicóptero de la región capaz de realizar un rescate nocturno. Cuando nuestros compañeros piden ayuda, Henry 1 llega volando. Una vez en la escena, Henry 1 localizó a los dos bomberos, que estaban atrapados aproximadamente a 75 yardas del incendio que avanzaba. Para complicar aún más la situación, el fuego estaba creando fuertes ráfagas de viento que se intensificaron cuando Henry 1 voló más cerca de la frente del fuego. Henry 1 aterrizó aproximadamente a una milla de la ubicación del bombero y el oficial de vuelo táctico (TFO) configuró el helicóptero para el rescate de una cuerda larga con una línea de 100 pies de largo. Posteriormente, el TFO se adhirió a la larga cuerda y fue trasladado en avión a la ubicación de los bomberos. Al llegar a la ubicación del bombero, el TFO colocó un dispositivo de rescate "Bauman Bag" en uno de los bomberos y un dispositivo de rescate "Horse Collar" en el otro. Tener una variedad de equipos diferentes a bordo en todo momento le permite a Henry 1 adaptarse rápidamente a situaciones dinámicas y peligrosas. En este caso, Henry 1 pudo llevar a tres personas, el TFO y ambos bomberos, simultáneamente a un lugar seguro. Esto permitió que el rescate ocurriera en un intento, ya que el tiempo era claramente esencial, y limitar la cantidad de tiempo que cualquiera de ellos estuvo en la situación peligrosa. Hemos incluido el video de la cámara del casco de nuestro TFO, sin editar, y está completo. Este video contiene algo de lenguaje gráfico, pero creemos que es importante que el público obtenga una representación precisa de cómo se ve y se siente una larga fila nocturna. Lo más importante de todo es que estamos encantados de que ambos Bomberos estén ilesos y de buen humor. Nuestra sociedad depende de los socorristas para que carguen contra el peligro y se coloquen en situaciones difíciles, como combatir un incendio forestal en condiciones nocturnas muy oscuras. A veces, incluso los primeros respondedores necesitan un primer respondedor, y nada llega a estas ubicaciones remotas más rápido que Henry 1.

Posted by Sonoma Sheriff on Saturday, August 22, 2020

7:30 AM: Fire weather watch updated to early Sunday morning

The fire weather watch that was issued for the San Francisco Bay Area due to possible thunderstorms and dry lightning this weekend will now begin Sunday at 5 a.m. and will last until 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

The alert was initially set to go into effect on Sunday at 11 a.m.

The National Weather Service - Bay Area issued the weather watch on Friday due to possible thunderstorms this weekend that could spark additional fires in the region.

“Lightning will likely spark new fires across the region, including remote areas,” the agency said in a notice announcing the watch published on Friday.

7:15 AM: Walbridge fire continues to grow overnight

The Walbridge fire, threatening communities near the lower Russian River and west of Healdsburg, grew overnight to 50,069 acres and was 0% contained by Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire.

That’s up from 43,286 acres as of Friday night.

Cal Fire’s estimate of the fire’s size doubled on Friday — from 21,125 acres in the morning to more than 43,000 acres by evening. Officials said the growth actually occurred over several days but had been difficult to measure because of the remote terrain.

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire — the collection of lightning-sparked fires impacting Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties — was burning a total of 314,207 acres as of Saturday morning, according to Cal Fire.

A total of 1,429 fire personal and 194 engines have been assigned to fight the blazes. That’s an increase from 1,059 personal and 102 engines as of Friday. It’s unclear how many have been sent to battle the Walbridge fire.

The number of structures destroyed in all of the complex fires grew from 480 on Friday to 560 by Saturday morning. Cal Fire does not currently break out how many structures have been destroyed in each fire.

The Hennessy Fire in Napa County, the largest of the blazes, was burning 261,793 acres and was 15% contained as of Saturday morning. It grew from 256,102 acres as of Friday night.

The Meyers fire north of Jenner was burning 2,345 acres and was 0% contained by Saturday morning. That blaze decreased in size in from 3,000 acres as of Friday night, according to Cal Fire.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

Ethan Varian

Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat 

I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.

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