More evacuation orders lifted in Sonoma County as firefight grinds on in Sonoma Valley
Thousands of weary Sonoma County residents made their way home Monday as control grew over the state’s most destructive and deadly wildfires, which continue to burn a week later in the rugged hills east of Santa Rosa and high above Geyserville.
Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for Annadel Heights in Santa Rosa, as well as parts of Bennett Valley, the communities of Boyes Hot Springs and Kenwood and parts of Sonoma, allowing people who had been kept out for days to stream back into their unburned neighborhoods.
Where blocks have been leveled, fire or safety issues remain and thousands more residents are being kept out - closures that authorities said could last for many days if not weeks.
At the same time, an ongoing battle in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park overlooking the scenic Valley of the Moon prevented residents of the Oakmont retirement community and parts of Rincon Valley from returning home. Many expressed frustration at not knowing the fate of their homes and being unable to return as the disaster continued into a second week.
“I just want to make sure my house is safe,” said Will Chubb, 73, who was turned away in four attempts to get to his Oak Vista Drive house. “I’d at least like to go in and get several things I need, one of which is my eye medication.”
Firefighters made progress on what remained of more than a dozen fires that broke out Oct. 8, burning more than 101,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, and killing 41 people across four counties, including 22 in Sonoma.
The latest victim was a 38-year-old water tank driver, contracted for firefighting, who was killed Monday morning in a crash on the Oakville grade above Napa Valley. His name was not released.
Up to 88 people remain missing in Sonoma County, where officials estimate 6,700 homes and businesses, valued at $3 billion, have been reduced to ashes.
The most devastating blaze, the Tubbs fire, which raced from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, leveling large swaths of Fountaingrove, Larkfield-Wikiup and the northwest neighborhood of Coffey Park, had charred 36,432 acres and was more than 75 percent contained.
Other fires still burning included the Nuns fire in the Sonoma Valley, which consumed 51,512 acres and was 53 percent contained, and the Pocket fire near Geyserville which burned about 12,430 and was 45 percent contained.
Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley fire, which killed eight people and destroyed 436 homes, had charred almost 36,00 acre and was 55 percent corralled.
The Oakmont fire, which started Saturday, had burned 1,029 acres east of Highway 12 and was just 16 percent contained. It was merging with the Nuns fire, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said.
Cox said Oakmont residents would likely remain under evacuation orders until firefighters got a better handle on the blaze. Officials were still targeting Friday as the date when all fires would be under control.
Air tankers and helicopters flew multiple runs in the area Monday, he said.
“That’s been the priority today, to button up the northeast corner of Sugarloaf mountain,” Cox said. “It’s steep with heavy fuels and some inaccessible areas.”
As they worked, officials tallied the damage.
In Santa Rosa, 2,907 residential structures were destroyed, including about 1,300 in the Coffey Park neighborhood, said David Guhin, director of planning and economic development. Most were single-family homes.
More than 86 commercial units - from large stores like Kmart to small office suites - were destroyed, comprising more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space lost.
The initial damage assessment was done Tuesday and Wednesday by city building and code inspectors driving each street where there was a loss and taking notes about each property. A more thorough survey is underway by a Cal Fire damage inspection team, Guhin said.
City staff also are conducting a larger review of infrastructure, from roads and streetlights to sewer stations and storm drains.
Separately, Sonoma County officials released an initial estimate showing 3,819 structures were destroyed with $2 billion in losses. Altogether, the fires have caused more than $3 billion in losses countywide, officials confirmed.
At the peak of the fires, more than 100,000 people were estimated to have been displaced. They filled Santa Rosa shelters and fled town. Many were allowed back for the first time Monday.
The homecoming was hampered by confusion about just what areas were open. Officials warned electronic alerts should be read entirely. Some residents appeared to be reading only the headline that Bennett Valley’s evacuations had been lifted but failed to click on the alert to see the specifics, officials said.