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Red flag warning: North Bay winds should weaken Tuesday

Strong winds that fanned the flames of a more than 150-acre vegetation fire near Vallejo on Monday night are expected to die down across the Bay Area on Tuesday, the final day in a lengthy red flag warning that has had emergency personnel on alert across the region since the weekend.

Reported shortly before 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Newell Open Space Preserve, the Newell fire broke out about 5 miles north of Vallejo in Napa County. A huge plume of smoke that could be seen for miles, wafted above the flames.

Fed by 25 mph winds, the blaze quickly grew, prompting the Napa County Sheriff’s Office to issue a Nixle alert shortly after 7 p.m. advising nearby residents of an evacuation warning east of Broadway in American Canyon.

However, just before 8:30 p.m., officials called off the evacuation warning and announced that the blaze no longer burned unchecked — containment was at 50%.

Fire personnel that had been staffed up in anticipation of potential wildfires because of the red flag warning were able to stop the blaze’s forward progress, officials said.

The Bay Area is on the tail-end of a red flag warning that went into effect at 11 p.m. Sunday and is scheduled to expire at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It covers the North Bay hills and extends across a wide swath of Northern California, including parts of Lake and Mendocino counties above 1,500 feet in elevation.

A fire in the front yard of house on Lovall Valley Court  in Sonoma was quickly extinguished by firefighters on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The call went out at approximately 4:30 p.m. The house was unaffected and the occupant was not home at the time. The cause of the fire is under investigation. (Lucas Thornton / Sonoma Index-Tribune)
A fire in the front yard of house on Lovall Valley Court in Sonoma was quickly extinguished by firefighters on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The call went out at approximately 4:30 p.m. The house was unaffected and the occupant was not home at the time. The cause of the fire is under investigation. (Lucas Thornton / Sonoma Index-Tribune)

The National Weather Service issues red flag warnings during weather events, specifically warm temperatures or strong wind, that increase the threat of wildfires across a drought-stricken California.

North Bay residents should expect to wake up to continued gusty conditions Tuesday morning before the winds ease up and the threat of wildfires diminishes by the afternoon, forecasters said.

The bulk of Tuesday’s winds should be at higher elevations and will be far weaker than the more powerful gusts that developed Monday in areas like Mount St. Helena, which stands above Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties.

“Going across the board, people are going to see a lot of improvements,” said Brayden Murdock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Bay Area office in Monterey. “The focus will be at the higher elevations and then they’ll start backing off.“

Gusty winds may reach 30 to 40 mph in those areas. And in Santa Rosa, they are expected to reach about 20 mph — down from Monday’s peak of 32 mph.

Windy conditions arrived early Monday as most North Bay residents slept.

They exceeded 40 mph at several sites in Sonoma County, according to the weather service. Among the most powerful was a gust near The Geysers that hit 42 mph at 12:50 a.m. Monday.

A 42 mph gust was recorded on Mount St. Helena at 3 a.m. Monday. At the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, the most intense gust came just before 2 a.m. Monday, clocking in at 41 mph.

While high-elevation areas saw the strongest winds, predominantly out of the north and northeast, the Sonoma Coast was also battered early Monday, National Weather Service meteorologist Jerry Diaz said.

In Bodega Bay, the strongest gust reached 36 mph at 2 a.m. Monday.

Coastal winds pushed from the north and northwest and prompted the weather service to issue a warning to mariners that the conditions could mean hazardous seas through 5 p.m. Tuesday.

For much of the day Monday, winds as strong as 50 mph kept North Bay first responders on the lookout for wildfires. As a result, smaller, less imposing vegetation fires reported in the afternoon in Windsor, Sonoma and Clearlake were quickly brought under control, fire officials said.

Among them was a half-acre fire reported at about 1:30 p.m. near Chalk Hill Road and Pleasant Avenue, about 2 miles east of Highway 101, in Windsor. Its cause is under investigation.

“It’s blowing. It’s blowing hard and not at a good time. So we lucked out with this one,” Jim Boggeri, a public information officer with the Sonoma County Fire District, said of the blaze.

Also on Monday, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. preemptively shut off power to more than 6,500 customers in parts of Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties where fires are more likely to occur.

Those included 87 Sonoma County customers in wooded areas east of Geyserville and Cloverdale, and near the hillside community of Kellogg.

“We expect everyone will have power by 10 p.m. Tuesday, but could have power back on sooner,” said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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