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Tuesday updates: National Guard sends 250 soldiers to Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties

7 PM: National Guard sending firefighting reinforcements

Help is on the way from the California National Guard, which is sending 250 soldiers into Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said.

The troops, who will work on the fire lines and provide logistic support, are expected to arrive Wednesday or Thursday, McGuire said at the county’s Tuesday afternoon media briefing.

And as other California fires diminish, he said, the area will receive personnel under mutual aid agreements from other counties and from other states, as well, he said.

The guard members will help fight the 54,500-acre Walbridge fire in Sonoma County and the nearly 300,000-acre Hennessey fire that McGuire said is making its way from Napa County into Lake County.

This Cal Fire map shows the containment of the Walbridge, Hennessey and Meyers fires on Aug. 25, 2020. Black lines represent containment, while red lines represent uncontrolled fire edges. The yellow lines serve as county borders. (Cal Fire)
This Cal Fire map shows the containment of the Walbridge, Hennessey and Meyers fires on Aug. 25, 2020. Black lines represent containment, while red lines represent uncontrolled fire edges. The yellow lines serve as county borders. (Cal Fire)

6:25 PM: Most evacuated residents allowed to return home

In the wake of a major reopening of fire-threatened areas on Tuesday, Chris Godley, the county emergency management director, said about 5,000 residents remained under an evacuation order and about 400 were still under evacuation warnings.

That amounted to an 85% reduction in the population either ordered to leave home or prepare to evacuate, Godley said during the county’s afternoon media briefing.

Three re-entry stations, open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. were operating at Bodega, Healdsburg and Sebastopol to assist residents in returning to the homes, he said.

The stations will advise residents on how to re-enter burned areas safely and provide personal protection equipment to those who need it, Godley said.

The locations are:

Bodega: 17499 Bodega Highway, adjacent to the cemetery and near the Highway 1 and Bodega Highway intersection.

Healdsburg: Healdsburg Park and Ride at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue and Grant Avenue with easy access to and from Highway 101.

Sebastopol: Ragle Ranch Regional Park, 500 Ragle Drive, first parking lot past the main entrance kiosk.

Godley said the county has quested a watershed emergency response team, with support from the state and federal government, to assess any fire impacts on the county’s water supply, especially around Lake Sonoma. The reservoir near Healsburg is the largest source of water delivered to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents.

County Supervisor James Gore said there was concern that black soot and pink fire retardant could get into the reservoir.

None of the county’s public water systems are at risk, Godley said, but residents with private wells should consider the possibility their pipes have been damaged.

5:40 PM: Cal Fire chief recounts success on fire lines, says he’s ’cautiously optimistic’

Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls recounted successes on the fire lines Tuesday from a vantage point on Chemise Road with a white plume of smoke rising from the woods in the hills west of Healdsburg behind him while appearing at the county’s afternoon virtual media briefing.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we’re making headway today,” he said, noting that the venerable Colonel Armstrong tree had been saved at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve outside Guernevile.

Dozers were cutting a line from Mt. Jackson Resort Road downhill toward Sweetwater Springs Road to prevent the Walbridge fire from reaching the Hacienda area along the Russian River, Nicholls said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do here on the east side (of the fire) and the south side,” he said.

Nicholls credited some of the firefighting success to a prevailing southwest winds the past couple of days carrying moisture that has reduced the fire’s intensity and is expected to continue.

“Conditions are in our favor,” he said. “”We’re going to maximize them when we’ve got ’em.“

3:10 PM: 2.8 million gallons of retardant deployed to LNU Complex so far

As residents re-enter areas close to the Walbridge and other wildfires, Cal Fire officials are asking the public to resist the urge to deploy their drones to see what has happened around their communities in their absence.

Cal Fire spokesman Jeremy Rahn acknowledged people have natural curiosity about seeing the fire, as well as damage to the landscape and neighborhoods.

But “if drones are flying, we can’t,” he said.

Weather conditions and heavy smoke in the area already have limited opportunities for air tankers and other aircraft to offer support to ground crews cutting containment lines through dense fuel in the Sonoma County hills where the 54,503-acre Walbridge fire is burning.

They were grounded again from flying over the burn zone for much of Tuesday. But Cal Fire Incident Commander Sean Kavanaugh said three of the mammoth “very large air tankers” and “two large air tankers” – converted DC-10 and 747 airliners – utilized Monday had spread 87,000 gallons of red fire retardant cross the entirety of the 551-square-mile LNU Lightning Complex Fire.

“To date, as of this morning, we’re up to 2.8 million gallons of retardant that’s been dumped on the LNU Complex, across the entire -- on all the fires that we’ve had -- combined, from the very beginning,” Kavanaugh said during a Tuesday morning briefing.

Keeping them in the air remains critical when weather permits, however, and there have been occasions elsewhere in the state when air assets have had to be grounded because of drones, Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers said.

“If you fly, we can’t,” he said.

2:30 PM: Napa evacuations downgraded; many still in effect

Several evacuation orders in Napa County have been reduced to warnings, effective at 2 p.m.:

Silverado Trail south from Deer Park Road to Highway 128/Sage Canyon Road, including Fawn Park, Madrone Knolls, Meadowood, Howell Mountain Road and roads off of Howell Mountain Road up to and including Conn Valley Road, Taplin Road, Rutherford Hill

Road and Long Ranch Road

Highway 128/Sage Canyon Road will be placed under an evacuation warning up to Chiles

Pope Valley Road

These areas remain under evacuation orders:

Highway 128/Sage Canyon from Chiles Pope Valley Road east to Highway 121/Moskowite Corners

Deer Park Road leading up to the communities of Deer Park and Anguin, along with all roads in between

Howell Mountain Road/Old Howell Mountain Road, from Conn Valley Road to

Deer Park Road

All other evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect.

Evacuation orders mean residents must leave immediately; warnings mean there is a potential threat to life and property and urge residents to be prepared to leave – and recommend anyone who needs extra time to evacuate do so.

2:15 PM: Lifted evacuations a “significant step” in Walbridge fire

The lifting of evacuation orders and warnings is an important step in the battle with the Walbridge fire, fire and government officials said Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a significant turning point,” said Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore. “This shows that we have the fire boxed in. We still have to be alert, but this is excellent news.”

Gore represents District 4, the northern and northeastern part of Sonoma County affected by the wildfire, including Windsor and Healdsburg.

Lynda Hopkins’ District 6, which encompasses the West County, has taken the worst hits from the fire and evacuations.

Gore also reminded residents returning to their homes to check around their properties, the buildings, gutters, utility lines, to make sure there are no embers that could relight.

Cal Fire also suggested residents consult their website readyforwildfire.org. for safety tips for returning home after a wildfire.

With the evacuation orders and warnings that were lifted Tuesday, fire and law enforcement officials stressed that the Walbridge fire is not fully out, nor even fully contained. Fire conditions can change dramatically and quickly.

2 PM: Good news, bad news on weather

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity overnight helped firefighters in their nine-day battle to contain the LNU Lightning Complex fire, a Cal Fire official said Tuesday.

“While we had more favorable weather which we’ve taken advantage of and continued to make progress,” Daniel Berlant, the agency’s assistant deputy director said, stating the good news.

But the oncoming return to warm, dry conditions is the bad news, he said, citing forecasts for 88 degrees in Santa Rosa and 101 in Ukiah on Friday.

Cal Fire’s Tuesday morning update said “extreme fire behavior with short and long-range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts.”

The National Weather Service forecast a high of 82 Tuesday afternoon in Santa Rosa, 83 on Wednesday, 86 Thursday and 89 Friday.

“Smoke and haze will continue to be an issue the next several days, with drier and warm conditions prevailing,” the agency said.

1:50 PM: Firefighters trying to squash “fingers” on the fire’s edge

Hemming in little tendrils of fire that sneak into valleys and crevices is another focus of firefighters on the line of the Walbridge fire Tuesday.

Going into Tuesday morning, the eastern edges of the fire began to slowly back down into some of the slopes and drainage areas, but remained under watch of Cal Fire personnel.

Efforts focused on slowing advances in the Peña Creek and Dorman Canyon areas west of Healdsburg and in the Sweetwater Springs area closer to Windsor.

Bull-dozer lines were established between the fire and northwest Windsor, the town said in an alert to residents.

But day Tuesday, firefighting on the eastern perimeter of the fire was continuing in the Peña Creek and Sweetwater Springs areas and other “fingers” off the main fire.

A little further north, residents along Mill Creek near Felta Road have been eyeing the fire’s movement in their hills west of Westside Road.

“That’s an issue we have to button up,” Cal Fire Chief Ben Nicholls said. “The fire’s edge there has a lot of fingers to it, so it’s not an even a line to work with. We’re working to construct lines to clean up those fingers there so we don’t have a fire that makes a run at a later point.”

12:45 p.m. Cal Fire assesses wildfire damage

The LNU Lightning Complex fire is now the state’s 14th most destructive wildfire, having destroyed 937 structures, Cal Fire reported Tuesday morning.

Statewide, the “lightning siege” that erupted Aug. 15 and spawned more than 650 new wildfires, has destroyed more than 1,400 structures and caused seven fatalities, including five in the LNU complex that spans Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties.

As damage assessment teams continue surveying the burn zone, the number of destroyed structures could grow to more than 3,000, Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said at a morning media briefing held at the Napa County Fairgrounds.

“There is nothing more stressful for evacuees than to know whether or not their home was able to survive the wildfire,” he said.

More than 13,000 lightning strikes have touched down, with 233 strikes in the past 24 hours that have ignited several new fires “but nothing like what we saw when the siege first started,” Berlant said.

The fires have scorched more than 1.25 million acres, collectively larger than the state of Delaware, and there are about two dozen major fires currently burning across California, he said.

The LNU Complex has burned nearly 353,000 acres and is 29% contained.

In Sonoma County, the Walbridge fire has covered 54,503 acres and is 17% contained, while the Meyers fire on the coast (2,360 acres) is 97% contained, according to a Cal Fire press release.

Cal Fire’s update earlier Tuesday said the LNU Lightning Complex fire threatened 30,500 structures.

12:35 PM: Evacuation orders lifted in several areas of Walbridge fire

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department has lifted evacuation orders and warnings on the Sonoma Coast, south of the Russian River and east of Dry Creek as of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

For an interactive map of evacuation zones, go here. To find your evacuation zone, go here.

Areas involved include:

Map Grid 1D1

East of the Sonoma Coast

North of the Russian River

West of Meyers Grade Road

South of Fort Ross Road

Map Grid 1D2

East of Meyers Grade Road

North of Russian River

West of Cazadero Highway

South of Fort Ross Road

Map Grid 1D3

East of the Cazadero Highway

North of Russian River

West and South of Old Cazadero Road

Map Grid 1C1

East of the Sonoma Coast

North of Fort Ross Road

West of the south fork of Gualala River

South Stewarts Point Skaggs Springs Road

Map Grid 1C2

East of the south fork of the Gualala River

North of Fort Ross Road

West and South of King Ridge Road

Map Grid 1E1

All areas south and west of Willow Creek Road

North of Coleman Valley Road and Wright Hill Road

East of the California Coastal National Monument (Bureau of Land Management property)

Map Grid 1E3

All areas south of the Russian River

West of Bohemian Highway

North and East of Coleman Valley Road and Willow Creek Road

Map Grid 1F1

All areas east of Bohemian Highway

North of Graton Road and Harrison Grade Road

West of Harrison Grade Road, Green Valley Road, and Highway 116

South of the Russian River

Map Grid 1F2

All areas south of the Russian River

East and North of Highway 116 (Pocket Canyon)

West of Martinelli Road

Map Grid 2C4

South and West of Asti Road

East of Highway 101

North of Highway 128

Map Grid 2F1

North of Canyon Road

West of Dutcher Creek Rd and the Dry Creek (the actual creek)

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 2G1

East of Highway 101

South and West of Highway 128

North of Alexander Valley Road

Map Grid 2K1

All areas North and East of Westside Road

South 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.

Map Grid WI-A (Town of Windsor)

North of Windsor River Road to the northern town limit

West of Highway 101 to the western town limit

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 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 4B1

All areas south of River Road from Martinelli Road to the intersection of River Rd at Trenton Road

West of Covey Road

North of Front Street/Highway 116

East of Martinelli Road

Map Grid 4C1

North of Guerneville Road

East of Covey Road and Highway 116

West of Laguna Rd

South of River Road

Map Grid 4D1

South of Pocket Canyon/Highway 116

East and North of Green Valley Road

West of Atascadero Creek

Map Grid 4D2

South and West of Highway 116

East of Atascadero Creek

North of Green Valley Road

River Road and Highway 116 will remain closed from the Hacienda Bridge to Old Cazadero Road. Highway 116 will also be closed at Drake Road coming into Guerneville. People going to the Monte Rio, Camp Meeker, Jenner and the Cazadero areas are encouraged to use alternate routes to return home.

All other areas under evacuation order are still closed. If you live in the above listed areas you are clear to return home. The Sheriff’s Office will send an alert for other areas as they are cleared to be reopened.

For the full text of the sheriff’s Nixle alert: https://local.nixle.com/alert/8202982/?sub_id=0

12:10 PM: Evacuation orders and warnings maybe lifted Tuesday afternoon

Cal Fire and Sonoma County authorities say more evacuation zones may be lifted Tuesday, allowing additional residents back into their communities.

As of midday, no moves had become official, but Cal Fire chiefs and law enforcement have said repopulation efforts are in the works.

“We are working on a repopulation plan and a reentry plan,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said. “Our overall hope is to get you home quickly and safely.”

He urged residents to be patient, saying the Walbridge fire is still uncontained and fire behavior could change at any moment.

“I don’t want to get hopes up or make promises we can’t keep,” he said.

Areas near the Meyers fire north of Jenner are being reopened and residents allowed back in and Highway 1 is open, Chief Chris Waters said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said his office and Cal Fire are working closely together Tuesday to determine which zones warnings can be safely lifted or downgraded.

Areas that didn’t burn will be “repopulated,” which allows residents to return to live in their homes without restriction.

Burned areas will be subject to “reentry” guidelines, he said, which means residents must prove their addresses, have safety gear and leave at dark.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” he said.

12:00 PM: Air quality fluctuates across North Bay, wood-burning still banned through Wednesday

Sonoma County residents woke up to healthier air Tuesday morning while inland areas were less fortunate, seeing dangerous levels of pollution continue to linger as firefighters make progress on high-elevation wildfires across the North Bay.

Conditions region-wide were expected to deteriorate over the course of the day as wildfire smoke settled in, giving way to unhealthy levels of air particles that could threaten people with heath risks or children.

The air quality index in Sonoma County was forecast to reach 139 by Tuesday afternoon, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The morning hours were healthy, with the index scale at 40 and below between midnight and 9 a.m.

The federal standard for healthy air an index level 100 or less.

The same 139 high was expected in Napa County Tuesday where morning conditions were already at an unhealthy level before noon, reaching 116.

A Spare the Air alert, banning all wood-burning and fires indoors and outside was expected to continue through Wednesday.

Check the air quality in your area here.

8:25 AM: State and federal emergency assistance now available

Those who suffered losses from the ongoing wildfires are now able to register for federal financial assistance, the state Office of Emergency Services Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Tuesday morning.

Visit disasterassistance.gov for more information.

Those affected by fires in Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Monterey, Solano, Yolo, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties may be eligible for assistance from FEMA.

Grants may help eligible residents with financial assistance that includes rent, home repair, home replacement and other disaster-related needs such as childcare, medical and dental expenses.

The agencies recommend that anyone who has suffered losses contact their insurance companies first.

But for losses not covered by insurance, people can register for disaster assistance in three ways: online through disasterassistance.gov, by using the FEMA app or by calling 800-621-3362.

7:25 AM: Another successful night on the fire lines

Firefighters battling the Walbridge fire in northwest Sonoma County had another successful night, halting the flames’ progress and increasing containment to 17 percent as of 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The Walbridge fire stretches from west of Highway 101 near Healdsburg almost to Cazadero, and north of Rio Nido to Lake Sonoma, burning 54,503 acres, a figure that firefighters kept static overnight.

Containment lines were strengthened at the northern end of the fire at Lake Sonoma.

The Meyers fire remained at 2,360 acres along the coast near Fort Ross north of Jenner and was estimated to be 97 percent controlled by Tuesday morning. Many residents of that area were allowed to return home Monday as evacuation orders were loosened.

Overall, the group of fires Cal Fire calls the Lightning Complex in multiple counties totaled 352,913 acres by Tuesday morning and was 27 percent contained.

The bulk of that number comes from the Hennessey fire that began in Napa County and now covers 294,602 acres, an increase of about 1,400 from Monday, and is 29 percent contained.

Firefighters have taken advantage of cooler, more humid weather conditions – and additional fire crews coming in from out of the region – to help stem the fires’ progress.

Though smoky skies have been the norm in the area, the National Weather Service forecast a small improvement in that today.

Still, the air quality is expected to be poor and Tuesday is another Spare the Air Day, according to the Bay Area Air Quality District.

As local, regional and state firefighters continue to fight the multiple fires, they are welcoming reinforcements.

Crews from Culver City, Folsom, Beverly Hills, Rancho Santa Fe and several from Washington state have staged at the Calistoga Fairgrounds and other locations to lend assistance and offer much-needed rest to the 2,194 firefighters and other personnel battling the fires.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day as details become available.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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