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Kincade fire in Geyserville 5 percent contained, no reports of missing people

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Read this story in Spanish here.

Here are the latest updates on the Kincade fire burning in northeast Sonoma County.

7:32 p.m.

The Kincade fire in northern Sonoma County now stands at 16,000 acres, according to Cal Fire Incident Commander Mike Parkes, who spoke at a news conference in Geyserville on Thursday evening.

Crews battling the wildfire that broke out Wednesday night have achieved 5 percent containment and are working to build control lines, Parkes said. About 1,300 personnel are fighting the blaze, and that number could increase to as many as 2,000 people as early as Friday.

As of Thursday evening, no deaths have been reported from the fire and there are no reports of missing people, said Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick. He could not provide any details on injuries or people treated for smoke inhalation.

Officials at Thursday night’s media briefing could not immediately provide information on emergency calls regarding the medically vulnerable.

So far, 49 structures have been confirmed to have been destroyed by the Kincade fire, according to officials at the briefing.

7:15 p.m.

Two school districts in northern Sonoma County will be closed on Friday due to the threat posed by the Kincade fire.

The Alexander Valley and Geyserville Unified school districts will not open Friday, according to an announcement by the county Office of Education. Additional updates were scheduled at 8 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday.

All schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools district will be open on Friday after PG&E ended a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) and restored electricity to four schools Thursday afternoon. All after-school programs will occur on Friday unless schools have said otherwise.

Maria Carrillo High, Rincon Valley Middle, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School and Hidden Valley Elementary were closed Thursday. The four schools dismissed students early on Wednesday because of traffic concerns.

PG&E expects another blackout Saturday night, which could result in the closure of some schools on Monday.

Six districts in Sonoma County closed some or all of their schools Thursday. Most announced closures Wednesday in response to the PG&E planned power shutdown that started Wednesday affecting about 27,000 customers in Sonoma County.

Any additional updates will be posted at scoe.org/schoolclosures.

5 p.m.

Late Thursday afternoon, Cal Fire officials still had no update on how much an out-of-control wildfire burning near Geyserville in northeast Sonoma County had grown throughout the day, having already hit 10,000 acres by dawn.

The fierce winds that battered the region Wednesday night had died down some by mid-morning, allowing firefighters to begin trying to build fire breaks around the fire.

But that meant noxious smoke from the blaze remained close, thwarting some daytime efforts to battle the fire from the air and obscuring efforts to build an accurate sense of its size, according to Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal and acting spokesman for the Kincade fire.

“The winds have died down some, but nonetheless the fuels are still burning unchecked,” Lowenthal said.

Firefighting teams from throughout the region were coming into Sonoma County as Cal Fire prepared to bolster its resources here in advance of another wind storm — forecast to bring stronger winds — forecast to arrive Saturday.

Read this story in Spanish here.

3 p.m.

Cal Fire officials are setting up their base camp for the Kincade effort at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds — just as they did for the deadly wildland fires in October 2017.

With base camp at the fairgrounds, dozens and dozens of fire engines and other equipment will be moving through Santa Rosa.

“We put the message out to let the community know, they’re going to see a significant increase of emergency vehicles in the city limits and the county,” said Paul Lowenthal, fire spokesman.

While it’s been two years since the Tubbs, Nuns and other devastating fire burned through parts of Sonoma County, the Kincade fire was kicking in still‑fresh memories for many, Lowenthal said.

“People were waking up (Thursday) to the smoke in the sky and the glow at dawn up in the hills. There are a lot of eerie similarities to this event.”

2:45 p.m.

A firefighting force of more than 500 and growing now is on the Kincade fire.

While Cal Fire officials continue to label the blaze as 10,000 acres, it’s larger. The lack of wind, while helping with the firefight, hindered officials efforts to analyze the fire’s size as the smoke remain heavy over the area, said Paul Lowenthal, fire spokesman.

“It’s an uncontained fire so it’s growing in all directions, predominantly growing in directions the wind decides to push it,” Lowenthal said. “That’s changing throughout the day.”

More accurate numbers for the people and equipment involved and the fire’s size was due Thursday evening.

Spot fires remained an issue, along with the critical dry conditions, afternoon temperatures due to get into the upper 90s and steep, rugged terrain. But the winds dipped Thursday, offering a chance to get some containment on the fire.

“The goal today was to get as much line and containment in place today and tomorrow. We wanted to take advantage of the lesser winds before we receive yet another round of significant gusty wind (Saturday),” he said.

1:55 p.m.

Another fire broke out Thursday in Santa Rosa, this one at a home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood.

The fire was reported about 1 p.m. at Stonefield Lane, located just south of Fountaingrove Lake, Santa Rosa’s Deputy Fire Chief Scott Westrope said.

The blaze was contained within 30 minutes and was stopped from spreading to nearby properties, Westrope said.

Nearby Thomas Lake Harris Drive was closed to drivers at Fountaingrove Parkway and Gullane Drive, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chad Heiser said.

Firefighters meanwhile are mopping up a three‑acre brush fire across town in Annadel State Park.

‑Nashelly Chavez

12:10 p.m.

While the main fire battle is in the hills and ridges above Healdsburg and Geyserville, fires Thursday also broke out at Henry Trione-Annadel State Park and in Marin County’s coast between Muir and Stinson beaches.

The fire at the east Santa Rosa state park was being held to about three acres, but the Marin County fire was growing, said Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine.

“We’ve got a lot of people at the fire near The Geysers, a lot of folks at the fire at Annadel and we’re trying to support our partners in Marin,” said Heine late Thursday morning.

“Sonoma County now is still under a significant fire weather threat and we’re facing a much worse threat coming in on Saturday night and Sunday,” Heine said. “We’re stretched thin right now but all of our fire stations are staffed, and agencies have called all of their off‑duty people back to duty.”

‑Randi Rossmann

10:40 a.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday announced that federal money now is available to help with Sonoma County’s fire.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will reimburse up to 75 percent of the cost of the local and state response to the 10,000-acre and growing fire.

“We are grateful for the swift approval of our request to ensure all resources are available to support the heroic work of our firefighters and first responders working to contain this fire and keep local communities safe,” said Governor Newsom in a news release.

‑ Randi Rossmann

10:30 a.m.

Roughly 2,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes as the Kincade fire spread through parts of northeast Sonoma County, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Misti Wood said.

About 300 of those evacuations were carried out in the initial hours after the 9:27 p.m. blaze broke out, when the Sheriff’s Office issued the two evacuations orders east of Geyserville, first at 10:34 p.m. and again at 12:23 p.m., Wood said. A third evacuation order was placed on Geyserville just before 6:30 a.m.

Deputies knocked on doors of businesses and homes, while playing hi-lo sirens from their patrol cars. The hi‑lo sirens are a new addition to the county’s warning system to alert people to a major emergency. They also sent geographically targeted Nixle alerts to people in the evacuation zones, Wood said.

The county’s emergency services office also sent mobile alerts to notify people of the evacuation orders, Wood said.

‑Nashelly Chavez

10:20 a.m.

Three Sonoma County strike teams – on duty Wednesday because of the fire weather — were some of the first to get into The Geysers when the fire was reported, said veteran fire official Jack Piccinini, who is leading one of the strike teams.

“Our strike team went straight up Geysers Road, headed into the (geothermal) plant. This thing was moving so fast, spotting out ahead of us,” Piccinini said.

Piccinini, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman and Santa Rosa fire Capt. Jack Thomas led the local team of 65 firefighters and 15 engines, making a stand along Geysers Road. “We thought we could do some firing along the road, keep it on one side of Geysers Road. But the wind kept blowing harder and harder,” Piccinini said.

The group did hold back flames along Hawkeye Ranch Road. “The crews did an awesome job, we saved 6-8 houses.”

The fire burned down the ridges to the Alexander Valley but was stopped from spreading onto the valley floor, he said. “Down to the casinos, the vineyards, the wineries, the crews stopped it. I think we were really, really successful. Although some beautiful homes did get lost.”

‑ Randi Rossmann

9:34 a.m.

Officials announced additional school closures:

West Side School

John B. Riebli Elementary School in Mark West Union School District

Here’s the current complete list:

Alexander Valley School District

Cloverdale Unified School District

Geyserville Unified School District

Healdsburg Unified School District

John B. Riebli Elementary School in Mark West Union School District

Rincon Valley Union School District (six schools only: Whited, Binkley, Madrone, Sequoia and Austin Creek elementary schools; Rincon Valley Charter School - Sequoia Campus)

Santa Rosa City Schools District (four schools only: Hidden Valley Elementary, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter, Rincon Valley Middle and Maria Carrillo High School)

West Side School District

Any additional updates will be posted at scoe.org/schoolclosures.

9:25 a.m.

Thursday’s high temperatures now will soar into the upper 90s in area of Sonoma County and the North Bay and the National Weather Service is issuing a heat advisory alert for the valleys and coast.

Wind gusts reached 76 mph in The Geysers during the night, where the fire started and while those are due to ease today and Friday, strong winds are due Saturday night through Sunday, at similar gust strength, said Meteorologist Anna Schneider.

Thursday’s red flag warning still was expected to end at 4 p.m. Thursday but weather officials were working on issuing another for the weekend, Schneider said.

‑ Randi Rossmann

8:30 a.m.

By 8 a.m., the Healdsburg Community Center shelter had registered an influx of at least 50 people stemming from mandatory evacuations in Geyeserville, said Katherine Hargitt, a licensed clinical psychologist and trauma specialist who is volunteering with the Red Cross at the shelter.

The Healdsburg shelter, at 1557 Healdsburg Ave., was directing traffic to overflow parking at the back of the community center. Hargitt said the shelter will be open as long as there are mandatory evacuations. She said she hasn’t heard of any additional shelters opening, saying the Healdsburg Community Center has plenty of capacity remaining.

Hargitt started her day at the Windsor High School shelter at 1 a.m., saying that shelter processed seven people overnight, compared to a dozen in Healdsburg.

The Healdsburg shelter has seen families, some people with special needs, pets, including dogs, cats and birds. Many have come in looking for missing loved ones.

“People have come in, they probably have lost homes, they’re pretty agitated,” Haggitt said. “So a lot of people certainly distraught.”

Still others have used the shelter as a rallying point, regrouping, charging phones and planning next steps.

Coping with trauma

Hargitt said those who lost homes or experienced evacuations two years ago are re-living the experience – for many, the worst of their lives.

“There’s re-traumitization, big time,” she said. “For those who’ve lost, it’s tremendous.”

Hargitt is a licensed clinical psychologist and trauma specialist for the Red Cross. She lost a house to fire when she was young. She lost another to the floods in 2006.

“Driving this morning and seeing the fire, I get chilled and I get triggered as well,” she said. “So it’s really the piece of how I have the capacity to get grounded and centered. I can’t do my work if I can’t regulate myself.”

Hargitt recommends survivors take care of themselves. That could mean drinking water, remembering to eat. The key, Hargitt said, is trying to build a routine or rhythm even during this alien experience.

“That is already helpful,” Hargitt said. “Reaching out for help, connecting with other people.”

8:20 a.m.

The evacuation shelter is at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Hall, 1351 Maple Ave. in Santa Rosa.

Large animals are being accepted at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Rd. in Santa Rosa.

8:16 a.m.

Due to shifting winds, Cloverdale Unified School District and Healdsburg Unified School District closed all schools Thursday as a cautionary measure while the Kincaide fire burned to the east.

Six districts in Sonoma County have now closed some or all of their schools Thursday. Most announced closures Wednesday in response to the PG&E planned power shutdown that started Wednesday affecting about 27,000 customers in Sonoma County.

As of 7:30 a.m., the current list of school closures include:

Alexander Valley School District

Cloverdale Unified School District

Geyserville Unified School District

Healdsburg Unified School District

Rincon Valley Union School District (six schools only: Whited, Binkley, Madrone, Sequoia and Austin Creek elementary schools; Rincon Valley Charter School - Sequoia Campus)

Santa Rosa City Schools District (four schools only: Hidden Valley Elementary, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter, Rincon Valley Middle and Maria Carrillo High School)

Any additional updates will be posted at scoe.org/schoolclosures.

8:02 a.m.

Firefighters were preparing to defend the town of Geyserville from the possibility of wind-thrown embers.

Even as its strength lessened Thursday morning, the wind continued to be the major threat to homes and property and throwing embers far ahead of the fire front.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said an ember was thrown about a mile from the fire front onto a home off Red Winery Road that was destroyed.

“We lost a house out here, saved a barn,” Baxman said. “The fire brand came from the sky, the wind was blowing that intense.”

So far, firefighters have saved far more homes than they’ve lost, he said.

“People here worked their butts off saving houses and buildings,” Baxman said.

7:35 a.m.

With fewer than a dozen evacuees throughout the night, the shelter at 8695 Windsor Road was closed about 7 a.m., with traffic redirected to the Healdsburg Community Center, 1557 Healdsburg Ave.

Mary Ceglarski-Sherwin and her husband Matt Ceglarski-Sherwin lost their rental home off of Riebli Road two years ago during the Tubbs fire, and were packing up at the Windsor High School shelter to stay with their former landlord. Matt described the landlords as “like family,” as they experienced the Tubbs fire together.

The couple received a Nixle alert about 11:30 p.m., but were already asleep. Mary said her asthma woke her up at 2:30 a.m., and she noticed the alert. Their power was on.

They grabbed their small dogs, some clothes and the 72-hour emergency kits they’d acquired since the Tubbs fire before leaving their home along River Lane – about a half mile from the fire line – about 3 a.m.

“I told him, ‘we gotta go, we gotta go; I can feel it changing,’” Mary said. “By the time we got out there, we could feel the heat and see the smoke.”

Both said the conditions were much worse during the Tubbs fire, both when it comes to wind and warning.

“We lost everything up there; we got out of there with our clothes on our backs and our animals,” Matt said. “We had no warning for that fire.”

7:09 a.m.

The Kincade fire remained totally out-of-control and advancing toward Geyserville in north Sonoma County. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said the fire has flung embers ahead of the fire front, ignited small blazes closer to town including on Moody Lane, although no fire was reported at the nearby Geyserville New Technology Academy.

“We’re chasing embers, spot fires, trying to defend structures,” Turbeville said. “We don’t have any control or edge of the fire at this point.”

Cal Fire spokeswoman Amy Head said they are awaiting daylight to assess the fire and structure damage from the air. Head said they have no reports of injuries.

6:26 a.m.

The entire town of Geyserville has been ordered to evacuate, according to an alert from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

The Kincade fire burning north of town is at 10,000 acres.

Evacuation centers are at the Healdsburg Community Center and Windsor High School.

4:42 a.m.

The Kincade fire has now spread to 10,000 acres, Cal Fire said. The fire still has not been contained.

2:13 a.m.

The Kincade fire has now spread to 7,000 acres, Cal Fire said. The fire still has not been contained, and all existing evacuation orders are still in place.

2:02 a.m.

About 276 people were under the mandatory evacuation order Wednesday evening, said Rohish Lal at Sonoma County’s Emergency Operations Center. Lal, a spokesman for the county, said about 1,700 people were under an evacuation warning, meaning that people should be prepared to leave but aren’t required to do so. The Sheriff’s Office said it has halted issuing new evacuation orders for the moment, Lal said, but officials would continue monitoring the Kincade fire overnight to see if more evacuations would be needed.

1:40 a.m.

The National Weather Service reported a gust of 76 mph occurred near the Kincade fire. The highest wind speeds in the Bay Area have been in the North Bay on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

1:11 a.m.

In an emailed statement, PG&E said the Kincade fire is near the area affected by the power shut-off that the utility initiated Wednesday afternoon. PG&E said it does not have any more information about the fire.

Our 12:55 a.m. story is below:

A wildfire sparked in northeastern Sonoma County along the Lake County line Wednesday night, prompting mandatory evacuations north and east of Geyserville.

The Kincade fire had spread to about 5,000 acres by 12:30 a.m., according to state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers said the blaze near the Geysers area was burning at a “dangerous rate.” As of 11:30 p.m., there was no reported containment, according to Cal Fire.

The blaze started along Kincade Road near Burned Mountain Road in the area of the Geysers geothermal field. Winds in the area were blowing up to 60 mph from the northwest. Fire crews were forced to call off air attacks because of severe turbulence in the area, according to dispatch reports.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuation orders about midnight for all of Red Winery Road, all of Alexander Mountain Road, Highway 128 from Geysers Road to River Road including the River Rock Casino and all roads off River Road. The office also issued an evacuation warning for northern unincorporated Healdsburg and Geyserville, advising residents to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

McGuire said one of the biggest challenges firefighters were facing with the blaze was the sustained wind gusts in the area. He added that there has been increased firefighting staffing and resources sent to the area, calling it an “all-hands on deck effort.”

McGuire said there are hundreds of homes in the area, and reminded residents to follow all evacuation orders.

“This fire is burning fast,” McGuire said. “It’s dangerous, and winds are not our friends at this moment.”

County Supervisor James Gore reminded residents to be vigilant, adding that the one thing about this incident “that’s heartening” is that the county has many resources it didn’t have for the catastrophic wildfires two years ago, such as upstaffing for fire departments.

“This is an area that we expect fires,” Gore said. “This is what we’ve been preparing for.”

Thick smoke filled the air along Hawkeye Ranch Road, where people could be seen fleeing the fire. Some had horses in trailers, one had tubs of cannabis they were trucking down the mountain.

Firefighters said they expected the blaze to cross Geysers Peak and burn over the road toward vineyards on the eastern edge of the Alexander Valley. Just before midnight, the fire began cresting over the top of the ridge on Geysers Road, heading toward Hawk Eye Ranch Road.

There is no immediate threat to Windsor, the Sonoma County Fire District said at 11:25 p.m. An evacuation center was opening at Windsor High School and another was opening at the Healdsburg Community Center.

The fire drew so close to Alert Wildfire’s Geyser Peak camera that it switched from its infrared nighttime camera to the full-color daytime view.

Powers said officials hadn’t received reports of injuries or structures damage by the blaze, but added that it’s “early” on in the incident.

Some areas near the fire were in PG&E’s planned outage zone, and were among the 178,000 customers in the North Bay and Sierra foothills who lost power Wednesday afternoon in an initiative the utility said would reduce the risk of its power lines starting destructive wildfires.

Santa Rosa Fire Department said in a Nixle alert that its firefighters have received several reports of fires in the city, but all were determined to be people spotting the Kincade fire up north. There were no other fires burning in Santa Rosa at press time.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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