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Latest: 90,000 Sonoma County residents evacuated ahead of Kincade fire

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Sonoma County evacuation map

More than 83,000 people in Sonoma County between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean were ordered to evacuate Saturday night as authorities grew increasingly concerned the Kincade fire could burn all the way to the coast.

The expanded evacuation zone, announced Saturday evening, is the largest mass evacuation in Sonoma County history.

Residents of Healdsburg, Windsor, Graton, Guerneville, Jenner, Bodega Bay and a sprawling area in between were ordered to leave their homes as Cal Fire braced for the arrival of a powerful windstorm that could drive flames west.

On Saturday morning, authorities ordered more than 44,000 people along the Highway 101 corridor between Geyserville and Windsor to flee, clogging southbound Highway 101 with traffic as residents sought to reach safety.

At dusk, authorities expanded the mandatory evacuation zone to include an additional 43,000 residents in west Sonoma County, between Highway 101 and the coast, who were warned earlier in the day to prepare to evacuate if conditions turn for the worse.

Two new areas were placed under evacuation warnings: a section of west county surrounding Sebastopol that extends east to Fulton Road and south to Two Rock; and, a section north and east of Santa Rosa, to the northeast of Highway 12, including Calistoga and Petrified Forest roads to the Sonoma/Napa county line. Evacuation from these areas is not mandatory, but authorities encourage residents to be prepared to flee.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick urged people living in the mandatory evacuation zone to leave the area before 4 p.m., one hour before PG&E was scheduled to turn off power in the North Bay to prevent its equipment from sparking fires during a windstorm that is expected to reach historic proportions.

“You cannot fight this. If you are under an evacuation order, you must leave,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said at a 6:30 p.m. news conference.

The difference between Saturday’s evacuation orders and the deadly 2017 wildfires, Essick said, is the time to give residents advance warning so they have time to flee.

The winds are expected to shift abruptly between 9 and 11 p.m. tonight, bringing gusts that could reach 60 to 80 mph from the northeast, National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said. The winds, which could push the Kincade fire to the southwest and population centers along the Highway 101 corridor, will not begin to ease until midday Sunday, resulting in an unusually long and intense wind event, he said.

“We are prioritizing safety right now for what is potentially the worst-case scenario,” Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said.

Here’s the latest information about the Kincade fire:

10:30 p.m.

Authorities added a section of north Santa Rosa to an evacuation warning zone, notifying residents to be prepared to leave if conditions worsen.

The zone includes all areas of the city north of Guerneville Road, Steele Lane, Lewis Road, Chanate Road and Montecito Boulevard. It stretches east to Calistoga Road and west to city limits.

It includes Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, two sections of the city ravaged by the 2017 wildfires.

Evacuation zones can be viewed on the updated Sonoma County Incident Map.

7:15 p.m.

The Kincade fire grew to 25,955 acres by nightfall Saturday, but firefighters were still only able to build containment lines around 11% of the blaze.

Sonoma County evacuation map

The fire has destroyed 77 structures and damaged 14 since it broke out Wednesday night in the hills northeast of Geyserville. But it threatens to overrun 23,500 structures, Cal Fire warned in its day-end incident report.

Full containment is not anticipated until Nov. 7.

There were 2,830 firefighters battling the flames, supported by 251 engines, 25 water tenders, 10 helicopters, 50 bulldozers and 68 hand crews. Numerous air tankers from throughout the state are flying fire suppression missions, as conditions allow, Cal Fire said.

6:50 p.m.

The following evacuation centers are open in response to the Kincade fire. All evacuation centers are prepared to accept people with small animals. No identification is needed to stay at an evacuation shelter, and English and Spanish-speaking staff will be there to make shelters safe, supportive places for all.

Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa

Petaluma Fairgrounds, 100 Fairgrounds Dr., Petaluma

Petaluma Veterans Building, 1094 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma

Petaluma Community Center. 320 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma

Sonoma County Fairgrounds (Large animals only), 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

6 p.m.

Mandatory evacuations have been extended from Highway 101 all the way to the coast, more than tripling the size of the evacuation zone at the start of the day Saturday.

The news came via emergency alerts, and also includes extended evacuation warning zones between Rohnert Park and Bodega Bay and the Rincon Valley area.

The updated Sonoma County Incident Map officially extends mandatory evacuations into Mark West-Larkfield area that burned during the Tubbs fire in October 2017.

5:45 p.m.

After hours of gridlock along southbound Highway 101, the main north-south evacuation route began clearing about 4 p.m. north of Santa Rosa.

Residents quickly heeded the mandatory evacuation announcement, which led to miles of congestion Saturday morning and into the early afternoon.

Officials opened three evacuation shelters at the beginning of the day, and planned to open more as the day wore on.

4:44 p.m.

More than 20 Sonoma County school districts will be closed Monday because of the Kincade fire, evacuations, PG&E’s planned outage and air quality concerns. Those districts are: Alexander Valley School District, Bennett Valley School District, Forestville School District, Geyserville Unified School District, Harmony School District, Healdsburg Unified School District, Mark West Union School District, Monte Rio Union School District, Oak Grove Union School District, Piner-Olivet Union School District, Rincon Valley Union School District, Roseland School District, Santa Rosa City Schools District, Sebastopol Union School District, Twin Hills Union School District, West Side Union School District, West Sonoma County Union High School District, Windsor Unified School District, Wright School District, Reach Charter School, Village Charter School, Kid Street Charter School and Sebastopol Independent Charter School.

4:00 p.m.

Healdsburg resident Marci Cook doesn’t think the fire will reach her small ranch at the base of the Dry Creek Valley west of Highway 101. But with a cornucopia of animals depending on her, Cook said she couldn’t risk staying home. So she, along with friend Jamie Worthington, packed up her two horses, an emu, a goat, some chickens, parakeets, cockatiels, turkeys, dogs and cats, and headed Saturday afternoon for Santa Rosa where a friend has some land for the animals.

Cook did leave one animal behind - a wild boar. The tusks don’t travel well with other animals.

Cook stopped one last time to fill up with gas in Healdsburg before heading south on Highway 101, which in the early afternoon was a log jam of cars doing the same.

Cook once hosted victims of the October 2017 wildfires, but she’s never in her 35 years of living in Healdsburg experienced a fire so close to home.

“The Pocket Fire was threatening, but not like this,” Cook said.

Ben Garcia has lived in north Healdsburg for 15 years, but he’s been in Sonoma County all his life. He said he’s worried because of the forecasts for wind, but he hasn’t done much to prepare his house.

“If it’s gonna burn, at this point there’s not much you can do,” he said.

Garcia was putting gas in his truck before heading to stay with his sister in Santa Rosa. He said he’s glad he has a place to stay instead of relying on a public shelter.

Kathryn Huck has spent the past couple of days hosting her son and his friends, who evacuated from Geyserville.

This morning, Huck realized they would all have to leave after mandatory evacuation orders came down for a wide area surrounding the Kincade Fire, including Healdsburg.

Still, Huck said she’s not too worried.

“I live in a vineyard where I watered and I’m sure the vineyard watered before, so I don’t feel really threatened,” she said.

Still, she said she agreed with the early evacuation order. Huck plans to stay with family in Santa Rosa. She picked a first aid kit, clothes, blankets, medicine and food.

3:05 p.m.

The Minaglia family has lived along Bailhache Avenue in Healdsburg for about five generations, going back to 1897.

John Minaglia Jr., his father John Minaglia and brothers Francis, Paul and George don’t plan to leave anytime soon.

John Jr. was checking up on the property about 2 p.m., opening gates to some 400 acres of rangeland for easier access for firefighters. He’s aware of the evacuation order, but he has a different plan.

“Tough it out; fight like hell if I have to,” John Jr. said.

His mom and sister went to Santa Rosa. John Sr., 96, refused to go.

“He said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m gonna do that,’” John Jr. said. “I’d just as soon die right here if I have to.”

The family runs Minaglia Vineyard and Minaglia Ranch along Bailhache Avenue, a narrow, winding passage that dead-ends, offering just one way out of the area for those risking their lives to stay.

John Jr. said he plans to put out spot fires and do his best to save the house, but he didn’t seem too concerned, either.

“It’s gonna have to jump the Russian River to get here,” he said. “These winds, they can’t be anything I’ve experienced if it’s gonna be that bad. You’d think the apocalypse is upon us.”

2:36 p.m.

Santa Rosa Junior College announced that all campuses will be closed through Sunday because of the evacuations and power outages across the county.

2:35 p.m.

In Healdsburg, not everyone is heeding the evacuation order. Lupe Medrano was rigging a makeshift sprinkler system at about 1:30 p.m. outside his front door on Bailhache Avenue in Healdsburg.

The road was soaked, but so was the house. Medrano said he’s planning to stay.

“We’re going to try to save it,” he said.

A couple of nephews will stay with him. His wife and granddaughter were en route to the shelter in Santa Rosa.

Medrano, who has worked for Alexander Valley Vineyards for 36 years, said he knows it’s dangerous. Deputies from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department had already been by the house warning of the mandatory evacuation.

But his wife has owned the property for years, and he doesn’t want to lose it.

Asked what he’d do if the fire came too close, Medrano laughed.

“Maybe dig up a hole and bury myself, or hop in the pool in the back,” he said.

2:10 p.m.

Cal Fire and Sonoma County officials said the mandatory evacuation order issued for Windsor and Healdsburg includes unincorporated areas of those two communities. Officials said the “extreme wind storm” will begin Saturday night and continue throughout the day Sunday.

The mandatory evacuation affects 44,374 residents, county officials said. Additional evacuation warnings affect another 43,411 residents. For more information on the evacuations visit SoCoEmergency.org.

2 p.m.

Santa Rosa City Schools announced all schools would be closed Monday. For a complete list of city campuses visit srcschools.org.

1:40 p.m.

A massive air tanker dropped its first load of retardant just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday north of Pine Flat Road in the rugged Mayacamas Mountains outside Geyserville, sign of the aggressive firefight underway to gain ground on the wildly out of control Kincade fire.

The low-flying plane shook homes on the edge of the Alexander Valley near the hills.

“Oh wow, that is a welcome sight,” said Dave Huebel, 40, a vineyard manager for Hafner Vineyard.

Huebel had originally intended to take his family to Forestville, but the evacuation warning issued for the entire west Sonoma County forced him to change plans. They now were headed to a family friend’s house in Fort Bragg.

Saturday, the most active part of the fire remained on upper Pine Flat Road, where fire activity increased Friday even without wind, leading to a major flare-up that sent flames and embers across the road. Several thousand acres burned in the direction of Knights Valley.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said firefighters are giving the blaze space to burn in hard-to-reach canyons and building fire breaks before it threatens more populated areas.

“That’s still the most active fire,” Turbeville said.

1:30 p.m.

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies are currently going door to door in Windsor and Healdsburg, ordering people to evacuate the area and placing yellow caution tape on homes where a warning has been issued.

1:25 p.m.

Just before 1 p.m., traffic on southbound Highway 101 between Santa Rosa and Windsor was at a standstill, but creeping along between Healdsburg and Windsor.

Gas stations are extremely busy with every pump being utilized. Expect long lines at gas stations closer to the highway. The Healdsburg Community Center was fully evacuated by noon, with emergency staff using buses for those who did not have transportation.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, visiting the Healdsburg Community Center, said there are buses ready for those who don’t have vehicles, staged at Healdsburg City Hall until 3 p.m.

So far, it looks like people are obeying the evacuation order, he said. “I can’t stress enough how extreme this wind event is going to be,” he said.

National Weather Service and local emergency officials said the wind event later today and tonight could bring gusts between 60 and 80 mph at higher elevations. Sustained winds are expected to be as high as 40 mph.

In downtown Healdsburg, business owners spent the afternoon packing their shop merchandise and locking up their store fronts. At an art gallery on Healdsburg Avenue, workers packed what looked like valuable pieces of art.

At the Healdsburg Community Center, staff were still packing up food to take to other evacuation centers like the one in Santa Rosa.

12:35 p.m.

The crush of people heading south from Healdsburg and Windsor through Santa Rosa has backed up traffic on Highway 101 significantly.

Healdsburg residents who do not have cars to evacuate can report to City Hall at 401 Grove St., where buses are waiting to take people out of the city. State Sen. Mike McGuire advised residents on Twitter to report to City Hall by 3 p.m.

11:50 a.m.

A Sonoma County Incident Map related to the Kincade fire shows an evacuation warning zone extending from Highway 101 all the way to the coast, marking an area three times the size of the current evacuation zone.

Authorities ordered nearly 50,000 people in Healdsburg and Windsor to evacuate and warned an equal number of residents living in west Sonoma County to be prepared to flee, if needed.

West county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins urged her constituents to be ready.

“We all need to be aware that this fire, when the winds pick up tonight, can move extremely fast,” Hopkins said following the 10 a.m. news conference. “There is no part of the county between the fire and the coast that is safe from this fire. It’s critical to be prepared and be ready to evacuate.”

Along with the vast expanse of west county, an evacuation warning has also been extended to the south and east of Windsor, approaching Santa Rosa and covering the Mark West-Larkfield area that was charred in the October 2017 Tubbs fire.

Residents in Healdsburg and Windsor were scrambling to evacuate by the 4 p.m. deadline imposed by emergency officials. Among them, residents who had already evacuated to the Healdsburg Community Center, 1557 Healdsburg Ave.

Ariel Kelley, CEO of the nonprofit Corazon Healdsburg, who has helped run the shelter, said residents there this morning were calm, and the evacuation was moving smoothly.

“People kind of knew it was likely to happen,” she said. “Once it was confirmed, it was like, ‘OK, we’re moving into executing that plan.’”

Part of the evacuation plan includes buses from local school districts and the city of Santa Rosa which are staged in Healdsburg and Windsor to provide transportation to evacuees who need it, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said in the news conference.

10:40 a.m.

Sonoma County emergency officials ordered about 50,000 people — including all residents of Healdsburg, Windsor, greater Geyserville and the Knights Valley to the Napa County line — to evacuate before dark Saturday in anticipation of strong winds and a planned power outage, compounded by the threat of the still mostly out-of-control Kincade fire.

Steady winds were expected to hit the region by 8 p.m. followed by an “abrupt wind shift” forecast for 11 p.m. that could bring sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts between 60 and 80 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

“We are prioritizing safety right now for what is potentially the worst-case scenario,” Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said during a Saturday morning press briefing.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said officials did not make the evacuation decision lightly, and urged residents in impacted areas to head for one of three shelters: Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.; Petaluma Veterans Building, 1094 Petaluma Blvd.; and the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, 175 Fairgrounds Dr. Essick said officials want residents out of the evacuation zones by 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re evacuating because this fire is very dangerous, and it is expected to move toward Healdsburg and Windsor this evening,” Essick said.

Those who aren’t physically able to evacuate are urged to call 911. Those with general questions are asked to call 211.

“This is going to be a trying time for us,” Essick said.

As evacuations commence, Cal Fire crews are working Saturday to build fire breaks before the winds arrive.

Even without much wind Friday, crews struggled to build strong containment lines around Kincade fire, losing ground at Pine Flat Road when a major flare-up sent the fire charging in the direction of Knights Valley.

Also Friday, authorities issued evacuation warnings for Lake County communities on the fire’s northeastern flank, including Cobb Mountain communities of Gifford Springs, Whispering Pines, Anderson Springs, Adams Springs, Hobergs, Cobb as well as those living on Ford Flat and Socrates Mine roads.

When the windstorm arrives, Cal Fire fire behavior analyst Capt. Stephen Volmer expects the Kincade fire to grow dramatically and “long-range spotting to ignite new fires.” He warned the fire could run down southwest drainages toward the Highway 101 corridor.

“Any ignition that does happen will travel extremely fast,” Volmer said.

The evacuation order comes amid conditions officials have called eerily similar to the conditions that helped drive the deadly October 2017 wildfires, which killed 24 people and destroyed more than 5,300 homes in Sonoma County.

Sonoma County Supervisor Chairman David Rabbitt said seeing the equipment rolling in, the smell of smoke and more have brought him back to those fires — fires from which the county is still recovering.

“Then to have the meteorologist tell us that the wind event tonight might be as bad or worse than two years ago, with the fire only 10% controlled, it’s just a bad scenario right now,” Rabbitt said.

Along with Healdsburg and Windsor being under mandatory evacuation orders, officials have warned parts of west county of the potential for evacuations. Supervisor James Gore said firefighters will focus much of their energy on keeping the fire from jumping Highway 101, but with high winds, it may still happen.

“There’s certainly a knot in your stomach,” Rabbitt said. “We saw two years ago the chaos in the middle of the night.”

The order to evacuate comes ahead of a planned PG&E power shutdown impacting vast swaths of the county, including Windsor and Healdsburg and the west county. Officials urged residents to evacuate before 4 p.m. today so they beat the shutdown, the high wind event and darkness.

The evacuation will be a massive undertaking and could resemble those of two years ago, when all traffic on Highway 101 was diverted south, with no vehicles allowed to go northbound.

“The sheriff did a great job in terms of the evacuations in Alexander Valley,” Rabbitt said. “That is small compared to what’s going to happen today.”

Rabbitt said he’s hopeful everyone in the mandatory evacuation zones heed the warning and get out.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the west county, said her constituents need to be prepared to get out. West county wasn’t impacted by the fires two years ago, but residents did suffer damage during the floods of early 2019.

Hopkins’ main concern is a sense of rugged individualism that pervades much of this part of Sonoma County, and she urged residents to think of their safety.

10 a.m.

Authorities Saturday announced mandatory evacuations for a large portion of the Highway 101 corridor in Sonoma County including the city of Healdsburg and Town of Windsor, expanding mandatory evacuations already in place for the town of Geyserville.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for Knights Valley along Highway 128 to the Napa County Line.

“We want you to start evacuating now,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said. “We’d like you to be out of your homes and out of the area before 4 p.m. We’d like to get you out before it’s dark.”

The sheriff said the evacuations impact an estimated 50,000 residents.

Concerned the fire could jump Highway 101, officials also warned communities west of Highway 101 to prepare to evacuate.

Called an evacuation warning zone, that includes two areas:

— The Dry Creek valley to Forestville

— Larkfield and Mark West springs drainage

8:15 a.m.

High winds forecast for the Kincade fire will actually have a positive effect on air quality, according to information from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The district warned of smoke impacts through Saturday, when a gentle north wind pushed smoke from the fire over Santa Rosa and beyond, causing air quality issues in the immediate Bay Area.

“Winds are expected to increase significantly starting Saturday evening and, if there are no additional fires, will help move smoke out of the region,” according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District release.

Still, the agency warns residents should avoid exposure if they smell smoke, staying inside if possible with windows and doors closed.

The effects could be compounded by a planned PG&E power shutoff, potentially dialing up the heat in residents’ homes with no way to cool the interior. The district recommends people seek relief at a filtered air location such as a public library, shopping mall or movie theater. Board member Shirlee Zane said there will be some backup generators at larger public gathering places.

8 a.m.

According to a Cal Fire update early Saturday morning, numerous road closures remain in effect surrounding the Kincade fire.

The following road closures are in effect: Highway 128 at Geyserville Avenue; Pine Flat Road at Red Winery Road; Geysers Road at Red Winery Road; Highway 128 at Moody Lane; Highway 128 at Geysers Road; Geysers Road at River Road; Highway 128 at Alexander Valley Road; Highway 128 at Pine Flat Road; Highway 128 at Railroad Avenue; Lytton Station Road at Lytton Springs Road; Healdsburg Avenue at Alexander Valley Road; and all roads east of Highway 101 in the Geyserville area.

Cal Fire will host a 10 a.m. news conference to provide further updates.

7:30 a.m.

The Kincade fire grew overnight to 25,455 acres, but firefighters have boosted containment to 10% during a crucial period before winds are expected to fan the northeastern Sonoma County fire that has already destroyed 49 structures and injured two residents.

A 7:30 a.m. Cal Fire said the steep terrain and narrow roads made firefighting difficult and slow. The response has grown to include more than 2,000 personnel, 179 engines, 24 water tenders, 10 helicopters, 53 hand crews and 24 bulldozers. In addition, numerous air tankers from throughout the state continue to fly fire suppression missions as conditions allow, according to the latest update.

As the Kincade fire continues to rage ahead of what meteorologists are predicting will be a massive, historic wind event this weekend, Healdsburg officials worry they may have to evacuate dozens of people from the current evacuation shelter.

By late Friday, the fire had grown to more than 25,000 acres, and portions of northern, unincorporated Healdsburg have been under evacuation warnings since Friday night.

If forecasted winds push the fire further south and west, and Healdsburg is evacuated, officials as of yesterday planned to bus evacuees to Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.

Since 12 a.m. Thursday, the Healdsburg Community Center, 1557 Healdsburg Ave., has hosted evacuees from the fire’s path, including a large influx of people from Geyserville when that town faced mandatory evacuation orders early Thursday morning.

Ariel Kelley, president of nonprofit Corazon Healdsburg, is helping run the shelter, and she said 87 people stayed the night in the shelter Friday night. She expects more today, as the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office will be strictly enforcing the Geyserville evacuation order.

Kelley’s organization has already moved 62 people representing 15 families into Healdsburg hotels since evacuation orders began. The community center is not near capacity, which is more than 200 people, but Kelley said officials wanted the families to have a more comfortable place to stay.

That may soon change, as wind gusts up to 80 mph are predicted at high elevations this weekend. That, coupled with a planned PG&E power shutoff of unprecedented scale, could further stress resources.

Kelley said via text message Saturday morning there is a backup plan in place to evacuate the shelter if necessary, although no plan has yet been launched.

Officials will talk with the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center and Cal Fire about 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with Kelley calling it a fluid situation.

“Imagine the news is not positive, but waiting to see if the weather predictions are still confirmed,” Kelley said.

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