Kincade fire evacuees from west Sonoma County allowed to return home as most others wait
Lisa Frazee keeps calling home. Not the Wikiup house she lost two years ago in the Tubbs fire, but the phone in her east Windsor home that is perilously close to the wildfire now raging in the hills to the east.
The phone rings several times. And soon, Frazee hears the voice she desperately hopes to hear: “Hi, this is Lisa.”
It’s her answering machine. As long she can hear the sound of her own pre-recorded voice, she has reason to believe the fire has missed her home.
Frazee and her neighbors are among 155,000 people still under orders to evacuate homes and businesses in the potential path of the Kincade fire, which has enveloped more than 74,000 acres since it ignited in the northeast Sonoma County hills Wednesday night and prompted the largest evacuation in Sonoma County history.
About 30,000 residents were allowed to return to their homes Monday in a broad swath of west Sonoma County that stretches from Sebastopol, Forestville and Guerneville to the Pacific Ocean. But nearly a third of the county’s population remained under mandatory evacuation orders Monday evening, with no clear idea of when they will be permitted to return.
Even those allowed back to their homes in west county were warned to remain ready to evacuate immediately if the fire moves west, driven by gusty winds expected to arrive Tuesday morning and continue through Wednesday afternoon.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said he would confer with state fire officials and county emergency planners before making any decisions to lift the remaining evacuation orders — or implement new ones, a possibility he couldn’t rule out Monday ahead of the winds expected to rake the region.
“I would say it’s still a fluid situation with the wind event that’s coming up possibly Tuesday,” Essick said Monday morning at a news conference at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. “We’re going to continuously evaluate, work with Cal Fire, work with their intel to really determine what the best course of action would be.”
The evacuation orders, intended to protect human lives in event of the worst-case scenario and allow firefighters to focus on extinguishing the blaze, sent a exodus of people to safe havens south of the fire. The vast majority took refuge with friends and family or booked hotel rooms while pondering their next month. More than 3,200 people were housed in Red Cross or community shelters across the Bay Area on Monday, according to a Red Cross representative. The Red Cross has tried to set up new shelters as others fill up, and officials told evacuees they should travel to Napa or Alameda counties as refuges in Petaluma reached capacity.
Essick said he only considered lifting orders for places that hadn’t burned, so Windsor residents, like Frazee, remained away from their homes. She hopes to return by the weekend, but until then, as in October 2017, she is staying with her husband’s parents in Milpitas.
The Tubbs fire evacuation was “eerie,” Frazee remembers, with wild animals fleeing and embers flying all around her under a ominous sky shortly before 1:30 a.m. But she said she’d prefer that to her experience on Saturday, when she and her family drove north from an aborted trip to Disneyland for her son’s birthday. She felt utterly helpless and scared that she was too far away to reach the family’s two dogs if the Kincade fire reached her house.