Massive firefighting force blocks Kincade fire from ravaging Santa Rosa area — again
Each day since the Kincade fire ignited nearly a week ago deep in the Mayacamas Mountains in northern Sonoma County and tore down steep slopes has been a fight to save homes.
There already had been painful losses and significant saves four days into the firefight at historic ranches and vineyard properties in the Alexander Valley, communities along Chalk Hill Road, the eastern banks of the Russian River near Healdsburg and on the northern edge of a dense Windsor subdivision abutting Foothill Regional Park.
But Sunday night, the firefight became a deeply personal battle for Sonoma County firefighters.
The winds again rose, fanning flames and sending the Kincade fire roaring like a freight train into Shiloh Estates and toward Wikiup, Larkfield and the Mark West Springs corridor, Santa Rosa communities still rebuilding from the 2017 Tubbs wildfire.
The threat triggered an “all call” tone Sonoma County’s main dispatch center never had used before. The call was for every fire district to send whatever it could to join the already enormous firefighting force preparing to make a stand.
“No matter how tired we were, no matter how overwhelmed we were, we were going to throw everything we had at it,” Sonoma County Battalion Chief Fire Marshal Cyndi Foreman said.
Two years ago, Foreman was among the ranks of firefighters and law enforcement evacuating residents from the neighborhood already ablaze during the terrifying siege of the Tubbs fire. All told, Larkfield-Wikiup and Mark West Springs lost more than 1,700 homes, mostly on that first night in October 2017.
The differences this time were profound: Residents had warning and were ordered days ago to get out and most had. And the firefighting commanders at war with the Kincade fire had time to plan.
Studying weather models and fire behavior science they anticipated where the fire would go when the winds picked up again after dark. And they had access to some of the thousands of firefighters dispatched from across California and beyond to join the local force.
That afternoon, they already had led an exhausting daylong mission to protect the dense neighborhood near Foothill Regional Park in Windsor.
They saved all but two homes plus several other properties damaged and prevented the fire from setting into a neighborhood that could have built enough fiery momentum for the blaze to shoot across Highway 101 and west, as officials had feared, into the densely forested west county, Foreman said.
The exhausted crews — many deployed at the fire line since the blaze ignited Wednesday — were sent back to the Sonoma County fairgrounds or local stations to get some rest.
After dark on Shiloh Ridge Road, a team of firefighters were building firebreaks with bulldozers and lighting strategic fires to burn up some of the most fire-prone fuels in the hilly, wooded area on Santa Rosa’s northern outskirts.
The wind picked up, and a flank of the fire jumped Leslie Road and headed toward Shiloh Ridge, getting more intense and setting tall trees ablaze, changing the mission from back fires to protecting homes and buildings amid the roaring, chugging sound of the coming inferno.
Sonoma County fire apprentice Billy Leuenberger began putting out spot fires with a hand tool but fire began erupting all around, making what had been effective against smaller spot fires a futile effort.