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Sheriff: Nearly all fire evacuees can now go home

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Here’s the latest information to know about the Kincade fire:

2:15 p.m.

With few exceptions, the remaining 147,600 Sonoma County fire evacuees can now go home, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office.

Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville and Santa Rosa residents make up the bulk of the residents who until now weren’t supposed to be home. Some of those residents still are under an evacuation warning, but no longer are they ordered to stay away.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said that this includes all residents outside of the burn area but that a small amount of people still have homes within the burn zone who can’t yet go home until firefighters have extinguished the fire and made sure areas are safe.

“Everything outside the burn area is either fully lifted or is a warning and everything in the burn area is mandatory” evacuation, Valencia said.

How many people remained evacuated wasn’t clear early Wednesday afternoon.

‑Randi Rossmann

1:55 p.m.

The week‑long Kincade fire is the largest in Sonoma County history, at nearly 77,000 acres.

The next three largest in this county’s lengthy history of fires are all from the 2017 fall firestorm.

The Nuns fire — 56,556 acres — also burned into Napa County and in the end was a combination of several fires that started in east Sonoma County about the same time, including some Napa County land.

The Tubbs fire was 36,807 acres and included a small amount of acreage in Napa County. The Pocket fire, centered in the hills above Geyserville, reach 17,357 acres and burned only in Sonoma County.

‑Randi Rossmann

1:55 p.m.

Fire officials Wednesday said the Kincade fire still poses a threat to rural areas in the county but that “a corner had been turned” and ongoing progress should occur daily.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said it could take 1-2 weeks to get full containment on the 120‑square‑mile fire. But the 30-percent contained stretches along the most populated edges of the fire, from Mayacama Club Drive in the Larkfield area in northern Santa Rosa up to the Geyserville Grange. That was leading officials to consider allowing residents back into their communities and cities along the Highway 101 corridor. The remaining two-thirds is very rural and mostly sparsely populated.

The most active area is burning along the Sonoma-Lake county line near the base of Mount St. Helena. An estimated several hundred acres have burned into Lake County.

Fire officials Wednesday said residents still would see smoke rising inside the fire zone and from the Lake County area. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said it would be very helpful if callers reporting smoke in the next several days would try to distinguish whether the smoke is from the Kincade fire, or a new fire.

‑Randi Rossmann

12:32 p.m.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said he hopes to be able to allow a “significant number” of fire evacuees to return home Wednesday.

Though not specific about which geographic areas would be involved, he and other public safety officials said that improved firefighting conditions and doubled containment of the week‑old Kincade fire overnight Tuesday and Wednesday morning should allow some additional repopulation of the fire evacuation zone, which at its peak affected about 185,000 people.

“We hope to have some repopulation news for you this afternoon which will affect a lot of people,” Essick said in a video posted to his department’s Facebook page. “A significant number of people should be getting some good news today.

“We are doing everything we can to get you home,” he added. “It is our priority to get you home, but it’s also my priority to keep you safe, and we’re not going to let you go back to areas that are still a danger.”

Essick said notifications about changes to evacuation orders would be broadcast via Nixle. Residents can subscribe by texting their zip code to 888777.

‑Mary Callahan

11:50 a.m.

Until evacuation orders are lifted in northwest Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, the only hospital that is open north of Petaluma is Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and health officials said Wednesday that PG&E’s rolling blackouts has forced many residents with special needs to seek out their care.

Tyler Hedden, interim CEO for St. Joseph Health Sonoma County, the operator of Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, said dozens of people confined to a bed with specific medical conditions have had nowhere to go.

“A lot of people in evacuation centers that are maybe bedbound that have Alzheimer’s or other chronic conditions that limit them, a lot of people had no other option than to drop them off in our emergency department,” Hedden said.

The two St. Joes facilities have seen a spike in visits, too, with Sutter and Kaiser in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg District Hospital closed, with at least 23 transfers Sunday alone, Hedden said. Petaluma typically sees roughly 40 patients per day, and on Monday treated over 100.

Hedden credited the commitment of staffers that, like many throughout the region, are working amid evacuations and blackouts at home.

Health officials earlier this week said there is a process in place before a healthcare facilit can reopen after a closure, likely requiring at least a week after evacuation orders are lifted to receive all the necessary approvals. The St. Joes site sites in Santa Rosa and Petaluma will likely be the primary options for Sonoma County residents in the interim.

Residents can view the status of county hospitals at socoemergency.org/home/emergency/health

-Yousef Baig

11:10 a.m.

All flights at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport are canceled through Oct. 31.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit and the region’s bus services are operating on limited schedules Wednesday.

For more detailed information, see: www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10240735-181/sonoma-county-airport-flights-canceled

-Kevin Fixler

10:40 a.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom will appear at 10:30 a.m. at a food bank and resource center at the Kaiser Permanente medical offices off Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa

Volunteers with the Redwood Empire Food Bank will distribute free food to evacuees as long as it lasts.

There, evacuees can get free food and find out what they qualify for in terms of fire victim, unemployment or other benefits.

The address is 2240 Mercury Way in Santa Rosa.

‑Chris Smith

9:50 a.m.

PG&E gave its crews the all-clear at 6 a.m. to inspect lines, a key step the utility must take to check for damage before restoring power today to parts of Sonoma County that are not threatened by the Kincade fire, a spokeswoman said.

“The restoration process has begun,” said spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. She didn’t think any residents’ electricity had been restored as of 9:30 a.m.

PG&E cut the power to 87,000 customers in Sonoma County on Tuesday, the fourth time in October that utility executives decided to impose a blackout affecting county residents to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

There was no estimated time for all electric customers to have their lights back on. Contreras said full restoration would occur “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

-Will Schmitt

9:45 a.m.

The number of people at American Red Cross shelters dropped overnight as evacuation orders were lifted for Sebastopol, Guerneville, Bodega Bay, Forestville and other west county municipalities, as well as the northern portion of the Dry Creek Valley in north county.

At its height, more than 3,200 people were registered at the 16 shelters established across the North Bay and San Francisco. On Wednesday, the total had fallen to about 2,800, according to American Red Cross staff.

Donations have continued to flood into the shelters in Santa Rosa, at the Veterans Memorial Building and the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The American Red Cross is currently asking people to hold off on donating any more goods until a facility has been setup to sort, store and redistribute those items.

-Kevin Fixler

9:15 a.m.

Sonoma County firefighters early Wednesday were tired but happy after a night patrolling the Mark West Springs corridor and chasing reports of trouble from the Kincade fire, which turned out to be nothing serious.

Fears that gusting winds would turn the fire back toward Santa Rosa and perhaps mimic the 2017 Tubbs fire and burst into Larkfield before spreading into Santa Rosa faded as dawn approached and the wind disappeared. Local firefighters Tuesday night had taken the threat personally, feeling they’d failed to stop the previous blaze and now had a chance to keep it from happening again.

“It was pretty awesome. It’s a good day,” said a jubilant but weary-sounding veteran fire captain Rob Bisordi, who has spent much of his life living and working as a firefighter in the Larkfield area.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Sid Andreis, a new fire captain and another lifelong Larkfield resident and firefighter for the community. “It was a good night.”

A deep orange glow in the sky to the north during the night generated several calls to 911 from people fearing the Kincade fire was on the move. But the ominous glow came from spot fires and other activity within the fire’s perimeter.

“We had a lot of people calling in, seeing fire on the hill, thinking it was closer than it was. It was all well within the burn,” Andreis said.

Once residents went to bed, the calls stopped and firefighters had a fairly calm night.

Sonoma County Fire Battalion Chief Mark Dunn early Wednesday also was relieved. But a big fire remained burning still in the county, Dunn said. “We have to stay focused. There’s still a threat.”

‑Randi Rossmann

9 a.m.

Two overnight warming centers are open in Santa Rosa to give residents some refuge from cold nighttime temperatures amid continued PG&E power outages and as some parts of the county continue to lack natural gas.

The Community Baptist Church at 620 Hoen Ave. and the Santa Rosa Nazarene Church at 1135 Farmers Lane will be open from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. West county residents returning from previous evacuation orders can go to the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Hall, 16255 First and Church Street.

The National Weather Service has issued a frost advisory affecting the North Bay’s valleys for 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. Thursday.

Additional information about PG&E centers, charging stations and evacuation shelters can be accessed at socoemergency.org

‑Will Schmitt

7:30 a.m.

Growth on the Kincade fire slowed measurably overnight, with about 700 more acres burned, putting the blaze at 76,825 acres, according to Cal Fire.

The bigger growth was to containment, which jumped from 15‑ to 30 percent.

The eastern edge of the fire, near the border of Sonoma and Lake counties, was the most active overnight, Cal Fire said early Wednesday. To the north, challenges include steep terrain and narrow roads.

The Red Flag Warning will remain in place until 4 p.m.

Cal Fire also reported that more homes and other structures have burned, with 206 destroyed up from 189 reported Tuesday.

And more help continued to arrive Tuesday and as of Wednesday morning the firefight involved 5,001 people. Equipment Wednesday included 27 helicopters, 592 engines, 67 dozers and 48 water tenders.

‑ Randi Rossmann

6:55 a.m.

Gusts in the North Bay Tuesday night to early Wednesday morning peaked at 60 mph in the Healdsburg hills, 58 mph on Mount St. Helena and 54 mph on Pine Flat Road, according to the National Weather Service. But most valley locations were calm, and winds at higher elevations tapered off since midnight.

It’s still extremely dry, said meteorologist Drew Peterson, but “I would say the worst is over.”

The windy, dry conditions prompted PG&E to cut power to parts of Sonoma County four times this month, including a shut-off conducted Tuesday that affected about 87,000 customers here. The utility has said it would wait for the weather to clear before it inspects its lines and restores power.

A PG&E representative did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday asking about any changes or updates to plans to turn restore power to the North Bay.

New concerns are growing, however, about the cold weather. Temperatures plunged into the low 30s and the 20s in some parts of Sonoma County like the Sonoma Valley, Peterson said.

The red flag warning in effect since Tuesday morning expires at 4 p.m. The weather service has said it expects several days of calmer weather, though rain remains absent from the forecast.

‑Will Schmitt

6:50 a.m.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train will begin operating on a limited schedule starting Wednesday, offering free rides to help those in need of transportation during the fire.

Until Nov. 6, SMART service will be free of charge on its 34 trips a day from the Santa Rosa downtown station to downtown San Rafael and all stations in between.

Southbound service begins at 4:31 a.m. out of Santa Rosa and northbound service begins 5:59 a.m. out of San Rafael.

Because of power outages and losed railroad crossings in northern Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County airport and north Santa Rosa will remain closed until further notice.

Because conditions can change, SMART advises checking its website before traveling: www.SonomaMarinTrain.org.

‑Lori A. Carter

6:35 a.m.

The Kincade fire made no major push during the night and one fire official Wednesday said the threat to Wikiup and Larkfield in northern Santa Rosa now is minimal.

While there were a few flare ups and hotspots that needed attention from firefighters, the night was relatively quiet, said Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine.

“There was nothing major, no issues out of the Mark West area,” Heine said.

A backfire lit in the Mark West Springs area late Tuesday afternoon was key to help defend the area, Heine said. “That put a good perimeter for that piece of the fire. It took a lot of the threat for Larkfield and Wikiup out of the picture.”

The overnight effort caught a break as gusting northeast winds peaked early and then diminished through the night toward dawn.

“It was fortunate that the wind event that came through yesterday decreased as went through the night,” said Chris Harvey, a Sacramento firefighter working as a Cal Fire public information officer.

“According to the National Weather Service it looks like the next 10 days the wind is going to be significantly lower. Unfortunately there is no precipitation in the forecast.”

Cal Fire was expected to put out new statistics, including the size of the fire, after a 7 a.m. briefing.

‑Randi Rossmann

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