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Kincade fire containment now 86 percent

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Firefighters raised the containment on the Kincade fire to 86% Tuesday night, reporting steady progress in efforts to encircle Sonoma County’s largest blaze.

Cal Fire still expected the 77,758-acre blaze to be fully contained by Thursday.

The Kincade fire sparked about 9:30 p.m. two weeks ago in the vicinity of a malfunctioning PG&E transmission tower near The Geysers geothermal plant in north Sonoma County. Since then, it has destroyed 374 buildings, including 174 homes and 11  businesses, and prompted the largest evacuation in county history. But after the strong winds from last week calmed down, firefighters have made significant progress in tackling the blaze.

The growing containment marks “the measurement of our confidence in the line,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville. Inside the fire zone — which includes about 120  square miles — 405  structures remain threatened, including 350  homes, although the threat was minimal, Turbeville said.

The progress on the fire allowed hundreds of firefighters to head home, dropping the firefighting force to 1,399 from the peak of 5,245.

Meanwhile, fewer than 700 customers remained without natural gas as of Tuesday night, said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. Contreras said those customers likely are vacant premises, so the utility will move to an appointment system to restore gas. Customers without gas should call 800-PGE-5000 to make an appointment for crews to come restore service.

The company turned off gas to 24,600 customers Oct. 27 during the fire as a precaution. It came at a time of freezing morning temperatures and left many without heat for several days. Residents have complained they’ve felt forced to stay home for days, fearing they would miss utility crews and further delay getting their gas back on.

As of Tuesday night, about 500 customers inside the fire zone remained without electricity. About 1,400 customers in the area lost power last week because of the damage the Kincade fire inflicted on PG&E’s infrastructure. Cal Fire allowed PG&E to access different areas in the fire zone to assess damage, make repairs and restore power to affected customers.

The remaining evacuation orders on communities inside the fire zone were lifted Sunday. Now, Sonoma County officials are working to hire a contractor that will remove household hazardous waste from properties burned by the Kincade fire, at no cost to the owners. The cleanup will begin Nov. 12 and may take up to three weeks to complete, the county said in a news release Tuesday.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved several motions Tuesday to help Kincade fire survivors, including extending special land use rules to help rebuilding efforts.

The rules were first implemented after the 2017 North Bay fires that killed 24 people and destroyed more than 5,300 homes. Fire victims whose properties were damaged or destroyed will be allowed to live in RVs during rebuilding. Occupancy limits on farmworker housing will also be suspended, and new vacation rentals in the fire zone will be prohibited.

On Tuesday, there was no serious work for firefighters along the west side of the fire line, down the more populated Highway 101 corridor, so the bulk of them continued to work the far northeast side, including where the fire burned across county lines, torching 523 acres in Lake County. Firefighters continued to check for still‑burning tree stumps and other hot spots but also repaired hillsides and land chewed up by the fire and firefighting equipment, aiming to reduce erosion come the rainy season.

Unsurprisingly, fire officials said, one of the fire’s consequences is an increase in phone calls from people reporting smoke and possible fire. Firefighters from Geyserville and Healdsburg said they’ve been checking out such calls in the past several days, but none have been serious and several have turned out to be smoke from inside the fire zone.

“People are sensitive now to new fires. They’re worried and rightfully so,” Turbeville said. “It’s dry, like summer. People are just being real vigilant.”

Staff Writer Tyler Silvy contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writers Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com and Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com.

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