Storm knocks out power to thousands, brings snow to North Bay peaks
Sonoma County got an early taste of winter Tuesday as the season’s first storm arrived with wind, rain, cold weather, storm-triggered power outages and a dusting of snow on the highest peaks.
But the prospect of flash flooding, with debris flows and rock slides in areas scorched by the recent Kincade fire, did not pan out.
Michael Gossman, director of the county’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said Tuesday night he had received no reports of weather-related problems.
Most of Lake County was included in a widespread winter storm warning with heavy snow, high winds and hazardous travel conditions through Thursday.
Rainfall totals from Tuesday to Thursday are expected to amount to as much as 1.5 inches in Santa Rosa and up to 2 inches along the Sonoma Coast and mountains, the National Weather Service said.
The lens of the wildfire camera atop Mount St. Helena was speckled with snowflakes Tuesday, but the weather service expected only scant snow in the mountains and none in the county’s densely populated communities.
In Sonoma County, concern remained that rain — as welcome as it is to tamp down fire danger — will ultimately saturate the soil and cause runoff that carries ash left in the wake of the 120-square-mile wildfire into creeks and the Russian River, the source of water for 600,000 Sonoma and Marin County residents.
It takes more than one damp week to banish fire season, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said.
“If we get winter weather for the next two weeks, our fire conditions should be diminished,” he said.
Margo Warnecke Merck, a partner and ranch manager at her family’s Alexander Valley vineyard, was delighted to see straw wattles placed Tuesday around two rental homes on the 265-acre ranch incinerated by the fire.
“I’m feeling very confident it will help,” Merck said. “I think we’ll be in good shape.”
One of the houses is 50 feet from the river, and Merck, a river advocate, hopes the wattles will prevent ash and sediment from running off her land and into the water.
Don McEnhill, executive director of the Healdsburg-based Russian Riverkeeper, handled the work at Merck’s ranch as one of three nonprofits hired by the county to address erosion problems at 218 properties in the Kincade fire zone.
The ranch on a bend in the river is “probably the highest-risk site on the list,” McEnhill said. “It’s not clear what will happen next.”
Private property owners are responsible for preventing harm to the environment from erosion, a debris flow or anything that pollutes a waterway, Gossman said.
But given the scope of damage from the Kincade fire, which destroyed 374 buildings, including 174 homes, the county allocated $300,000 to pay the three nonprofits for their work.
It seemed fitting to handle the chore at no cost to landowners who lost property because they have so many other concerns and the rain came so soon after the fire, Gossman said.
It’s also a public benefit, since hundreds of thousands of people depend on the health of the Russian River watershed, he said.
John Mack, natural resource manager for Permit Sonoma, said the nonprofits retained by the county will check all 218 properties and determine which ones require some work to prevent harmful erosion.