Mandatory evacuations in east Sonoma; death toll rises to 31
Santa Rosa Junior College announced it will remain closed at least through Tuesday, Oct. 17. More than 200 students and employees have lost their homes, and hundreds have had to evacuate.
While scores of firefighters Thursday continued to push back flames and scramble up hillsides to hand cut fire breaks along blazes still actively burning throughout the region, officials shared successes of stronger firelines, improved buffer zones and homes saved.
But that was tinged by the news of the rising death toll: 31 confirmed total, including 17 in Sonoma County.
Fire managers were relieved Wednesday night’s expected dry winds didn’t materialize, and that Thursday, dozens of strike teams arrived from western states to bolster numbers. Plus, more air tankers were aloft.
Yet the 25 to 35 mph northeast winds predicted for Friday night with strong gusts meant Thursday could be just a lull of sorts.
Thursday morning Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshal Turbeville was feeling pretty good about numerous dozer lines cut around sections of the Pocket fire in the steep hills above Geyserville as a precursor to gaining stronger lines. Later Thursday, a buffer line on the western side closer to Cloverdale was holding but fire had jumped lines in places parallel to Highway 128 and below Ridge Ranch Road. Fire also still burned on Geyser Peak.
He said the fire, burning in unpopulated areas more than 8,000 acres, continued to grow and that any wind over 5 mph from any direction could be trouble.
“Any wind is a concern. The strong the wind, more concern,” Turbeville said.
In eastern Sonoma County firefighters had battled a fire run Wednesday night from the Nuns fire and Thursday continued the effort in the Mayacamas range off Trinity and Cavedale roads, Moon Mountain and Nuns Canyon Road near Nelligan Road — close to the origin of the fire.
Containment was minuscule but firefighters have been cutting lines and setting up buffer areas, hoping those will hold while they’re turned into solid containment lines, said Bob Norrbom, Sonoma Valley battalion chief.
Much of the Sonoma Valley remained under a combination of mandatory and advisory evacuation warnings, and additional mandatory warnings were issued for specific areas north of Sonoma.
“It’s still growing,” said Norrbom, whose voice was reduced to a harsh rasp from the week’s effort. “But the good news is our resources are growing little by little. We have more strike teams and hand crews.”
Crews along Cavedale and Moon Mountain saved homes Wednesday from the encroaching Nuns fire.
“Also they were really successful in building a contingent line, trying to keep the fire back from Agua Caliente and Boyse Springs,” Norrbom said. Firefighters also had set buffer areas along Highway 12 at Madrone Road cutting through the hills to the back side of the Sonoma’s Veterans Memorial building and police station.
Some homes have been lost in the Trinity and Cavedale area earlier in the week but Norrbom didn’t know how many.
The Bureau of Land Management Ukiah Field Office has issued a temporary emergency closure for the Cow Mountain Recreation Area in Mendocino and Lake counties due to fire danger. The closure begins Thursday, and remains in effect until further notice.