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.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is using Senga, a 3-year-old boxer from the Alameda County Search and Rescue Team, as well as two other cadaver dogs as it searches for victims.
The death toll has climbed to 29 people, with 15 of them from Sonoma County.
Firefighters Thursday afternoon battled flare-ups in multiple areas, including in Lake County where flames had crossed Highway 29 and were burning on Mount St. Helena.
Just north of Sonoma firefighters also were fighting an active fire, working to keep the blaze from reaching the town. Northern areas of Sonoma are under mandatory evacuations. The town is under an advisory evacuation.
Some of the increased activity is from the lifting of the thick smoke blanket, allowing the breeze to pickup.
The Tubbs fire, which started near Calistoga before racing into Santa Rosa, also spread north and Wednesday night climbed to the top of Mount St. Helena, officials said. Thursday, firefighters were trying to keep it at bay, battling on the steep mountain.
Bert Bertelli, division chief for Cal Fire in Lake County, said firefighters had worked to open historical fire roads and old dozer lines used in prior fires to help them work the fire.
“We’ve got a plan in place and we’re aggressively shifting resources to address that,” Bertelli said.
The juggle for fire officials was in leaving enough resources to protect nearby Calistoga but get more equipment to the Highway 29 feet.
Several strike teams of firefighters from throughout Western states arrived Thursday to bolster the effort and relieve many local firefighters who have been on the effort since Sunday.
Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said at a press conference today 2,834 homes had been destroyed by fire in the city, and the number could grow larger.
The fire that forced the closure of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, also affected a number of Sutter-affiliated medical offices, including Sutter North Bay Health Plaza at 3883 Airway Drive, located in one of the mandatory evacuation zones.
Fire did not destroy the building but maintenance will be required before it reopens. The medical office houses extensive imaging services, urgent care, family medicine and specialty services such as neurology and sports medicine. Sutter’s large medical office building next to the hospital is also closed.
Sutter’s closed medical offices include: 95 Montgomery Drive, Suite 104; 990 Sonoma Ave.; 1210 Sonoma Ave.; 2449 Summerfield Road; 2455 Summerfield Road; 4700 Hoen Ave.; 4702 Hoen Ave.; and 717 Center St., Healdsburg.
Santa Rosa surgery centers are closed.
The Sutter walk-in clinic at Deer Creek Village in Petaluma is open. Sutter officials said Thursday the hospital on Mark West Springs Road is undergoing a massive cleaning “from top to bottom.” After that, the hospital will need to be restocked with medical supplies, new medications and fresh food.
“We need to replace things that have been expired or damaged because of smoke,” said Sutter spokeswoman Lisa Amador. “The fire halted everything … you have to reopen everything from ground up, just like when we opened the hospital when it was new. When we open this hospital it will be safe and ready to go for the community.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will meet Friday morning with Sonoma County school officials whose school districts issued emergency closures because of massive wildfires, evacuations and dangerous air quality.
Torlakson will reassure local school officials they can keep receiving state Average Daily Attendance funding when schools close because of an emergency. The California Department of Education can also send truckloads of dry goods and frozen foods to school districts requesting assistance.
Sonoma Plaza smelled strongly of smoke and the entire area was awash with an orange glow from sunlight filtered through smoky skies.
Immediately beyond the evacuation line on East 4th Street, most homes remained intact and residents appeared to have obeyed orders to evacuate. One home had a sprinkler on its roof steadily squirting water in a rotating motion around the house.
At the Ravenswood Winery on Gehricke Road, a “Closed” sign had another message over it written on paper. “Thank you firefighters,” it read.
Sheriff Rob Giordano added one more death to the list of fatalities, now totaling 14, just hours after he’d announced that 13 people had died.
Fire officials throughout the fire region have said they expected the numbers of fatalities to increase, including in Mendocino County.
Meanwhile in Sonoma, firefighters Thursday afternoon were battling fire in and around the city of Sonoma, according to a state fire official.
Additional mandatory evacuations were expanded in areas to the north of Sonoma
PG&E said Thursday afternoon 44,000 customers remain without electricity in Sonoma County. Another 5,000 in Napa County are without service, said Mayra Tostado, a spokeswoman for PG&E.
Tostado said PG&E has deployed 1,500 workers across its service area aided by utility crews in Southern California, Nevada, Washington and New Mexico. She said crews are currently assessing service areas where they are able to gain access into neighborhoods impacted by the fire.
Thursday afternoon, crews will begin replacing or repairing electrical infrastructure in the Larkfield and Mark West Springs communities, Tostado said.
“In some areas, power lines remain de-energized to allow firefighters to do their job safely,” she said. PG&E crews are ready to restore power as soon as they get a “green light” from Cal Fire and local agencies.
Tostado said the fires forced PG&E to shut off gas to some 36,000 customers. Only 700 of those have had their gas “relighted.” She said crews did pilot relighting yesterday for customers in Willits and Santa Rosa.
Gas service is expected to be restored Thursday for some customers in the Silverado area of Napa.
Sonoma’s Plaza in the city’s historic downtown was largely quiet Thursday afternoon and most businesses appeared closed.
One bright spot was the Basque Cafe, which was open for business and bustling with customers. Manager Susan Reese said the cafe opened about 6 a.m. and would stay open as long as possible.
“People need a place to go,” she said.
Also around the area were several signs reading “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke #SonomaProud.” One of the signs was posted in the square on a statue of General Vallejo, who is depicted sitting on a bench. A face mask was also strapped over his face.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services reported fires across Northern California had burned more than 191,000 acres and killed 26 people. Some 5,000 state emergency crews have been deployed to assist local authorities in battling the fires.
“We’re not out of the woods and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a lot of days to come,” OES director Mark Ghilarducci said at a press conference this morning in Mather.
Ghilarducci said the state was reaching out to neighboring states for mutual aid assistance in fighting what he described as a “serious, critical, catastrophic event.” He said the fire was being fueled by five years of drought. Areas are extremely dry, despite the record winter rainfall.
The wildland fire, he said, is burning extremely close to highly populated areas, where people’s homes and the fire are separated by less than two miles.
He singled out Santa Rosa, where “box stores, buildings, hotels, all of it,” were leveled by fire.
Officials said Calistoga remains under mandatory evacuation orders, and an advisory evacuation order has been issued for Middletown. And they warned that several fires were likely to merge.
Fire engines from that were battling fires in Southern California that are no longer a serious threat are now being deployed to Northern California, officials said.
Some 700 service members from the National Guard are currently on duty and there are plans to deploy another 1,800 soldiers.
Gov. Jerry Brown stressed the seriousness of the fire.
“We’ve had big fires in the past, this is one of the biggest and most serious and it’s not over,” Brown said, adding the impact of the fire will require both state and federal resources.
One of six reported deaths in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley fire was a 14-year-old boy who died when he and his parents and older sister attempted to outrun the blaze, according said.
Kai Shepherd’s sister and parents reportedly are hospitalized with severe burns.
The family was in the northern end of the valley when the fire raced down the hill early Monday. They apparently left their home in two vehicles on a dirt road on a remote section of West Road when the flames arrived. The four apparently left the vehicles and ran. The boy appeared to have headed back toward the family home and his body was found apart from his family.
Firefighters discovered two burned vehicles, the deceased boy and the injured family members.
Mendocino County investigators are looking for more bodies, assisted by students and doctors from Chico State University’s forensic anthropology department, officials said.
As in Sonoma County, some of the bodies found were burned to ash and bones.
Nearly a dozen PG&E trucks and crews are putting up new utility poles along Old Redwood Highway after debris and charred poles were removed.
The Mendocino County District Attorney is reminding the public that ignoring a MANDATORY EVACUATION order is a criminal offense.
In the devastated Coffey Park neighborhood, where more than 1,000 homes and buildings were destroyed in the ongoing Tubbs fire, Nick Rahaim, a Press Democrat reporter embedded with CHP officers, says only large appliances remain identifiable. Everything else has turned to ash.
Hot spots remain. PG&E crews are assessing gas lines and valves. Amid the destruction, birds are chirping and crows caw, and some green leaves remain on trees. One crew found an injured cat with burned paws and called animal services.
A MANDATORY EVACUATION order has been issued in Sonoma for the area east of 4th Street East, between Brazil and East Napa Street, and north of East Napa Street between 4th Street East and Old Winery Road.
A community meeting at Clearlake City Hall at 6 p.m. to provide updates on the Sulphur fire in Lake County.
The 2,500-acre fire is 45 percent contained.
Two evacuation shelters are open.
The Konocti and Middletown Unified school districts have canceled schools for Friday.
The Lakeport, Upper Lake and Lucerne school districts will be on a normal schedule Friday.
State Farm Insurance reported Thursday morning that nearly 1,900 homeowner insurance claims and more than 700 auto insurance claims have been filed as a result of the ongoing Northern California wildfires.
The majority of those claims have come from the North Bay.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office late Thursday morning expanded a mandatory evacuation order in eastern Sonoma Valley to include north of East Napa Street from 4th Street East to the end of East Napa Street.
Already under a mandatory order are homes and businesses along 7th Street East, Castle Road and Lovall Valley Road east of Old Winery Road.
Mandatory evacuation orders mean everyone in the specific area needs to leave.
Families seeking information about relatives who were at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital before its evacuation can call 855-599-0033 about where they have been transferred. Kaiser is encouraging its nurses and staff to contact their local staffing centers if they can help.
Sutter Health has set up a 24-hour hotline to answer questions about patients and other questions related to the hospital and other medical services. The call should go to a live person.
Mendocino College has canceled all classes through Friday.
All schools in the Ukiah Unified School District also will be closed the rest of the week.
There have been 14 deaths in Sonoma County linked to the Tubbs fire, raising the overall North Coast death toll to 26.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano Thursday morning said investigators haven’t been able to identify everyone as some of the remains were just “ash and bones.”
Thirty detectives, 10 sheriff’s volunteers for search and rescue and additional help for outside agencies have been thrown in the search and recovery operations for victims. Those efforts began Wednesday and expanded into burned areas of Sonoma County on Thursday. Some areas remain too dangerous to search, the sheriff said.
For some identifications, serial numbers on metal surgical parts found in the remains were used, Giordano said.
The sheriff didn’t release where the deaths had occurred and hasn’t released names.
The number of missing now is at 463. That figured included some duplicate reports and attempts are underway to weed those out as well as to locate people. The Sheriff’s Office has gotten 900 reports of missing people. About half have turned up or been located.
Currently, 436 National Guard troops are in Sonoma County, with more reported to be en route.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested two more people Wednesday night on suspicion of looting, bringing the countywide to at least 7.
A Press Democrat estimate of the homes and structures lost in the Santa Rosa neighborhoods of Coffey Park and Fountaingrove show more than twice the official number still being claimed four days after the still-active Tubbs fire raced through.
At least 1,000 homes and structures were lost in Coffey Park, including entire blocks along Barnes Road and Hopper Avenue.
In Fountaingrove, at least 500 homes along the winding, formerly tree-lined street are destroyed.
Officials maintained 576 homes and structures were lost.
Mendocino County’s Redwood and Potter valleys fire has grown to 32,100 acres Thursday morning and containment is 5 percent.
The fire pushed Wednesday further into Potter Valley, forcing additional evacuations.
About 8,000 people have been evacuated in that fire and a 2,500-acre fire in Lake County. The number of homes lost remained at 250 overnight.
The Lake County fire, known as the Sulphur fire, was almost half contained.
At least six people died in the Redwood Valley fire but investigators are continuing to search for more fatalities.
Lake County, to date the least damaged region in the midst of ongoing multiple fires in surrounding counties, now is threatened by three fires, according to a Cal Fire division chief.
Thursday morning’s biggest concern was a push from a 32,000-acre Mendocino County fire threatening a northern section of Lake County near Lake Pillsbury, said Greg “Bert” Bertelli, division chief for Lake County.
Wednesday afternoon his biggest concern had been the Pocket fire burning in the steep hills above Geyserville that parallels The Geyser geothermal field leading east into Lake County. That fire still poses a threat. But also Thursday morning the massive Tubbs fire was pushing north out of Calistoga and spreading onto Mount St. Helena. As of 8 a.m. flames were just a few hundred feet from Highway 29 – a major entrance to Lake County.
It all comes down to wind direction.
“You feel like one of these small countries in Europe during World War II, surrounded by large enemies,” Bertelli said.
The Pocket fire, burning between Cloverdale and Geyserville, jumped to 8,130 acres overnight with zero containment, according to Cal Fire. The Redwood Valley fire burning in Mendocino County grew by more than 2,000 acres overnight to 32,100 acres and remains a 5 percent containment, according to Cal Fire reports.
Fires ravaging the region continued to grow overnight with virtually no containment:
Napa’s Atlas fire is at almost 44,000 acres. Containment: 3 percent.
Nuns and Norrbom fire, in Sonoma Valley, are at 14,698 acres with 3 percent containment. They merged during the night, officials said.
Partrick fire burning in Sonoma and Napa counties is now almost 11,000 acres and 2 percent contained.
Adobe fire in Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley is almost 8,000 acres with 1 percent containment.
Pressley fire in Sonoma Valley is 473 acres and 1 percent containment.
There were 1,358 personnel working all the fires. Thursday’s effort was to include eight air tankers, 17 helicopters and 131 engines.
Numerous mandatory evacuations orders in these areas remain in place, including all of Glen Ellen, east of Bennett Valley Golf Course, Enterprise Road, Arnold Drive and 7th Street East and Old Winery Road in Sonoma to Castle Road and Old Winery Road.
Advisory evacuations in Sonoma County for these fires includes Lovall Valley, most of Boyes Hot Springs and the north side of the city of Sonoma.
As fire continued to push toward Lake County early Thursday firefighters were working in the area of Mount St. Helena and one dispatch exchange offered a glimpse of the situation.
“I’m evacuating and escaping,” said one man who found himself trapped by flames as he headed for a cell tower on the mountain. It wasn’t clear if he was a firefighter or sheriff’s deputy.
A dispatcher kept in contact, making sure the man had been able to turn his rig and head out.
But soon after he called in to say he was at a home of a volunteer firefighter on the mountain. “I’m going to kick in the door and get what I can,” the man said, telling the dispatcher he estimated he had 30 minutes before the house burned.
He sought information about what the resident hoped he could save and within minutes had learned of some musical recording equipment and other items. “But don’t risk your life over property,” the resident relayed back through intermediaries.
State firefighters also responded to his situation. “Cal Fire has arrived. We’ll get these items and be able to escape,” he radioed back.
Winds overnight Wednesday failed to arrive as predicted, helping keep most of the region’s fires from making significant gains, according to a Cal Fire spokesman Thursday.
The exception was the Tubbs fire, at 34,270 acres, which has ravaged large sections of Santa Rosa. Containment was considered to be 10 percent. That fire’s northern boundaries spread farther north overnight from northern Calistoga toward the Lake County border, said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa’s assistant fire marshal who is helping provide information for the area’s fires.
“All the fires cooperated and laid down overnight with the exception of the Tubbs fire,” Lowenthal said.
While additional environmental aid Thursday included higher humidity and cooler temperatures — some overnight lows dipped down into the upper 30s — weather remained a concern. A National Weather Service alert issued early Thursday indicated conditions could worsen starting Friday, Lowenthal said.
The Tubbs fire is the state’s priority. There currently are 21 fires burning in Northern California, according to Cal Fire.
While the overnight news was a relief to the fire effort, numerous fires continue burning mostly without containment.
Evacuation orders were holding Thursday for thousands in the region. There are 24 shelters open from Cloverdale to Petaluma, aiding 3,800 people with room for another 4,000, said one Cal Fire official early Thursday.
Fire officials have continued seeking additional firefighting help, and early Thursday learned a group of firefighters released from an Anaheim-area fire had driven through the night to reach Santa Rosa.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or email@example.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.