Yolo County fire punctuates alarming day of North Bay heat, smoke and power outages

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California’s wildfire season kicked off in alarming fashion Saturday as a fast-moving wildfire in rural Yolo County forced residents to flee their homes and PG&E officials announced the start of planned power outages meant to reduce fire risk in parts of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

No such preemptive outages were planned for Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, PG&E officials said Saturday, though that could change as temperatures were expected to climb higher on Sunday, with sustained high winds expected through Sunday afternoon.

The arrival of fire season came amid a pronounced heat wave across Northern California, with the hottest temperatures forecast for Sunday and Monday, when many Bay Area records are expected to fall.

In Yolo County, the Sand fire in Capay Valley east of Highway 16 grew to 1,700 acres by 8:30 p.m. with no containment.

It forced residents with homes off County Road 41 near the communities of Guinda and Rumsey to leave under mandatory evacuation orders, Cal Fire said.

The blaze, reported shortly before 3 p.m., was pushed by strong southwest winds and fueled by dry brush and grassy-terrain, said Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers.

“It’s probably the biggest one for us (so far) this year, for the Sonoma-Napa unit,” Powers said of the wildfire.

Fighting the fire were 38 engines, as well as a four helicopters and five bulldozers. Air tankers were dropping retardant, assisting ground crews and water tenders, Powers said. The cause remained under investigation.

Sonoma County authorities issued alerts over social media that a smoke drifting through the area was from the Sand fire and that no fire was burning in the immediate vicinity. An evacuation center opened at the Boy Scout Cabin in Esparto, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office reported. There were no reported injuries Saturday.

Earlier in the day, air and ground crews quickly stopped progress on a smaller blaze named the Ink fire in Pope Valley, northeast of Calistoga in Napa County. It started just after 2:30 p.m. and was reported at 50 acres and 75% contained before 8 p.m.

Sonoma County fire departments were in the process of assembling a five-engine strike team from local jurisdictions to cover Napa County-area Cal Fire stations as those crews battled the Ink fire, said Bob Stratton, a supervisor for REDCOM, the county’s fire dispatch center.

Also on Saturday, PG&E announced its intent to shut off power overnight for at least 16,000 customers in Butte and Yuba counties as fire risk ramped up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Separate outage plans affecting parts of Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties were put on hold late Saturday, but were subject to change.

About 1,600 PG&E customers across eastern Napa, Solano and Yolo counties were affected Saturday afternoon by a planned blackout to limit fire risk.

It was PG&E’s first planned shutdown of the 2019 fire season, focused primarily on the Lake Berryessa, Circle Oaks, Wooden Valley and Gordon Valley areas of Napa County, near Suisun City and Vacaville in Solano County, and by Winters in Yolo County.

By 3 p.m. Saturday, PG&E crews were out inspecting lines to restore power to those customers as the heat tapered off.

“That’s looking pretty good,” said Adam Pasion, a PG&E spokesman. “We’re confident in our ability to begin restoration so long as we have sustained conditions that allow us to do so.”

It could still take up to two days for electricity to come back for some of those customers without power, he said.

A red flag warning denoting extreme fire weather remains in place for much of the North Bay, including Sonoma County, through Sunday afternoon.

Dry, hot, windy weather is forecast to continue into early next week.

Winds on Saturday were measured at 20 to 30 mph in Santa Rosa and the surrounding hills, with peak gusts as high as 70 mph late Friday and early Saturday at Mount St. Helena. The forceast calls for winds reaching 50 to 60 mph at higher elevations Saturday night into Sunday, said Spencer Tangen, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey.

“It’s still pretty windy in the North Bay mountains,” he said Saturday afternoon.

“The humidity will actually remain Sunday, but with winds decreasing by Sunday morning, and that component will make it so it’s no longer red flag conditions. Things will still definitely burn if there’s fires, but likely not as rapid a spread of fires because of the lack of winds.”

High temperatures in Santa Rosa are predicted to hit 98 degrees Sunday, and 101 degrees Monday, which would eclipse records for this time of year. The weather is expected to cool about 10 degrees Tuesday.

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