Kincade Fire reaches 21,000 acres. 49 buildings destroyed, 735 in danger, Cal Fire says

It is a race against the clock Friday for the hundreds of firefighters battling to control the Kincade Fire, still burning with minimal containment in northern Sonoma County, before high winds are expected to surge again throughout the region and across Northern California.

Scorching steep terrain near the town of Geyserville, the Kincade Fire continued to expand overnight, reported by Cal Fire at 21,900 acres as of 7 a.m. Friday, still just 5 percent contained. A total of 49 structures have been destroyed so far, Cal Fire says, and 735 structures remain under threat.

No deaths or injuries have been reported so far.

Just under 1,300 total personnel - including a dozen helicopters, 32 bulldozers and more than 75 fire engines - were assigned to the wildfire, which ignited around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in the hills between Geyserville and nearby Cloverdale. The blaze spread rapidly with help from fierce, erratic winds and reached 10,000 acres before sunrise Thursday.

Hilly terrain has presented challenges for ground crews, working amid and between the large vineyards that dominate the area.

Winds eased later Thursday morning, with smoke and fire activity seen shifting away from Geyserville, a rural town of about 1,600 people. Smoke had blanketed the town throughout the morning, but blue skies peeked through by early Thursday afternoon.

However, forecasts from the National Weather Service and PG&E meteorologists each indicate that an even more severe wind event is expected to sweep through a wide swath of Northern California, including Sonoma County, this weekend. The latest NWS estimates show Northern California facing even stronger winds Saturday into Sunday than it did late Wednesday and early Thursday, with localized gusts up to 60 mph possible at higher elevations.

The National Weather Service has predicted that smoke from the Kincade Fire will linger in the North Bay through late Friday morning, then pass through much of the San Francisco and East Bay areas starting at roughly 3 or 4 p.m.

The town of Geyserville remains under mandatory evacuation order, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire, though some residents could be seen wandering along the town’s main street or observing fire activity from their front yards. In all, 2,000 residents have been ordered evacuated, according to the sheriff’s office.

The Veterans Memorial building on Maple Avenue in Santa Rosa has been designated as an evacuation center after the Healdsburg Community Center filled up late Thursday afternoon. The Sonoma County Fairgrounds, also in Santa Rosa, opened as a shelter for large animals. The fairgrounds boarded 500 animals during the 2017 fires.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency in Sonoma and Los Angeles counties due to the Kincade Fire and the Tick Fire, the latter of which has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. Newsom announced he will travel to the area impacted by the Kincade Fire later Friday.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. filed an incident report to the state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday evening, saying it found a “broken jumper” on a 230-kilovolt line along Kincade and Burned Mountain roads, near the area where the Kincade Fire started. PG&E says it became aware of the equipment failure at approximately 9:20 p.m., which was minutes before the wildfire reportedly ignited.

As of Friday morning, Cal Fire says the fire’s cause remains unknown and under investigation.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.