PG&E warns of more outages; Kincade Fire containment dips to 5 percent

»» Latest updates on the Kincade Fire and others around the state can be found here.

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The Kincade Fire is racing through Sonoma County on Sunday morning, fueled by historic winds. Meanwhile, heavy winds are creating a severe wildfire risk across Northern California.

Check back here for breaking news updates.

Fire grew dramatically Sunday, evacuations remain in place

Updated at 7 p.m.

Cal Fire and Sonoma County officials say the fire had burned more than 54,000 acres by nightfall Sunday, up from 30,000 at the beginning of the day. Some 94 buildings have been destroyed or damaged, and another 80,000 remain threatened.

All evacuation orders remain in place. No rain is forecast for the next few days. Winds are expected to die down Monday, but increase again on Tuesday evening, creating what officials say will be another few days of high fire-spread danger.

Notably, the fire was listed at 10 percent contained Sunday morning, but due to its rapid spread, containment fell to 5 percent Sunday night.

Two firefighters injured

Updated at 7 p.m.

Cal Fire officials reported Sunday evening that two firefighters suffered burns Sunday. One suffered minor injuries and was treated at a local hospital. Another suffered more severe burns and was transported to a burn center in Sacramento.

More than 4,000 SMUD customers still without power

Updated at 6:50 p.m.

Sacramento-area residents that don’t rely on PG&E for power were still impacted by Sunday’s intense winds. Approximately 40,000 Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District customers lost electricity at some point Sunday, according to the utility company’s Twitter page.

SMUD had restored power to all but 4,364 customers across 141 outages by Sunday evening, including 1,294 customers in Arden Arcade, according to its website. Florin (736 customers), Orangevale (356) and Land Park (346) all saw widespread outages Sunday evening as well.

Most of the outages were due to wind, though SMUD tweeted that three were caused by car-pole collisions as well.

Fire grows to 50,000 acres

Updated at 6 p.m.

During a press conference Sunday evening around 5:15 p.m., Gov. Gavin Newsom said the Kincade fire had grown to “north of” 50,000 acres and slipped below 10 percent containment. He said 3,000 individuals are working to battle the Kincade blaze alone.

“Kincade Fire remains the most stubborn challenge that we face and is immediately of top priority and focus,” Newsom said.

Forty-three counties are now “impacted by red flag warnings and severe weather condition,” Newsom said. Cal Fire has largely contained the Tick Fire in Southern California and is now bringing resources from that fire to the Kincade flames.

Newsom addressed concerns that weather conditions are increasing fire flareups throughout the state. He said that while the state has worked to increase resources and advance emergency preparation, there are remaining “areas of gaps,” including evacuating vulnerable populations and strengthening communications systems. He warned that the PG&E power shutoffs have also complicated the process.

We’re taking nothing for granted. We’re being as aggressive as we’ve ever been,” he said. “The overlay of these shutoffs creates the environment that is even more anxiety inducing and potentially life threatening.”

PG&E starts restoring power, warns of another blackout

PG&E Corp. said it was restoring power to thousands of customers in the northern Sacramento Valley and acknowledged that its “public safety power shutoff” ended up touching 965,000 homes and businesses in all — not the 940,000 as initially announced.

In addition, the company said another 100,000 customers unexpectedly lost power Sunday because of the fierce winds, putting the total number of customers blacked out at more than 1 million..

Mark Quinlan, the utility’s senior director of emergency preparedness, said the utility was importing hundreds of electrical workers from other utilities to help restore power quickly, and he hoped everyone would get power back Monday.

But he said it’s possible that some customers won’t get electricity restored before Tuesday morning — when Pacific Gas and Electric Co. expects to launch another deliberate blackout. That outage will probably be somewhat smaller, as initial warning notices have gone out to 500,000 customers. Quinlan said that figure could change. The power shutoff is expected to affect portions of 32 counties and would last through Wednesday morning.

Quinlan noted that the utility found 100 pieces of equipment damaged by a massive blackout earlier this month, and he believes more damage will be found in the wake of Sunday’s wind storm.

Firefighters beat back spot fire, save homes in Windsor

Updated at 3:25 p.m.

Firefighters attacking spot fires in east Windsor near Foothill Regional Park beat back flames threatening homes Sunday afternoon, Windsor police Chief Ruben Martinez said.

“There’s still fire, but firefighters did an outstanding job holding the line by the foothill park,” Martinez said. “None of the home were lost, but there was damage.”

Martinez said the town is blanketed with smoke and “I don’t even know where the fire is at,” but that he is hopeful firefighters will maintain their defenses around the town.

Interstate 80 reopens at Carquinez Bridge

Updated at 3:15 p.m.

After being shut down for several hours because of huge grass fires at both ends of the Carquinez Bridge, Interstate 80 has reopened, the CHP says.

“Interstate 80 is now open for both directions at the Carquinez Bridge,” CHP Solano tweeted. “Please, drive safe, there are still crews in the area working on hotspots.”

New evacuations in Contra Costa, Mendocino

Updated 3:05 p.m.

A five-acre involving three homes in Lafayette has prompted new evacuations in Contra Costa County, while another fire in Mendocino County has forced evacuations there.

“5 acres currently burning in Lafayette with 3 homes involved,” Contra Costa’s fire spokesman tweeted Sunday afternoon, following evacuation orders earlier Sunday from two other fires.

Meanwhile, the Mendocino County sheriff ordered evacuations from homes on Highway 20 to Blue Lakes due to the Burris Fire. Cal Fire said the fire had burned through 350 acres by early Sunday evening and was 20 percent contained.

“This is an evacuation order for all residences on Highway 20 to Blue Lakes due to a wildland fire,” the sheriff’s office said. “The area of Redemeyer Road and Deerwood Road is under evacuation warning at this time, however it is subject to change. Please exit the area towards Highway 101 and continue North on Highway 101. Again, the only direction of travel will be West on Highway 20 and North on Highway 101. Updates to follow when available.”

PG&E eyes another power shutoff

Updated at 1:36 p.m.

PG&E announced it is considering shutting off the lights again, starting Tuesday, as forecasters predict strong winds will resume.

The utility cited predictions of “a high risk of significant fires for a geographical footprint that covers much of PG&E’s service area.”

It said it could black out customers in portions of 32 counties: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, Yuba

Carquinez Bridge fire at 200 acres; Interstate 80 still closed

Updated at 1:30 p.m.

The fire burning on both ends of the Interstate 80 Carquinez Bridge has burned 200 acres and is now 50 percent contained, Cal Fire says. The blaze shut down Interstate 80 in both directions this morning and the highway will remain closed indefinitely, the CHP says.

“I-80 will remain completely closed between Hwy-4, through the Carquinez bridge, to I-780 in Vallejo with no known opening yet,” CHP tweeted. “Cummings Skyway is closed between Crockett Blvd & I-80 but open going towards Hwy-4 for traffic from Crockett and Port Costa.”

The evacuation that had been ordered earlier for portions of Crockett has been lifted.

Evacuation orders issued for Napa County, Calistoga

Updated at 1:10 p.m.

Cal Fire has issued an evacuation warning for parts of Napa County, including the city of Calistoga.

The warning area includes Napa County north of Diamond Mountain Road to Dunaweal Lane, east of the Sonoma County-Napa County line and west of Pickett Road.

An evacuation center has been set up at Napa Valley College, 2277 Napa Valley Highway.

New evacuations ordered in Sonoma as spot fires erupt

Updated at noon

The Sonoma Sheriff’s Office ordered new evacuations for residents between Windsor and Sonoma as spot fires continued to erupt.

“If you are in the area between Windsor and Healdsburg near Milk Barn Rd and Limerick Ln EVACUATE NOW,” the sheriff said on Twitter. “Firefighters are engaged in spot fires in the Milk Barn Rd area, Limerick Ln area, Hillview Ln. and Arata Ln area. Large If you have not evacuated, you NEED to do so now!”

The sheriff also tried to reassure residents that their property will be safe while they are gone.

“We have 262 peace officers making sure your property is safe,” the office tweeted. “No reports of looting. Hang in there.”

Newsom declares state of emergency

Updated at 11:20

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency as fires raged in Sonoma County, along either side of the Carquinez Bridge and in Southern California.

“We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires. It is critical that people in evacuation zones heed the warnings from officials and first responders, and have the local and state resources they need as we fight these fires,” he said in a prepared statement.

Highway 101 closes again

Updated at 10:37 a.m.:

Highway 101 was closed, reopened, and then closed again in the northern end of Sonoma County.

Tim Noyes, an assistant chief at the California Highway Patrol, said 101 was closed in the Dry Creek area because of “no visibility across the roadway due to heavy smoke.”

Cal Fire worried fire will jump Hwy. 101 into dry forests

Updated at 10:35 a.m.:

As winds continued pushing westward, Cal Fire officials said they were particularly worried about the fire jumping Highway 101 and chewing through dense forested areas west of the freeway.

Those areas haven’t burned since the 1940s and “the fuels in that area are extremely dense ... and they’re extremely dry,” said Stephen Volmer, a fire behavior analyst with Cal Fire.

The fire did jump Highway 128 at around 2:30 a.m. and was bearing down on 101 at a spot near Healdsburg and Windsor, said Battalion Chief Mike Blankenheim. He said “we’ve built a pretty extensive organization west of Highway 101” if the fire does breach the road.

Cal Fire said the fire started moving more rapidly at around 1 a.m., as the winds kicked in.

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“We’ve got rates of spread that are extremely dangerous at this point with erratic behavior,” Volmer said.

Although there were reports that the winds had begun tapering off slightly in the fire area, National Weather Service forecaster Ryan Walburn said the weather was still erratic. Wind gusts of 70 mph or more were still being reported at elevations of 3,000 feet.

“We have approximately 24 hours straight of red flag conditions,” he said, with the warning next expected to be lifted until late Monday morning.

“Things will improve as we head into Monday and Tuesday,” although another bout of strong winds could develop sometime Tuesday.

Evacuees describe frantic escape, traffic jams

Updated at 10:25 a.m.

Residents among the 180,000 people evacuated from the Kincade Fire began settling into temporary homes at various shelters Sunday morning after being rousted from their homes by warnings from police.

Jerry Overstreet, 76, a 56-year resident of a home in Sebastopol, said he woke at 5 a.m. to the sound of police beating on his door.

“The police said, ‘You gotta go!’” Overstreet said as he sat at the Petaluma Community Center, which had filled to capacity by early Sunday.

Overstreet said he and his wife and granddaughter were able to get out with their two dogs, medication and important documents, the got stuck “in the biggest traffic jam of your life.”

The experience was a first for the family, he said.

“Never, ever, ever did we have to do the same thing,” he said.

Nearby, Jan Peterson was sitting on a park bench outside the center with Larry Bulinski, weathering the brisk wind by pulling her hood up around her ears.

Peterson, who said she is in her 70s, left Sebastopol Saturday night and arrived at the shelter around 9 p.m., she said.

“I’ve always felt optimistic about Sebastopol being okay, but I also know that anything can happen,” she said. “We just always are aware that a fire can hit.”

Have winds peaked?

Update at 9:30 a.m.:

Jan Null, a private forecaster in the Bay Area, said the worst of the winds in the Sonoma County area may be over.

“I think it’s already peaked in the North Bay,” said Null, of Golden Gate Weather Services.

He said some of the stronger winds were heading southeasterly, toward the East Bay and the Sacramento Valley, although they were subsiding there, too.

That doesn’t mean all is calm in the Kincade Fire area, though. “It’s still really windy,” he said. “The top of Mount West St. Helena is still gusting at 72 mph. But down in the Alexander Valley it’s at 22 mph.”

He added: “Fighting a fire at 20 mph is still a terrible task.”

Some evacuation centers full

Update at 9:01 a.m.:

With 180,000 Northern California residents evacuated from their homes because of the Kincade Fire, some evacuation centers filled up overnight, but authorities say there still is room at others.

The Marin County Fairgrounds at 10 Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael is accepting evacuees and small animals. The Napa Valley College at 2277 Napa Valley Highway in Napa and the CrossWalk Community Church at 2590 First St. in Napa are accepting evacuees.

Large animals are being accepted at the Alameda County Fairgrounds at 4501 Pleasanton Ave. in Pleasanton and at the Petaluma Fairgrounds at 100 Fairgrounds Dr. in Petaluma.

Several other locations are at capacity and cannot accept additional evacuees, including the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the Petaluma Community Center, the Petaluma Veterans Building and the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.

Windsor mayor evacuated twice

Update at 8:50 a.m.:

Dominic Foppoli, the mayor of Windsor, said his city of 27,000 was safe for now but he wasn’t ready to breathe easy.

“We’re not actually on fire. We’re not out of the woods yet. The fire has not broken through our lines,” he said in a phone interview from a command center that was set up next to Santa Rosa’s emergency operations center.

He said it was his third command center in less than a day; he had to be evacuated from the first two. “We’re technically in a mandatory evacuation zone but we’re going to hunker down.”

He said he was proud that practically everyone left Windsor within five hours. “It was the largest evacuation in the city’s history,” he said.

Evacuating in Santa Rosa

Update at 8:45 a.m.:

Christina Foppoli, the sister of Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, was packing up her things to evacuate from Santa Rosa and trying to figure out where to go. She and her husband were going to stay with relatives in Novato, but that city has been blacked out by PG&E. They might end up going instead to Petaluma.

Ironically, her own neighborhood still had electricity, “which is why my husband doesn’t want to leave,” she said. “But you have to get out of the way of the emergency workers .... It’s a mandatory evacuation.”

Second fire forcing evacuations in Contra Costa

Update at 8:38 a.m.:

A second fire burning in Contra Costa County is forcing new evacuations as winds continue to whip flames in the eastern part of the county.

“Evacuations ordered in Clayton fire for Leon Ct, Leon Dr & Leon Way,” Contra Costa fire Tweeted. “Residents should leave immediately. With several fires burning in East County, if you are in danger, regardless of location, don’t wait, evacuate. Fire danger is high, report all to 911 immediately.”

Winds calm in Santa Rosa

Update at 8:32 a.m.:

Despite evacuation notices for parts of the city and dreaded memories from two years ago, areas of Santa Rosa were still fairly calm as the winds abated.

Patrick McCallum, a Sacramento lobbyist whose Santa Rosa home was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire, said he and his wife Judy haven’t been evacuated yet even as winds topped 40 mph overnight. As he walked outside this morning, he said: “It’s definitely calm here,” with winds of about 10 mph. He said there was no visible smoke from the fire, which he estimated was 15 miles away.

McCallum, who runs a wildfire victims’ lobbying group called Up from the Ashes, criticized PG&E, whose transmission tower might have caused the fire. “The evacuations were due to the company’s lack of investment in safety the past 20 years.” Cal Fire hasn’t yet assigned blame for the fire.

180,000 evacuated from Kincade Fire, largest since Oroville Dam emergency

Update at 8:10 a.m.:

Sonoma sheriff’s officials say 180,000 people have now been evacuated because of the Kincade Fire.

“Approx 180,000 people under evacuation order due to #KincadeFire,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter. “This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff’s Office can remember. Take care of each other.”

The evacuation is the largest since 180,000 people were forced to flee the Oroville area in February 2017 over fears that the Oroville Dam might fail during torrential storms.

Healdsburg, Windsor escape flames overnight

Update at 8 a.m.:

Despite mandatory evacuations in Windsor and Healdsburg, firefighters were able to keep flames from the Kincade Fire from burning into either community overnight.

In Healdsburg, heavy smoke drifted in overnight and smoke filled the sky, but the fire remained behind hillsides outside of town. The same is true in Windsor.

“The Kincade Fire is burning northeast of Windsor off Chalk Hill Road,” the city reported on its Facebook page. “It did not reach Windsor last night. There is still windy weather ahead, but we thought a little good news at least for now would be welcome.”

Firefighters halt progress of Contra Costa grass fire

Update at 7:50 a.m.:

Firefighters in the Contra Costa city of Oakley say they have stopped the forward momentum of a large grass fire that was being fueled by gusty winds and forced evacuations in Summerlake and the eastern part of the city.

“The fire department reports they have stopped the forward motion of the fire and are now working to contain the fire,” Oakley police said. East Cypress Road remains closed for fire and police access.

Meanwhile, officials in Petaluma said evacuation centers there have all filled up overnight as tens of thousands of residents evacuated from Northern California cities threatened by the Kincade fire.

“All Petaluma evacuation centers are at capacity and cannot accept additional evacuees at this time,” the city reported.

Kincade Fire spreads 2 miles overnight

Update at 7:10 a.m.:

Fueled by gusting winds, the Kincade Fire marched at least two miles from the hills east of Healdsburg toward town overnight, but was still not burning into the town.

Firefighters were positioned block by block in Healdsburg early Sunday, but winds were calm in the town with only occasional gusts.

So far, Cal Fire says 79 structures have been destroyed and 14 others damaged by the blaze, which has burned more than 50,000 acres - nearly 78 square miles - and is now less than 10 percent contained. The fire is threatening 31,175 structures.

In Healdsburg Sunday morning, Frank Vos and a friend were standing in Vos’ front yard along Powell Avenue looking east at the huge plume of smoke behind the hills.

Vos said he decided not to evacuate overnight, reasoning that he would see flames burning the hillsides in time to get to safety.

“We’d be able to see the flames on the mountain and have enough time to get out,” Vos said.

Highway 101 reopening

Update at 7 a.m.:

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office says Highway 101 is now in the process of being reopened.

“At this time Hwy 101 between Santa Rosa and Cloverdale is in the process of being reopened to through traffic,” the sheriff’s office said in a Nixle announcement at 6:52 a.m.

Grass fire forcing evacuations in Contra Costa County

Update at 6:55 a.m.:

Contra Costa fire officials ordered neighborhoods in Oakley evacuated because of a fast-moving grass fire.

“Evacuations being ordered for the Summer Lake Neighborhood & Knightsen Ave and Delta Rd area in Oakley,” the department wrote on Twitter. “Evacuation site at Delta Vista Middle School. If you are in danger, don’t wait, evacuate. All others please avoid these areas to allow first responders access.”

Firefighters protect homes along Highway 128

Update at 6:45 a.m.:

Volunteer firefighters from Nevada County were making a stand early Sunday near the burned Soda Rock Winery along Highway 128 trying to protect homes adjacent to the structure.

Daniel Ramey, a firefighter with the Peardale Chicago Park Fire Protection District, said teams were spraying homes to protect them from burning embers swirling through the darkness.

The winery had burned earlier as winds swept through the area.

“It got lit earlier today when we had those high winds and embers flying, and now we’re just trying to keep it to that area,” Ramey said. “After we lost that structure we don’t want to lose any more.

“We have a lot of ground to cover. We’re assigned to these homes. We know that people live here, they trust us, and we’re going to do our best for them.”

Highways 128, 101 closed

Update at 6:30 a.m.:

The Kincade fire has jumped Highway 128 northeast of Healdsburg and burning trees have fallen onto the road. Other trees were smoldering along the roadside and flying embers were being swept through the air. A sign noting that Calistoga was 14 miles away was on fire, and spot fires were being reported throughout the area.

Highway 101 northbound was closed at Steele Lane in Santa Rosa.

Numerous structures, including wineries were burning early Sunday. The Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg on Highway 128, a stone building that had stood in the Alexander Valley since 1869, had burned.

Windsor, Santa Rosa threatened by Kincade Fire

Update at 4:30 a.m.:

Pushed by wind gusts as strong as 80 mph, the Kincade Fire raced to the edge of Windsor early Sunday morning, jumping highways and leading to an evacuation warning for parts of Santa Rosa.

“Fire close to Windsor, evacuate Windsor now!!” read an emergency Nixle report issued by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office at 3:31 a.m.

“Heavy smoke, debris and strong wind reported near Brooks and Arata in Windsor. If you are in Windsor you need to get out now.” The fire was “headed towards (the) east side of Windsor,” read another Nixle advisory.

Windsor, a Santa Rosa suburb with a population of roughly 27,000, was under a mandatory evacuation since Saturday, part of an evacuation order impacting nearly 90,000 people in Sonoma County. Wine country towns including Sebastopol and Larkfield, as well as towns along the Russian River were also under evacuation orders early Sunday, the sheriff’s office said on Twitter. Valley Ford, just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, was also evacuated.

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The Santa Rosa neighborhoods of Fountaingrove and Coffey Park - both devastated by the 2017 Wine Country fires - were placed under an evacuation warning, meaning residents there should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital was evacuated Saturday. Ambulances were parked outside a Kaiser hospital in Santa Rosa, preparing to remove patients.

The fire jumped Highway 128 and emergency scanner traffic reported spot fires a mile ahead of the fire.

The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 80 mph in the hills north of Healdsburg, a town of 11,000 evacuated on Saturday.

The Kincade Fire, at 25,455 acres as of Saturday evening, was just 10 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Reporters Hannah Wiley, Benjy Egel, and Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.
Ryan Sabalow covers environment, general news and enterprise and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. Before joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter at The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.