What we know: Where Northern California fires are burning, mass evacuations, latest wind forecast

»» Latest updates on wildfires across California can be found here.

Here’s what we know Sunday afternoon, Oct. 27, about the wildfire situation in Northern California:

New evacuation warnings in Napa County

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.

Map of Kincade Fire

The Kincade Fire evacuation area is inside the part of Sonoma County that PG&E shut down power on Thursday. Close the map key to view the map by pressing the "X" at the right.
Source: Sonoma County

Kincade Fire in Sonoma County

The Kincade Fire burning in Sonoma County has scorched 30,000 acres - 47 square miles - and is only 10 percent contained. The blaze has destroyed at least 79 structures, including the iconic Soda Rock Winery along Highway 128, and is threatening more than 31,000 other structures.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, but a huge area from Santa Rosa to the Pacific Ocean has been ordered evacuated, with 180,000 people fleeing their homes and filling some shelters to capacity. The evacuation is the largest since February 2017, when fears that the Oroville Dam might fail displaced 180,000 people from that area.

Highway 101 is closed in northern Sonoma County in the Dry Creek area because of “no visibility across the roadway due to heavy smoke,” the California Highway Patrol says. The freeway remained closed as of 5:30 p.m.

The fire has not burned into cities under threat such as Healdsburg and Windsor, but Cal Fire is concerned that high winds may push it west across Highway 101 into dry forest areas that have not burned since the 1940s.

Winds are still being clocked at up to 70 mph in higher elevations, and red flag warnings are in effect until late Monday morning.

Carquinez Bridge Fire

Interstate 80, the main east-west highway across Northern California, was closed Sunday morning after a huge pair of grass fires erupted on both ends of the Carquinez Bridge near Vallejo. Traffic has since reopened.

Aerial television footage showed some cars burned in the blaze, and Contra Costa fire officials ordered mandatory evacuations in the southern half of Crockett and issued a warning for the rest of the community of about 3,000 people.

Fire officials said the first blaze appeared to spark on the Vallejo side of the bridge, then jumped the Carquinez Straits because of high winds whipping through the area.

“Probably the embers because of these winds that are crazy high down here have jumped the Carquinez Straits and now we have a pretty good grass fire going,” Contra Costa fire spokesman Steve Hill said. “We are moving significant resources into that area.”

The first fire broke out shortly after 9 a.m. near the Glen Cove community east of the toll plaza in Vallejo. Embers jumped the freeway and ignited above the California State University Maritime Academy campus, which prompted the evacuation of about 200 students and staff from the area.

Westbound motorists were being diverted at Interstate 780 and eastbound traffic was being diverted to Highway 4, the CHP said.

Newsom declares statewide emergency

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as a result of “unprecedented high-wind events” that helped fuel the Kincade Fire in Northern California and the Tick Fire near Santa Clarita in Southern California.

“We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires,” Newsom said in a statement Sunday morning. “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.”

The Tick Fire, which at one point forced the evacuations of more than 40,000 residents, burned 4,615 acres and destroyed or damaged 49 structures. It was at 65 percent containment Sunday.

PG&E power shutoffs

Pacific Gas & Electric began cutting off power Saturday to an unprecedented 940,000 homes and businesses Saturday in advance of a huge windstorm sweeping into the north state with gusts measured at 103 mph in one spot in the Sierra Nevada.

The power shutoff, designed to lessen the chance of downed power lines sparking new fires, affected more than 2 million people in parts of 36 counties.

Winds fuel new blazes in Contra Costa County

At least two other fire erupted early Sunday in Contra Costa County, forcing more evacuations.

Firefighters in 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.

A second fire also forced new evacuations as winds whipped flames in the eastern part of the county.

Firefighters were able to stop both blazes at 25 and 10 acres, respectively, and the evacuation orders were lifted.

When will the high winds be over?

Forecasters differed Sunday over whether the worst of the windstorm was over.

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.

But 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.”

Evacuees describe frantic escapes, traffic

Residents among the 180,000 people evacuated from the Kincade Fire began settling into temporary homes at various shelters Sunday morning, with some shelters warning they were at capacity and could not handle more.

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” before arriving at the Petaluma Community Center shelter.

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

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

At the Petaluma Veterans Building, which also was at capacity Sunday, Henry Thienes and his daughter, Emma, were outside after evacuating from the outskirts of Windsor Saturday with other members of their family and four dogs, three cats and close to 60 cockatiels and parrots.

They said the shelter was jammed packed overnight to the point people were sleeping in chairs against the wall because there weren’t enough cots.

They decided to try to catch a few hours sleep in their vehicles so they could be with their animals instead.

Henry Thienes, 77, said the worst part was not knowing whether his home still stood.

“That’s what’s scary,” he said. “Your whole family history could be lost. All your heirlooms, your pictures, everything.”

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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.