As helicopters attack Sand Fire, resident comments on evacuation
A vegetation fire that sparked Saturday afternoon rapidly grew in size in western Yolo County, threatening several structures and closing the main highway through the area, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Sand Fire, on County Road 41 and Highway 16 just north of Rumsey, was reported at 2:37 p.m., according to Cal Fire. In less than two hours, the fire’s size grew from 125 acres to 600 acres. By 9 p.m., the fire had reached 1,700 acres with no containment, Cal Fire officials. At sunset, a view from a PG&E-installed wildfire camera at Lake Berryessa showed billows of black smoke continuing rising from the Capay Valley.
Will Power, a spokesman for Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit, said flames were continuing at a “rapid rate of spread,” propelled by north east winds of around 20 mph. He said said more than 500 firefighters would continue to work through the night as the fire pushed against steep brush-covered slopes.
At 9 p.m., 4 fire crews and 38 engines, as well as a handful of dozers and water tenders, were on scene. Cal Fire was being assisted by the state Office of Emergency Services, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol and several local fire agencies including Folsom Fire Department. Air units, including helicopters, would re-join the attack during daylight hours.
Because of the fire, Caltrans closed Highway 16 from Highway 20 to Brooks, Power said. The cause of the fire is unknown.
A resident of the census-designated place said he was surprised by the fire’s quick spread but that the hamlet, which has fewer than 100 homes, had escaped damage.
“We noticed the fire about 3:15 p.m., and it came right down by my property,” said Gage Hutchens, who said he’s the last property on the north edge of town. “It came by and gave us a glancing blow.”
Hutchens said the fire started on the east side of Highway 16 but had been pushed west across Cache Creek and the highway in a march toward Rumsey Canyon, where he described the terrain as “difficult.”
Hutchens, who had left his property and stopped at the Guinda Corner Store about five miles south Saturday evening, told The Sacramento Bee by phone that the timing of the fire was relief in some ways.
Hutchens says most of the vegetation in the area is still green from late season rains that persisted across Northern California in May, making the fire jump to areas that had drier patches or dead branches. “We’re really fortunate that it happened now (so early in the season),” he said. “It makes a big difference.”
Still, mandatory evacuations are in effect for homes along Highway 16 and County Road 41, Power said, though the number of structures threatened was unknown.
The blaze is several miles north of the areas where PG&E had earlier shut off power to more than 1,700 residents in Yolo, Solano and Napa counties because of the potential for fire danger. That shutoff, which concluded around 4 p.m. but is still in effect Saturday evening, is separate from another power-down that PG&E says will affect residents along the Sierra foothills Saturday night.
The fire is burning roughly three miles south of where last year’s County Fire, also known as the Guinda Fire, which started June 30, 2018. That fire burned 90,288 acres and destroyed 20 structures before it was contained. Last year’s fire was started by an improperly installed installed electric livestock fence unit.
An evacuation center has been set up in Esparto at the Boy Scouts Cabin, 16980 Yolo Ave.
Hutchens was not sure if he’d need to go to Esparto or stay in a hotel in the valley overnight Saturday. He said it depended which way the wind was blowing – whether it would continue to push the flames up through Rumsey Canyon or shift back toward the Capay Valley.
Several miles north, meanwhile, forward progress was stopped on fire a few miles north along Pope Valley Road, near Calistoga. The Ink Fire started around 2:30 p.m. Saturday and reached 50 acres before fire crews were able to stop its spread. It’s currently 75 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.