During high winds, a fencepost casts embers over a vineyard as the Kincade Fire burns in Healdsburg, Calif., on Sunday, Oct 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

During high winds, a fencepost casts embers over a vineyard as the Kincade Fire burns in Healdsburg, Calif., on Sunday, Oct 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

California’s wind-driven blaze spurs massive evacuations

The sheriff pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to get out immediately

Authorities in Northern California ordered 180,000 residents to flee their homes Sunday as historic winds fueled a wildfire in the wine country, while electricity was shut off for millions of people in an effort to prevent more fires.

The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major highway prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders that covered parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by a wildfire two years ago. The latest evacuation orders after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to 2.3 million people across 38 counties starting Saturday evening.

“This is the largest evacuation that any of us … can remember,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Sunday morning. “Take care of each other.”

About 90,000 residents were already under a mandatory evacuation order Saturday night that encompassed a huge swath of wine country stretching from the inland community of Healdsburg west through the Russian River Valley and to Bodega Bay on the coast, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said.

The sheriff pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to get out immediately, citing the 24 lives lost when a wildfire swept through the region two years ago.

“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Essick said. “You cannot fight this. Please evacuate.”

The current wildfire, dubbed the Kincade Fire, began Wednesday night and is only 10% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday. It grew by almost 4,000 acres overnight to 30,000 acres (47 square miles) and has destroyed 79 structures.

The fire was expected to be especially unwieldly Sunday due to powerful winds. On Sunday morning, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts topped 90 mph (145 kph) in Healdsburg Hills North, a popular tourist attraction in Northern California’s wine country.

Winds could lead to “erratic fire behaviour” and send embers for miles, Cal Fire warned.

Healdsburg lost one of its historic attractions to the flames Sunday when embers carried by the winds sparked a blaze that engulfed the Soda Rock Winery whose buildings included a general store and post office founded in 1869.

Concern that gusts could knock down power lines and spark devastating wildfires prompted two blackouts in recent weeks.

PG&E said the new wave of blackouts was affecting about 940,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for 48 hours or longer. The city of San Francisco was not in line for a blackout amid shut-offs for most of the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country to the north and the Sierra foothills.

The wind event expected to peak early Sunday would likely be the strongest in several years, said PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel.

Evacuations also hit inmates at the North County Detention Facility in Santa Rosa and about 100 Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital patients.

Authorities expanded evacuation orders to Santa Rosa early Sunday out of fear that blowing embers could spread the fire across U.S. 101, the main thoroughfare in the area, and march toward the coast.

“The concern is that it may jump the freeway,” said Brandon Halle, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’re focused on getting ahead of this fire.”

To the south, a wildfire Thursday destroyed 18 structures in the Santa Clarita area north of Los Angeles. Nearly all the 50,000 residents ordered to evacuate were allowed back home after Santa Ana winds began to ease.

Marcos Briano found destroyed homes on his street.

“I’m thankful that nothing happened to my house, but I feel bad for my neighbours,” Briano, 71, said Saturday.

Sheriff’s officials said human remains were found within the wide burn area, but it’s unclear if the death is connected to the blaze. The Tick fire was 55% contained.

Several thousand people in neighbouring Lake County were warned to be ready to evacuate if an order is given. A 2015 wildfire in the area killed four people and burned nearly 2,000 buildings.

What sparked the current fires is unknown, but PG&E said a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville malfunctioned minutes before that blaze erupted Wednesday night.

The utility acknowledged a tower malfunction prompted a strategy change for determining when to kill high-voltage transmission lines, Andrew Vesey, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said Friday.

The possible link between the wine country fire and a PG&E transmission line contained grim parallels to last year when most of the town of Paradise burned, killing 85 people in the deadliest U.S. blaze in a century.

State officials concluded a PG&E transmission line sparked that fire.

Many residents facing blackouts had barely recovered from a previous shut-off.

About 30 miles (48 kilometres) northeast of Sacramento, 65-year-old Sukhwinder Singh said he worked the Quality Market convenience store cash register in the dark, but nobody wanted warm soda and melted ice cream. He estimates he lost about $1,100 in sales and products. Singh has a generator now, but said he can’t keep it running all night when the store is closed.

“I don’t know how we can pay the bills at the end of the month,” he said.

Also northeast of Sacramento, Scott Paris estimates about $20,000 lost in shutting down his High-Hand Nursery and Cafe when PG&E cut the power earlier this month for about 24 hours during a weekday. A beautiful fall Sunday might bring $50,000 to $60,000 worth of business.

“We’re scrambling to get enough generators,” he said. “If this is the new normal, it’s going to drive up a lot of costs. It drives up stress.”

READ MORE: New evacuations for 50,000 people near California wildfire

Daisy Nguyen And Christopher Weber, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged in Coquihalla crash showed ‘wanton and reckless disregard for other people’s lives’: Crown

Despite already having brake issues, Roy McCormack tackled the steepest hill on the infamous highway

Abbotsford International Airport. Black Press file photo.
Abbotsford Airport had 4th highest traffic in Canada in 2020, and its number are down

Statistics Canada report describes a ‘devastating year’ for air travel

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

Chilliwack’s Ryan Wugalter with his kids, three-year-old Mira and 15-month-old Solomon. Wugalter recently released his children’s album Super Giraffe. (Submitted)
Chilliwack father releases children’s album, songs about superhero giraffe and not eating magnets

Inspiration for Ryan Wugalter’s new album ‘Super Giraffe’ came from his two young kids

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Most Read