Thou­sands of Sonoma evac­uees re­turn home

Lodi News-Sentinel - - STATE - By Benjy Egel and Sam Stan­ton

CAL­IS­TOGA — Fire­fight­ers bat­tling the Kin­cade Fire had a se­cond night of calm winds, sev­eral hours after of­fi­cials an­nounced res­i­dents would be al­lowed to re­turn to Healds­burg, Windsor and many other ar­eas that had been un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders since Satur­day.

By 7 a.m. Thurs­day, Cal Fire said the fire had burned 76,825 acres — 120 square miles — and was 60% con­tained, hold­ing the size of the fire the same as it quadru­ple the con­tain­ment in a span of 36 hours.

“Fire per­son­nel made good progress in their fire fight­ing ef­forts to­day due to fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions,” Cal Fire said in an up­date. “Ac­cess to the north­ern part of the fire re­mains chal­leng­ing be­cause of steep ter­rain and nar­row roads, but fire­fight­ers will con­tinue to build on the progress they made to­day with more con­trol lines be­ing es­tab­lished.”

Sonoma County Sher­iff Mark Es­sick said be­fore the Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon an­nounce­ment that about half the county’s evac­uees, or 30,000 peo­ple, al­ready had evac­u­a­tion or­ders lifted.

“We’re all tired, you’re all anx­ious to get home,” the sher­iff said in a video mes­sage posted on Face­book. “We’re ready for you to get home, as well ...

“A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple should be get­ting some good news to­day.”

Some of that news came Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, when Cal Fire an­nounced that evac­u­a­tion or­ders for sev­eral ar­eas – in­clud­ing the en­tire town of Windsor and city of Healds­burg — had been down­graded to evac­u­a­tion warnings, leav­ing the com­mu­ni­ties open for res­i­dents to re­turn if they chose.

Es­sick noted that the worst fears about Tues­day night’s winds were not re­al­ized.

“The evening went well, and the wind event was not as strong as had been an­tic­i­pated,” he said.

Cal Fire said 90,015 struc­tures are still con­sid­ered threat­ened by the fire, which be­gan Oct. 23 and has de­stroyed 141 homes and dam­aged 33 oth­ers. A to­tal of 332 struc­tures have been de­stroyed or dam­aged.

Ar­eas east of Windsor re­mained un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders, and Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine said early Wed­nes­day that fire­fight­ers were fo­cus­ing their ef­forts in those spots.

“We are highly mo­ti­vated to get you back into the com­mu­nity as soon as pos­si­ble,” Heine said. “How­ever, we still have many is­sues around the town of Windsor with this fire to still deal with.

“We have hot spots that need to be tended to so that when we do al­low you back into your neigh­bor­hoods it is a safe en­vi­ron­ment for you and your fam­ily.”

Evac­u­a­tions over the week­end led to more than 180,000 peo­ple be­ing dis­placed from parts of Santa Rosa all the way to the coast­line, but evac­u­a­tion warnings for ar­eas west of the High­way 101 cor­ri­dor such as Bodega Bay were lifted en­tirely as fire­fight­ers con­tin­ued to make progress.

Cal Fire has 5,245 peo­ple as­signed to the blaze, in­clud­ing Larry Barlow of Mon­terey County’s North County Fire Pro­tec­tion District, who ar­rived in Santa Rosa a week ago when the first first erupted.

Barlow and his fel­low fire­fight­ers worked 24hour days in­stalling hose lines, pro­tect­ing struc­tures and do­ing hand line work with 20- and 30-pound packs on, he said. The 27year fire­fighter pre­vi­ously came up for the Tubbs Fire in 2017, which called for less wild land work and more struc­ture de­fense, he said.

Each gru­el­ing shift is fol­lowed by 24 hours off, dur­ing which Barlow said he cleans and re­fu­els the fire en­gine, gets some food, naps and show­ers. The best way to recharge for the next shift is of­ten just get­ting some alone time, he said, and call­ing his fam­ily.

“My wife’s re­ally un­der­stand­ing, my kids un­der­stand it. It’s what I’ve been do­ing for so long that once I go here it could be for two days or it could be for two weeks,” Barlow said. “(But) you get older, so it takes a toll on your body over a while.”

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