Thousands of Sonoma evacuees return home
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.”