2 firefighters burned in Kincade Fire

One firefighter suffered a minor burn and was taken by ambulance to a hospital and another who was burned more seriously was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento


By Melody Gutierrez, Julia Wick, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Anita Chabria
Los Angeles Times

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Firefighters were bracing for another round of Diablo winds in Northern California this week, days after monster winds topping 90 mph ripped through the area, making it difficult for officials to make any progress on the growing Kincade fire.

Santa Rosa residents were forced to evacuate in darkness early Sunday amid Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power outages, using flashlights and cellphones as light sources. The number of evacuated residences had increased to 185,000, said Jay Tracy, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection.

A firefighter mops up hot spots from the Kincade fire after it jumped Chalk Hill Road near Healdsburg, Calif. on Sunday morning, Oct. 27, 2019. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
A firefighter mops up hot spots from the Kincade fire after it jumped Chalk Hill Road near Healdsburg, Calif. on Sunday morning, Oct. 27, 2019. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The fire grew almost 12,000 acres overnight into Monday and remained at just 5% containment as firefighters entered their fifth day battling the blaze. At least 96 structures have been destroyed, including 40 homes.

One firefighter suffered a minor burn and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, officials said Monday. Another who was burned more seriously was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. No deaths have been reported in the massive blaze.

Winds are expected to pick up again Tuesday and reach their peak in the evening, with gusts up to 70 mph, said Spencer Tangen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Overnight, the fire swept south of the town of Windsor on Shiloh Ridge, where homes were burned, although it was unclear how many structures were lost.

“We’ve been chasing this fire for the last four days. We finally got the break in the weather,” Ben Nichols, a Cal Fire division chief, said during the morning briefing in Santa Rosa. “We have to get out there and get this thing buttoned up and put it to bed.”

Firefighters aimed to take advantage of calm winds on Monday. Crews are being deployed to protect homes while those on the fire’s perimeter work to add containment lines, specifically in the northeastern and northwestern areas of the fire.

Downed power lines and weakened trees are making for difficult working conditions for firefighters. Aircraft plan to drop water and fire retardant on the difficult-to-access terrain.

The fire has been as much a challenge for residents as it has for firefighters. Many are still recovering from the Tubbs fire in 2017 that devastated Santa Rosa, killing 22 people and destroying homes.

Those who lost their houses are struggling with difficult memories while navigating evacuations in darkness during what has been PG&E’s largest power shut-off yet.

To make matters worse, nighttime temperatures are beginning to drop in the North Bay valleys, with temperatures decreasing to the low 30s in Santa Rosa, Tangen said.

“You don’t really think about the cold (during fires) … but that’s going to be really hard on people” who don’t have power, Tangen said.

PG&E said it could take until Wednesday to inspect the affected lines — by foot, helicopter and drone — and restore power. At the same time, it warned that Tuesday’s winds could prolong the shut-offs and bring new ones.

In Santa Rosa, Honora Clemens, 93, was up monitoring the fire on television Sunday when she saw lights go out on a block of nearby homes. The smoke was heavy, but she hadn’t seen any embers as she did when she fled the Tubbs fire. She hadn’t been ordered to leave yet.

Then her television screen froze. Suddenly she felt cut off and panicked. How would she know if there were an order to evacuate?

She and her daughter packed up and left, driving to the fairgrounds, where they knew the routine: They had spent 10 smoky days there in 2017.

Not everyone left, though.

Mike Birleffi, of Windsor, chose to ignore Sunday night’s mandatory evacuation orders out of a commitment to “home protection, ignorance and stubbornness,” he said, standing barefoot in jeans and a denim vest on the edge of his driveway Monday morning.

There was also, as he put it, “the overinflated sense of self-worth” that had kept him on his three acres of land, where the 63-year-old self-employed carpenter has lived for 33 years.

He stood next to a hand-painted sign that read “Thank you first responders,” in red paint.

“I made it during the last fire. I’m a recycling buff,” he said.

He had gotten a few hours of sleep Sunday night, but not much. He spent the evening in his driveway, looking north as the flames flared up in the hills.

“It looked kind of like some kind of biblical prophesy,” he said.

As firefighters fought against winds Sunday morning, three new fires broke out in eastern Contra Costa County — two in Oakley along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and one in a small, rural neighborhood of Clayton east of Mount Diablo.

Then, mid-morning, a fire erupted in Vallejo and sent embers across the Carquinez Strait to light a new blaze in Contra Costa County, in the hills around Crockett.

Two arrests have been made amid the blazes. A man was arrested Sunday on suspicion of attempting to enter a burned area with criminal intentions, according to Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick. A woman was arrested on suspicion of arson after authorities said she set fire to a home. Essick said that crime was an isolated incident targeting an individual and not related to the bigger fires.

Sheriff’s officials said repopulation efforts would begin soon, with the most recent evacuees being given the OK to return home first.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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