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Kincade Fire burns into history as Sonoma County’s largest blaze

The California blaze scorched an area three times the size of Santa Rosa as a force of more than 5,000 firefighters gained a grip on the week-old conflagration


Woodbridge firefighter Joe Zurilgen passes a burning home as the Kincade Fire rages in Healdsburg, Calif.

AP Photo/Noah Berger

By Guy Kovner
The Press Democrat

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. — The Kincade fire burned into history Wednesday, becoming Sonoma County’s largest wildfire by scorching an area three times the size of Santa Rosa as a force of more than 5,000 firefighters gained a grip on the week-old conflagration.

Wednesday night’s winds were weaker than expected, and fire crews expanded the protective lines between the flames and populated areas, a feat that did not occur with the calamitous fires in the fall of 2017.

“I would say there’s a lot of optimism that we have turned the corner for the better on this fire,” Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox said at the fire agency’s Thursday night press conference.

The fire, which erupted with a fury during a potent windstorm Oct. 23 in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Geyserville, grew by only 700 acres Tuesday night — a difference Cal Fire attributed to improved mapping — and got no larger Wednesday, finishing the day at 76,825 acres, or 120 square miles.

Containment jumped to 45% Wednesday, up from 15% the day before. The Kincade fire has now destroyed 266 structures, including 133 homes, an increase Cox attributed to a more accurate damage assessment by Cal Fire teams. Four first responders have been injured battling the blaze.

The fire’s initial power prompted the evacuation of nearly 190,000 people, the largest ever in county history. By Wednesday night, only 5,778 residents remaining under mandatory evacuation orders, most of them in the remote, sparsely populated areas of Knights Valley and the hills east of Geyserville, Sheriff Mark Essick said.

“We believe most of the threat is now in our rearview mirror,” Essick said at the press conference.

The last active fire area Wednesday was at the base of 4,343-foot Mount St. Helena at the corner of Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties, where helicopters and air tankers poured water and retardant on the blaze, Cox said.

In setting a fire footprint record, the Kincade fire exceeded the Nuns fire (56,556 acres), the Tubbs fire (36,807 acres) and the Pocket fire at 17,357 acres — the only one of the 2017 wildfires that burned solely in Sonoma County.

The 2017 fires, however, killed 24 people and destroyed more than 5,300 homes in Sonoma County.

Firefighters in the field Wednesday expressed satisfaction with their hard-won gains.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Sid Andreis, a new fire captain and a lifelong Larkfield resident. “It was a good night.”

The threat that menaced the edges of Healdsburg, Windsor and north Santa Rosa was blunted by repeat assaults by firefighters combating the wind-driven fire and its flying embers.

Fire officials expressed confidence they had blocked the blaze at the Highway 101 and Mark West Springs corridors near Santa Rosa, a mission accomplished during a particularly fierce two-day assault against the fire’s western push.

“It feels like we turned the corner,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville, who is also Geyserville’s fire chief.

Local firefighters Tuesday night were determined to turn back the threat posed by the Kincade fire to communities still rebuilding from the Tubbs inferno, feeling they’d failed to stop the blaze two years ago and now had a chance to prevent a repeat disaster.


©2019 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)