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Firefighters focus efforts along U.S. Highway 101 to combat Kincade Fire

by Will Schmitt, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat |

Firefighting forces in California’s Sonoma County will stack up along Highway 101 near populated areas Tuesday to prevent any Kincade Fire crossings after flames got within several hundred feet of the freeway near Windsor on Sunday, said Cal Fire division chief Jonathan Cox at a morning news conference. He noted that the fire, which has grown to about 75,000 acres or 117 square miles, previously managed to jump Highway 128 en route to Healdsburg and Windsor, even after it briefly died down.

“101 is one of our priorities to hold, and that whole area that’s populated on the 101 corridor,” Cox said. “That will be the test this evening when that wind comes through, and that’s why you’ll see a significant number of resources in place around those communities.”

Fire officials also worried that strong winds late Tuesday and early Wednesday could align with basins like the Mark West Springs area that burned in the Tubbs fire. Cox said vegetation in the area had grown back enough since October 2017 to pose a significant fire risk.

“It’s dry, there’s grass in there, some of the brush has returned, there’s timber that didn’t burn during the Tubbs fire,” Cox said. “So by all means, it has the potential to burn again. It’s thin, so it’s not going to burn like it did in 2017, but it will burn again.”

Cox also said areas east of Windsor including Faught and Shiloh Ridge roads and near Safari West were among the most vulnerable parts of the fire front. He noted that while that section of the fire may not feature high flames, hot spots could pose a problem once the winds pick up.

“It’s not like it’s high drama right now, but it’s got the potential to have a high impact,” Cox said.

PG&E was only able to restore electricity to 12,000 of the 92,000 Sonoma County customers who lost power in PG&E’s previous outage before turning off power to about 87,000 customers in a nearly identical shut-off Tuesday morning. PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras acknowledged that “a lot of customers have been without power since Saturday” and that some may have been out since last Wednesday, when PG&E initiated another, smaller outage.

“We completely understand that a lot of customers have been without power since Saturday,” Contreras said. “We want to restore power as safely and quickly as possible.”

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning from Tuesday morning until 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the potential for the Kincade fire to spread introduces more unpredictability into who will lose power and when they’ll get it back.