Cal Fire pumped a record-breaking 387,655 gallons of retardant on Oct. 12 to aid in fighting the wildfires raging across the state. CAL FIRE
Cal Fire pumped a record-breaking 387,655 gallons of retardant on Oct. 12 to aid in fighting the wildfires raging across the state. CAL FIRE

Fires

Live fire updates: Inmate firefighter being sought after walking away from fire lines

By Dale Kasler, Ryan Sabalow And Sam Stanton

dkasler@sacbee.com

October 15, 2017 06:33 AM

UPDATED October 18, 2017 10:13 AM

Here’s the latest on the Northern California wildfires.

Inmate firefighter walks away while battling blaze in Orange County

4:15 p.m.

More than 11,000 firefighters are on the lines battling blazes statewide. Minus one.

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State prison officials say an inmate firefighter who was helping fight the Canyon 2 Fire in Orange County walked away near Peters Canyon Regional Park. The inmate, Armando Castillo, 31, was last seen at about 4:45 p.m. on Sunday.

Castillo was a minimum-security inmate who had been incarcerated since August 2016 serving a five-year sentence out of Los Angeles for possession of a firearm and evading a peace officer while driving recklessly. He was scheduled to be released next May.

Armando Castillo, 31, walked away from the fire lines in Orange County
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

88 still missing in Sonoma County

1:40 p.m.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said 88 people still remain missing in his county, where at least 22 people died in the fires that began a week ago, and he warned that the death toll may increase as searches of burned neighborhoods continue.

“I’m looking at a number between 22 and 88 right now...,” Giordano said Monday. “I’m quite confident it will be lower than that (88).”

But he acknowledged the possibility that some of the missing were killed in fires that consumed their homes and have not yet been discovered.

“I would expect to find some of the missing in their burned homes,” the sheriff said. “We are still working on targeted searches.

Amiga, a yellow lab trained to detect human remains, arrived for her first deployment Monday afternoon in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa. She is shown with her handler Karent Atkinson from Marin search and rescue.
Anita Chabria

Powering up

12:00 p.m.

By mid morning on Monday, hundreds of PG&E employees had driven their big blue trucks out of a make-shift base camp near the Sonoma turn off on Highway 12. This hodgepodge collection of 1,500 workers in a dirt lot beside a vineyard popped up overnight beginning last Monday in response to the thousands of people out of power in the area from the fires.

By last Tuesday, the camp was “essentially a mini city“ said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. Large white semi trailers provided sleeping space for some of the men and women who have come from other areas to work – some from out of state perhaps as far as Kansas. Smith is from Fresno, the security chief at the dirt road front gate is from Stockton. The activity in the lot is as constant as the flow of trucks in and out. Transformers are loaded, giant poles lifted by cranes, gas trucks and electronic trucks filled with cable to fix cell towers and ruptured gas lines.

Food trucks serve up breakfast and dinner and create 3,000 calorie sack lunches for crews to take with them. The calories are specific, said Smith. “Just to make sure they have enough fuel to keep them going, “ he said.

Smith said as of Monday 3,400 people remain without power in the Napa area and 24,000 remained without power in Sonoma, where an even larger mini city of more than 100 acres had been set up in Rohnert Park to house crews and equipment there. Other basecamps have been set up in places like Loma Rica, another area hit hard by fires in Yuba County. This one in Napa spans about 60 acres, Smith said. It is operating 24 hours a day though things slow down at night.

Truck driver dies

8:45 a.m. Monday.

California officials say a firefighting truck driver has died after the water transport truck he was driving rolled over near one of the wildfires that has devastated areas in and near Northern California's wine country.

California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says the trucker who was contracted to transport water was the first firefighting worker to die because of the wildfires that have killed 41 others and destroyed thousands of homes.

The trucker died early Monday and was not identified.

Department spokesman Daniel Berlant says officials are investigating the cause of the crash that happened in the tiny Napa Valley community of Oakville.

Watch a Santa Rosa resident try to drive home during the Tubbs Fire

Santa Rosa resident D'andre Williams tried to drive home on the Old Redwood Highway on Oct. 9. He had to turn back because the flames were too hot.

D'andre Williams / Facebook

Rain in the forecast for fire-ravaged land

7 a.m.

Sonoma and Napa counties will welcome light rainfall Thursday into Friday morning after wildfires scorched more than 100,000 acres over the past week.

Northernmost towns such as Cloverdale, Angwin and Venado will get the most precipitation from a low-pressure system dropping south out of the Gulf of Alaska, according to the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office. Just under 0.2 inches of rain is expected to fall on Santa Rosa, where Mayor Chris Coursey said the 60 percent-contained Tubbs Fire has caused more than $1 billion worth of damage, as well as the partially-evacuated city of Napa.

Up to a half inch of rain is expected Thursday farther north, in Mendocino County, where at least eight people have died. Parts of the Sacramento Valley is expected to get a half-inch as well.

Winds are expected to stay below 15 miles per hour in both cities this week, aiding firefighters’ efforts to control existing blazes and keeping new ones from spreading.

7:16 p.m. Sunday

The Tubbs and Atlas fires, which last week unleashed devastation on Sonoma and Napa counties, are now showing increased signs of containment, Cal Fire announced.

The Tubbs Fire is now 60 percent contained, and the Atlas Fire is at 65 percent.

Mandatory evacuation orders for Solano County and portions of Larkfield and Wikiup have been lifted.

Calistoga evacuation orders lifted

Residents of Calistoga can go home.

Cal Fire announced that the mandatory evacuation orders for the city’s 5,000 residents were lifted Sunday afternoon.

Calistoga had come under siege from the Tubbs Fire and was under a total evacuation order.

Progress in Sonoma, but one blaze still hard to defeat

2:52 p.m.

Cal Fire officials reported Sunday they’ve made good progress on most of the fires in the Sonoma County area, although a day-old fire in Santa Rosa’s Oakmont area was giving firefighters some troubles.

“Overall, things are feeling optimistic for us, though we’re cautious about that,” said Cal Fire Incident Commander Bret Gouvea, at an afternoon briefing from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. “We do have some areas out there fighting us.”

Steve Crawford, Cal Fire operations chief, said the Oakmont Fire was proving especially difficult to subdue because of the presence of a lot of heavy timber that in the wooded area. Although containment had inched up to 15 percent, from 10 percent late Saturday, Crawford said the fire remained a considerable danger.

The fire first erupted early Saturday.

A giant plume of smoke shows the dangers of the Oakmont Fire in Santa Rosa. Cal Fire said Sunday the Oakmont blaze, while not enormous, continued to give firefighters trouble even as other fires began easing.
Ryan Sabalow rsabalow@sacbee.com

Cal Fire also reported that the evacuation order for Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa Medical Center was expected to be lifted at 9 a.m. Monday. Officials said the medical offices, urgent walk-in clinic and other services would be open, although the main hospital and emergency department would stay closed.

Evacuation warnings lifted in Yuba, Butte, Nevada

1:39 p.m.

Wildfire evacuees in Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties learned Sunday they could go home.

Cal Fire reported Sunday afternoon that all evacuation warnings have been lifted for the Wind Complex of fires, including the LaPorte, Cascade and Lobo fires in the Sacramento Valley. Each of the three fires was at least 80 percent contained by mid-day.

All evacuation shelters have been closed, including the shelters dedicated to horses and other livestock, Cal Fire said.

The Wind Complex scorched about 17,000 acres, with the Cascade Fire northeast of Marysville doing the greatest harm. Four people died in the fire.

More progress made in tiny Redwood Valley

11:04 a.m.

There was some good news Sunday in Redwood Valley, the small Mendocino County where nine people were killed. The Sheriff’s Department said some more of the displaced residents would be allowed to return home at noon Sunday.

The areas being repopulated included Redwood Valley south of Tomki Road, the Pine Mountain subdivision in Willits, and portions of Potter Valley.

The department advised returning residents to wear protective clothing and anticipate delays because of traffic. Returning residents would have to go through “safety checks” at designated checkpoints, where they’d be issued “personal protective equipment.”

“Residents should be prepared to evacuate again should conditions change,” the department said in a Facebook post.

The Redwood Valley Fire, which has burned 35,000 acres, was 35 percent contained as of Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire.

Fires consume 217,566 acres statewide

10:40 a.m.

The 15 major wildfires that erupted one week ago have consumed 217,566 acres across the state, Cal Fire reported Sunday.

The vast majority of the damage is in Northern California, particularly in wine country. The only major Southern California blaze, the Canyon 2 Fire in Anaheim, was 75 percent contained.

Cal Fire said 11,000 firefighters were working Sunday.

At least 40 people have died in the fires.

A 19th century winery sits idle

10:15 a.m.

Buena Vista winery, among the oldest in California, should have been humming with visitors Sunday. Instead, the ancient Sonoma winery stood quiet as nearly two dozen firefighters worked in the vicinity, many covered in soot.

The Nuns Fire charred the adjacent hillside, with flames coming within 20 feet of the back of the winery’s two main stone and mortar buildings. Ash and soot covered the wine barrels, while a container of smashed purple grapes and had turned the water in the circular fountain out front a muddy gray.

The history Buena Vista winery in Sonoma, established in 1857, barely escaped the flames from the Nuns fire.
Ryan Sabalow rsabalow@sacbee.com

How close did it come to burning?

“Doesn’t get much closer,” said Scott Fraser, a battalion chief for a strike team from the Tahoe area whose crew was assigned to guard the winery.

The winery was established in 1857 and bills itself as a “California’s first premium winery.” It’s now owned by the Boisset wine-making family of France. Jean-Charles Boisset tweeted “thanks to the heroic firefighters who protected American history!”

Thousands of evacuees return home in Green Valley

9:30 a.m.

Roughly 25,000 residents displaced by the Northern California wildfires have been allowed to go home. But that still leaves about 75,000 residents evacuated, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Sunday that the biggest bloc of evacuees returning home were in the Green Valley area near Fairfield. Evacuation orders for that area were lifted Saturday night, he said.

In general, he said the winds have calmed considerably. Red Flag Warnings, which alert residents to the possibility of dramatic increases in wildfire activity, were lifted early Sunday in Northern California but remained in effect in Southern California.

“Fortunately, the winds that had been anticipated (for Saturday) were not as strong as predicted,” Berlant said. “We were able to make considerable progress.”

Although The Sacramento Bee reported late Saturday that the death toll from the fires had grown to 41, Berlant said Cal Fire officials could only confirm a total of 40 fatalaties.

Containment grows on multiple fires

8 a.m.

Firefighters, aided by calmer winds, reported Sunday they made progress overnight on the worst of the Northern California fires.

One day after winds flared up and 3,000 more residents were evacuated from Santa Rosa and the city of Sonoma, state officials said the situation seemed to be improving.

Cal Fire said the Tubbs Fire, which devastated wine country, was 60 percent contained, an increase of 10 percent since Saturday evening. The Nuns Fire, centered around an area north of Highway 12 in Sonoma County, was up to 25 percent containment. The fire was just 15 percent contained 12 hours earlier. The Pocket Fire near Geyserville was 25 percent contained, up from 15 percent Saturday.

The Oakmont Fire in Santa Rosa, which erupted early Saturday and sparked new evacuations, was up to 15 percent containment. Cal Fire said the blaze had consumed 550 acres as of Sunday morning.

Further east, containment of the Atlas Fire improved to 56 percent, up from 48 percent late Saturday.

Yuba’s Cascade Fire mostly contained

6:55 a.m.

The deadly Cascade Fire that ripped through parts of Yuba County is now 87 percent contained, Cal Fire said early Sunday.

The agency said the fire destroyed 9,989 acres in a region northeast of Marysville.

The Cascade Fire is part of the Wind Complex, a cluster of fires affecting Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties. The fires killed four residents and desdtroyed 398 homes and other structures.

Some rain, but not in wine country

6:58 a.m.

At last, some rain, although not necessarily where it’s needed most.

The National Weather Service said early Sunday that rain could come to the Sacramento Valley later this week.

“There is increasing confidence in a weather system bringing rain to Northern California Thursday & Friday,” the weather service said on Twitter.

Sonoma checking if evac zones can be occupied

6 a.m.

Sonoma County officials said Sunday they’ve begun the process of assessing evacuated regions of the unincorporated county for damage to see how dangerous the areas are and what repairs are needed before evacuation orders can be lifted.

“In short, it’s a step closer to moving our displaced residents back home!!!” the county said in a Facebook post.

The wine country fires burned nearly 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa and caused tens of thousands of residents to be evacuated from Napa and Sonoma counties. The death toll rose to 41 late Saturday.

Weather cooperating with firefighters

6 a.m.

On the eighth day, the winds died down.

The National Weather Service said early Sunday that it expected winds to be mostly calm in Northern California, pehaps giving firefighters more room to battle the devastating blazes.

Forecastes said “overall winds will be lighter today.” But the weather service also warned of “locally gusty winds and warm, dry conditions” throughout the day.

Firefighters were making some headway against the fires. The Tubbs Fire, which caused most of the destruction in the Central LNU Complex of fires in wine country, was 50 percent contained as of late Saturday, according to Cal Fire. The complex had burned a total of 94,370 acres as of 9:45 p.m., the latest Cal Fire update.

Kamala Harris to Sonoma crowd: 'There are so many courageous people here right now'

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris tells a crowd at a Sonoma fire briefing that the community "has endured so much loss and pain."

Angela Hart The Sacramento Bee

Take a drive through the destroyed Fountaingrove neighborhood in Santa Rosa

The Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa completely leveled much of the Fountaingrove area. Here, the destruction can be seen as the wind whips through the ruins.

Video courtesy of Zari Consulting Group, Inc.

See Santa Rosa before and after the fire

The Tubbs Fire raging in Northern California has leveled one Santa Rosa neighborhood and left many other areas devastated.

Video produced by Emily Zentner

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler