WINDSOR (CBS SF) — Wind gusts topping 80 mph created blowtorch-like conditions along the massive Kincade Fire lines early Sunday, fanning the out-of-control blaze into a wall of flames that approached the outskirts of Windsor.
By 3:30 a.m., a wall of fire was rapidly approaching Windsor, triggering a frantic call from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department for residents — who has ignored a mandatory evacuation order Saturday — to flee now.
“Heavy smoke, debris and strong wind reported near Brooks and Arata in Windsor,” the department urged in an online alert. “If you are in Windsor you need to get out now.”
Cal Fire said the blaze had jumped containment lines on Highway 128. The fire had only been 11 percent contained when the winds kicked up.
“There were containment lines that were overtaken by the fire,” Cal Fire spokesman Brian Vitorelo said early Sunday. “The fire continues to increase.”
Sonoma County deputies also said the fire had advanced into southwest edge of Geyserville near Chalk Hill Road. The strong winds had toppled trees onto Chalk Hill Road, making any escape difficult for residents who had ignored the earlier evacuation order.
The sheriff’s department also said “unconfirmed reports suggest that the fire is ‘well established’ south of 128, about 8 miles away from Healdsburg.”
The mandatory evacuations that had forced more than 100,000 residents from their homes from Geyserville to Healdsburg west to the Pacific Ocean were expanded to neighborhoods in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol by early Sunday morning.
Patients at Santa Rosa’s Sutter Hospital were evacuated Saturday night as precaution and inmates being held at the North Couty Jail were moved to Alameda County.
The Santa Rosa Police Department expanded the evacuation area at 5:32 a.m. to “all areas in the city limits of Santa Rosa west of Highway 101 and north of Highway 12, north of Steele Lane, Lewis Road, Chanate Road to Montecito Boulevard to Calistoga Road.”
“Head south,” the department told the new evacuees.
The California Highway Patrol said early Sunday it had closed a 30-mile span of “Highway 101 northbound at Hopper Ave. in northern Santa Rosa and southbound at Cloverdale Blvd South in Cloverdale. The highway will be closed indefinitely.”
Near Healdsburg, the Soda Rock Winery had been completely destroyed by flames early Sunday morning.
At a Saturday evening news conference, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essink had urged residents to please leave their homes, telling it could prove deadly if they chose to attempt to battle the destructive Kincade Fire themselves.
“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Essick said. “You cannot fight this. Please evacuate.”
Conditions began rapidly deteriorating after midnight. The National Weather clocked wind gusts around 40 mph in the fire area, then to 50 mph, then to hurricane force levels of 70 mph.
By 2:30 a.m., the gusts had topped 80 mph in the Healdsburg Hills with humidity levels dropping to a bone-dry 10 percent. A combination known in Northern California as the deadly and destructive Diablo Winds.
“The latest automated weather observations indicating wind gusts over 70 mph at several gauges in the higher terrain in Sonoma County, with a couple gauges now reporting sustained winds over 50 mph with gusts over 80 mph,” forecasters said.
The National Weather Service reported that its gauges had clocked a gust of 93 mph in the Healdsburg Hills at 5:50 a.m.
“The wind speeds are extreme…The strongest winds I have felt in my career,” Cal Fire Capt. Robert Foxworthy told KPIX 5 Sunday morning. “They (the winds) are throwing embers a considerable distance in front of the main fire,causing spot fires, creating a real challenge for the crews fighting the fire.”
Officials said evacuations centers in Petaluma had filled to capacity and the Finley Center in Santa Rosa had been closed by a new evacuation order. Evacuees were being advise to head to the Marin County fairgrounds.
Weather Service forecaster Ryan Walburn warned on Saturday evening that the winds would continue to howl until mid-day Sunday.
“The winds will blow for most of the night into mid-day Sunday,” he said. “There will be little reprieve from the wind speed.”
By Saturday night, the Kincade Fire, which erupted near Geyserville on Wednesday had grown to more than 25,000 acres and destroyed 77 structures including 31 homes. Three injuries had been reported of a firefighter and two residents he saved from the deadly flames.
The threat of wildfires elsewhere forced Pacific Gas and Electric officials to shut off power to more than 2 million residents from the Bay Area to the Sierra including the Sonoma County fire zone.
“We don’t do this because it’s the easy thing for us to do, we do it because it’s the safe and right thing for us to do,” said Andy Vesey, Utility CEO and President at PG&E. “It’s a challenging thing to do, but the number one priority we have is your safety.”