Indiana Daily Student

More than 90,000 evacuated as Sonoma County fire grows; unprecedented power outages loom

<p>Patrons sit at candle-lit tables Oct. 9 at Reel and Brand in Sonoma, California. People ate their dinner during a planned power outage by the Pacific Gas &amp; Electric utility company. </p>

Patrons sit at candle-lit tables Oct. 9 at Reel and Brand in Sonoma, California. People ate their dinner during a planned power outage by the Pacific Gas & Electric utility company.

By Taryn Luna, Anita Chabria, Jack Dolan and Maura Dolan
Los Angeles Times

HEALDSBURG, Calif. – Northern California braced for historically powerful winds and widespread power outages as the Kincade fire in Sonoma County raged on, forcing the evacuation of more than 90,000 people.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Saturday that it planned to cut power to up to 940,000 customers in Northern California to lower the risk of high winds _ predicted to gust over 70 mph _ knocking down live wires and sparking disastrous fires. The preventive blackouts began early Saturday afternoon. More than 2 million people could lose power.

"The next 72 hours is going to be challenging," Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters Saturday. "I can sugarcoat it, but I'm not."

Officials ordered the towns of Healdsburg and Windsor evacuated. At 6 p.m., the order was extended to a wide swath of the Sonoma County coast. The new map shows that other communities under mandatory evacuation include Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, Bodega Bay and Guerneville, with zones of mandatory evacuation stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Evacuation warnings were issued to communities north and west of Santa Rosa and areas close to Napa County.

Officials emphasized that it was important for the evacuation to be complete before preventive power outages took effect.

By Saturday night, winds are expected to pick up considerably.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw gusts between 80 and 85 mph," National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson said. "Hopefully, (firefighters) can make some progress. We'll most likely see the fire spreading once again."
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection warned residents to heed the evacuation orders.

"If we look at the past three years, all of the large and damaging fires have occurred at this time of the year during an offshore wind event, particularly during red-flag warnings," said

Jonathan Cox, a spokesman for Cal Fire. "It has us highly concerned that the vulnerable areas of California could see some explosive fires."
Officials had already expanded evacuation zones to include Gifford Springs, Whispering Pines, Anderson Springs, Adams Springs, Hobergs and Cobb Mountain.

Authorities said a firefighter and two civilians were injured when they were overwhelmed by flames as the firefighter was attempting to evacuate the pair.

"The firefighter was forced to deploy his fire shelter, where he shielded them from fire," Cal Fire said in a statement. After the flames passed, all three were taken to a hospital. None of them suffered life-threatening injuries, the statement said.

As of Saturday morning, 23,000 structures were still threatened. The fire was 10% contained.
Residents of Healdsburg and Windsor and surrounding areas were urged to stay with friends or family outside the evacuation zone. Others were encouraged to head down Highway 101 to Petaluma, where shelters were opening at the veterans hall and the fairgrounds. Livestock could be sheltered at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, officials said.

Dominic Foppoli, mayor of Windsor, urged residents to move quickly.

"Do not take this warning lightly, we need everybody to evacuate.... This is a life-threatening situation and a danger to our entire town," he said.

Fire officials said the evacuation orders could be the largest in the region's history.

"We understand the impact of the evacuations we are about to announce are going to be substantial," Cox said. "We are really prioritizing safety for what is potentially the worst case scenario."

By noon in Windsor, traffic was moving slowly southward on Highway 101, a main evacuation route. Lines of cars snaked around a gas station in the town of 28,000.

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