N. Calif. fires mostly contained

  • Christopher Osborne, 16, looks over the firestorm ruins in the Coffee Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., while helping Reptile Rescue try to retrieve a neighbor's tortoise on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Genaro Molina

  • Lloyd Dillion, 63, looks at the wreckage of his home on Mocha Lane in the Coffee Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., on Wednesday. TNS Photo

Published: 10/19/2017 3:37:24 PM

As crews gain increasing control of Northern California’s massive wildfires, firefighters from around the state are starting to return while some evacuees are just now digging through what’s left of their neighborhoods.

Most mandatory evacuations throughout the region have been lifted, but about 22,000 people in Sonoma County were still displaced Thursday morning, either because their homes are still at risk or were in a burn zone, said Sonoma County spokesman Scott Alonso.

The fires destroyed at least 5,700 structures, including more than 2,800 homes in the city of Santa Rosa alone. Officials called it the deadliest week in California fire history, with at least 42 confirmed fatalities.

Better weather this week has helped firefighters continue to control flames and prevent further damage.

With cool temperatures and a small dose of rain expected Thursday, the objective in the days to come will be to make sure no spot fires grow out of control and that crews that have been here for nearly two weeks stay vigilant and avoid mishaps, Cal Fire officials said in a morning briefing at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

“Just give us your best for a few more days,” Cal fire incident commander Bret Gouvea told firefighters Thursday.

According to the National Weather Service, light rain will move into the region by the afternoon. Winds will start blowing to the northeast before reversing in the evening, and gusts of up to 25 mph could breathe new life into small fires within the larger wildfire perimeters, officials said.

At their peak, the state’s large fires had drawn about 11,000 firefighters into the battle. But with the largest blazes in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties nearing full containment, firefighters have begun to trickle back to their respective states, counties and districts.

The Pocket fire, the smallest but least contained of the active Sonoma County fires, had burned 16,552 acres and was 73 percent contained Thursday morning.

The Nuns fire was 82 percent contained after scorching 54,423 acres, including an offshoot near Oakmont that had worried firefighters earlier this week.

As of Thursday morning, Nuns fire activity was minimal with “some smoldering,” according to a Cal Fire incident report. “All activity confined to the inside of the fire perimeter.”

The Tubbs fire, which leveled swaths of the city of Santa Rosa and was responsible for least 22 deaths, has burned 36,432 acres and was 92 percent contained Thursday morning.

As with the Nuns fire, smoldering in the Tubbs fire was “contained to inside of the fire perimeter,” according to Cal Fire.

Sonoma County is holding community meetings Thursday on the process for getting state and federal aid to clean ash and debris, Alonso said.

Cleanup of the hazardous materials can be dangerous and expensive, he said.

“We’re really concerned about people touching the debris, trying to remove ash. We will have hazardous materials teams deployed ... to help homeowners with large-scale removal,” Alonso said. “We don’t want folks doing it on their own.”

In Napa County the 51,624-acre Atlas Fire, responsible for at least six deaths, was 85 percent contained Thursday morning.

While most evacuees in Napa County have been allowed back into their neighborhoods, many roads remained closed Thursday.

In Mendocino County, where eight people died, evacuees from the Redwood and Sulphur fires are returning home as well.

The Redwood fire was 85 percent contained and had burned 36,523 acres as of Thursday morning, and the nearby 2,207-acre Sulphur fire in Lake County was 96 percent contained.


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