Flames threaten homes, wineries in Northern California
September 4, 2004
SACRAMENTO – A wind-driven wildfire quickly burned 14,000 acres of brush and timber Saturday as it bore down on Sonoma County’s wine country and threatened to knock out power to parts of Northern California. Meanwhile, another blaze destroyed 11 homes in Calaveras County, fire officials said.
“It’s blown up,” said Dana Cole, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who was monitoring the Sonoma blaze. “Right now we have no control on the head of the fire.”
By early afternoon, the fire had raced down the Mayacamas Mountains to within a few miles of vineyards in the Alexander Valley, which straddles the Russian River and draws tourists to dozens of wineries.
Ash from the fire fell at the Sausal Winery in Healdsburg as helicopters did laps over the vineyard, scooping up water from nearby lakes to drop on the flames that CDF said were advancing at 1 mph.
Several fires burned in California, where fire danger has been extreme due to low humidity, high winds and dry tinder.
Another blaze sparked by a burning motor home Friday destroyed 11 homes in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County and burned 2,737 acres of grass, oaks and chaparral. It also forced 3,000 people to evacuate and threatened 1,400 homes and 100 businesses in rural subdivisions.
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More than 1,000 firefighters and 81 engines responded to the fire, which was burning in the Sierra foothills south of Camanche Reservoir. It was 65 percent contained Saturday evening, said Ben Hector, a CDF spokeswoman. CDF estimated it would be fully contained by today.
Evacuees were allowed to return to subdivisions Saturday afternoon.
The Sonoma County fire started late Friday afternoon near The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal power facility, which harnesses steam from the earth to provide enough electricity to power 1 million homes in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Marin and Mendocino counties. The cause was not immediately known.
The rugged terrain is crossed by major power lines from the 21 generating plants in the facility, prompting the threat of blackouts.
Pacific Gas and Electric, which owns the lines, was rerouting electricity from other plants to keep the lights on, said spokesman David Eisenhauer.
As many as 200 homes were threatened as the fire was fanned by gusts that hit 36 mph, Cole said.
In other fires:
— Kern County firefighters doused 11 separate fires Saturday that had been deliberately set along a nine-mile stretch of road, spokesman Doug Johnston said. Some incendiary devices were found near the sources of the fires, he said.
— Four firefighters received minor injuries during a 1,200-acre grass fire that was contained in a rural area between Vacaville and Fairfield, said Solano County Deputy Ken Kramer. One firefighter was burned and three were stung by bees. Residents in a section of Fairfield lost power and cable TV.
— A firefighter was treated and released for facial burns received while battling a 700-acre grass fire that briefly shut down the Rancho Murrieta airport in eastern Sacramento County, said Cindy McVay, a CDF dispatcher. The fire was contained in the afternoon.
— A fire in Rancho San Diego burned 75 acres Saturday morning behind a community college before it was fully contained. About 100 people were evacuated but had returned home by evening after the fire near Cuyamaca College, said Lt. Dennis Brugos.
— Richmond firefighters doused an afternoon brush fire that briefly threatened two restaurants and an apartment complex near Interstate 80.
— A 416-fire acre that began Thursday in the Sierra foothills of Mariposa County was fully contained Saturday afternoon after destroying a garage, another building and several vehicles, the CDF said.