One Calif. Wildfire Fully Contained
San Francisco Chronicle
Oct. 20—The first of the deadly Northern California wildfires to spark up nearly two weeks ago was fully contained by firefighters Thursday, who welcomed cooler temperatures throughout the disaster zones and the region's first rain since the blazes began.
A light dousing hit parts of the Bay Area on Thursday night, including the North Bay, and although the rain wasn't expected to last, firefighters said any moisture helps, whether from clouds, helicopters or air tankers.
Full containment of the calamity's most destructive wildfires in Sonoma County was pushed from Friday to Tuesday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.
Yuba County's 9,989-acre Cascade Fire was 100 percent contained Wednesday evening, meaning firefighters have surrounded the blaze with control lines to stop spreading and allow flames to burn themselves out.
The inferno started north of Collins Lake near Cascade Way and Marysville Road and killed four of the 42 people confirmed dead since the series of blazes began during a fierce windstorm the night of Oct. 8.
Since then, about 100,000 people have been evacuated statewide as 21 large fires decimated nearly 7,000 structures and burned through more than 246,000 acres.
The latest of the ruinous blazes, the Bear Fire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was 320 acres and 30 percent contained on Thursday after destroying four structures and threatening 300 homes since starting as a building fire Monday night. Seven firefighters have been injured battling the blaze, including an inmate firefighter who was hospitalized with minor burns on Wednesday.
But some mandatory evacuation orders prompted by the fire were lifted—including those in the Las Cumbres community, where homes had been at risk.
Sonoma County bore the brunt of the devastation, with 23 deaths recorded in an 11-day span as four large fires—that recently merged to become three—tore through more than 80,000 acres in the North Bay. But as the three fires—the Tubbs, Pocket and Nuns—neared containment, first responders were looking forward to recovery.
And on Thursday, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said there were now 37 people unaccounted for, an increase from the 30 listed as missing a day earlier.
On Friday, the weather will be cool, clear and dry, with moderate winds, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson. Temperatures in the North Bay and in the Santa Cruz Mountains will be in the 60s and 70s.
"We'll be warming up and drying out through the weekend, and we'll have a bout of hot, dry weather next week," Anderson said.
The word from the fire lines Thursday was that the battle to extinguish the Oakmont arm of the Nuns Fire "went really well last night," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Brandon Jones.
Still, Cal Fire changed the expected date of full containment on the Sonoma County wildfires from Friday to Tuesday as firefighters worked to strengthen containment lines and open more neighborhoods that had been evacuated.
The Oakmont branch—once its own fire—combined with the Nuns blaze this week to make the Nuns a combination of at least five other fires and the largest of the blazes, blackening at least 54,423 acres straddling Napa and Sonoma counties. It was 82 percent contained Thursday.
The deadliest conflagration, the 36,432-acre Tubbs Fire, blamed for 22 deaths, was 92 percent contained Thursday. The 16,552-acre Pocket Fire was 80 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
Claims by insurance policy holders for wildfire losses already exceed $1 billion, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said on Thursday.
"We know that number will climb as more victims file claims," Jones said.
So far, 5,400 holders of homeowner policies have filed claims of total loss and another 4,200 have filed claims of partial loss, Jones said. Those claims reflect recent wildfires in both Northern and Southern California.
In addition, there have been more than 3,000 automobile loss claims and 600 commercial property loss claims.
Insurers are being asked to "cut red tape," Jones said, by immediately providing four months worth of living expenses to policy holders and paying out 25 percent of a policy's limit for property loss.
In Sonoma County alone, wildfires caused in excess of $2 billion in damage with an estimated 3,947 structures destroyed and 159 structures damaged, Jones said.
As fire victims prepare to rebuild, they should be wary of signing contracts with contractors or independent adjusters or what Jones called "scam artists" who tend to pop up in fire areas immediately after a disaster.
"We know this is the most vulnerable period for people," Jones said.
Evacuated homeowners returning to their homes should avoid disturbing ash and debris, an environmental expert told Sonoma County residents at a community meeting.
Christine Sosko of the Sonoma County Department of Environmental Health said such debris could contain metals and other hazardous materials that might require licensed hazardous material crews to remove. People who clean up debris and ash on their own could find themselves ineligible for state funded debris cleanup programs.
Sosko specifically advised people not to use leaf blowers to clean up ash.
Although fire officials have not determined what caused the wildfires, one Sonoma County resident filed a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas and Electric Co., claiming negligent operation of its electrical system. In the suit, filed on Wednesday, Pamela Schrock, 27, alleged the utility was liable for the fire damage due to "negligent and improper maintenance, inspection, repair and ownership" of the electrical system.