Kincade Fire in Sonoma County Threatens to Grow as Winds Pick Up

HEALDSBURG, Calif. — Rising smoke in late October is a familiar sight for Cristian Calvillo, who on Friday afternoon was nearing the 24-hour mark as a Red Cross volunteer at an evacuation center in Sonoma County, Calif.

Mr. Calvillo, 19, and his family had to evacuate during the Wine Country fires in 2017, which inspired him to prepare to help others during another disaster.

Now smoke is once again choking the region, where the Kincade Fire has consumed 23,700 acres, with residents and firefighters bracing for winds forecast to reach 80 miles per hour on Saturday night. The utility Pacific Gas and Electric has announced plans to cut power to as many as 850,000 customers to try to prevent more fires.

“It’s scary,” Mr. Calvillo said. “It’s not too long ago, what happened, and now they’re back in the same situation moving out of their houses. Some people will lose their houses.”

The Kincade blaze started Wednesday and has been fueled by the steep topography of the densely forested area. It remained 5 percent contained on Friday evening and has forced 2,000 people to evacuate.

Depending on the direction of offshore winds, more populated areas could be at risk, said Jonathan Cox, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Strong winds from the north, he said, could threaten areas further south, including Healdsburg, a town of 12,000 people across the Russian River.

“The task is monumental,” Mr. Cox said. “We are throwing as many resources as we can at it, but we also have to plan for the worst.”

Some of the people who evacuated this past week were staying at the Red Cross shelter in Healdsburg, which volunteers said housed 156 people on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Emir Ruiz was one of the many workers from nearby vineyards who had come to the shelter with little more than a white trash bag holding some spare clothes.

By Friday afternoon, he also had a mask to help stave off the smoke. But Mr. Ruiz, who is from the Mexican state of Guanajuato, said he and his co-workers were unsure when they might be able to return to the home they left on Wednesday night.

“Right now we don’t know,” Mr. Ruiz said. “They’re telling us how the fire is developing, what’s happening up to each moment.”

This is the first California fire season for Cindy Gould, who is more familiar with tornadoes. She moved to Healdsburg from the Midwest last year for her husband’s job at a nearby hospital. The couple had not been ordered to evacuate as of Friday, but they were warned their power might be shut off Saturday night.

“We have our to-go list ready,” Ms. Gould said.

If PG&E does cut power in Northern and Central California to what could be millions of people when accounting for shared addresses, it would be the latest of several planned blackouts in the state.

This past week, PG&E pre-emptively shut off power to more than 27,000 customers in Sonoma County as part of an effort to prevent sparks from its equipment during dry and windy conditions. While a state investigation will be required to determine the cause of the Kincade Fire, the utility has said a transmission tower nearby malfunctioned shortly before it began.

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