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California

Thousands fleeing Kincade fire face heavy traffic and long gas station lines

Traffic jams Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg
Traffic jams Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, Calif., after authorities ordered the evacuation of the city Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Southbound traffic was moving slowly on Highway 101 near Windsor at noon Saturday after officials ordered 50,000 more Sonoma County residents to evacuate as the Kincade fire spread and dangerous winds strengthened.

Lines of cars snaked around a gas station in the town of 28,000.

Windsor resident Paige Sweet, 22, said she quickly packed up her clothes, keepsakes and her two German shepherds after hearing the evacuation orders.

Standing in her driveway, Sweet said she never expected to be forced to leave.

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“I took things just in case we lose our home,” she said. “It’s definitely nerve-racking if it does come this way. I don’t even know what would happen.”

The entire towns of Healdsburg and Windsor south of the fire zone were told to be out of the area by 4 p.m.

Firefighters struggled to get more control over the blaze before powerful winds kicked up in the afternoon.

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Pacific Gas & Electric said Saturday it planned to cut off 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 shutdowns were expected to begin by early Saturday afternoon.

The expected blackouts brought a day of anxiety and planning across Northern California.

In the East Bay, each ping of a new cellphone text triggered moments of anxiety.

Local police agencies and governments sent out strings of texts, warning when the power would be shut off. Each warning gave a different time.

On Saturday, residents were first told that their power would be out by 10 p.m. Saturday. Then 8 p.m, then 7 and finally 5. The times changed with each update in wind forecasts. Wind is much harder to predict than rain.

While finding ice on Saturday morning proved impossible for many residents, there were bright spots.

Moraga Hardware and Lumber told a local television station Friday that it was receiving a new shipment of lanterns and batteries Saturday morning. The news spread on online neighborhood forums.

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Before 8 a.m., lines had formed outside the store. Customers gladly paid $53.51 for a small battery-operated lantern and an eight-pack of size D batteries.

Others shared tips for keeping freezers and refrigerators cold: While the power is still on, turn the thermostat to the lowest temperature and freeze water in plastic bottles and other containers to keep food cool when power was lost.

Cities notified residents of community centers where they could charge their devices.

Residents who could afford it left for hotels in places like San Francisco, where the power was expected to remain on.

Luna reported from Windsor, Dolan from Orinda, Calif.


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