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California

Kincade fire threatens to jump Highway 101 as 93 mph wind gusts push flames in southwest direction

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Near Healdsburg, Calif., a pair of men open a gate to allow firefighters access to a ranch along State Highway 128 as the Kincade fire flares up early Sunday.
(Luis Sinco / /Los Angeles Times)

At dawn, Ron Babbini stood with two friends on the sidewalk in front of his house.

A mandatory evacuation remained in effect and the trio were some of the only civilians left in the wine country town. Streets were littered with branches from the wind that was driving down the foothills and to the south.

In the town square, red umbrellas in front of a cafe had toppled and the only vehicles on the road were neon green fire engines and police SUVs.

Babbini said the night had been mostly calm. But nearby Fitch Mountain had him worried. He stood looking at vast plumes of smoke rising above its slopes. They had not been there yesterday.

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“It’s actually been worse in the last hour or so with the wind,“ Babbini said. If the wind blows the flames across Fitch Mountain, Healdsburg will be in danger, he said.

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HEALDSBURG, CALIF. - OCT. 26, 2019. Thd KIncade fire burns into the night in the foothills along State Highway 128 near Healdsburg is consumed by the Kincade fire early Sunday morning, Oct. 27, 2019. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
(Luis Sinco)

“Right now it seems to be the most scariest,“ he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the 30,000-acre Kincade fire was moving south of the famed wine country town. Healdsburg and Windsor are located north of Santa Rosa along the 101.

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Fire officials said that the Kincade fire jumped Highway 128 early Sunday and was moving in a southwest direction. They worry that the fire could jump Highway 101 between Healdsburg and Windsor, reaching a dense mountainous region of old-growth redwood forest that hasn’t burned since the 1940s.

Winds remained at speeds up to 76 mph in some areas. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Mike Blankenheim said those residents on the west side of Highway 101 should be “very concerned” that the fire could reach them.

Heather Deghi oversees a care facility for disabled people in Windsor. When the Kincade fire broke out, she anticipated possible evacuations, similar to what she went through during the Tubbs fire just two years ago.

When she got the word to leave early Sunday, Deghi said her first priority was to keep her patients calm. Her clients live with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses.

“I tried to take away from the severity and reality of it as much as I can,” she said. “Change and trauma is not easily tolerable.”

Deghi and her 10-year-old daughter, Ava, said they could see the glow of the Kincade fire over the hills. Their neighborhood had been pitch-black for hours following power outages, but their home didn’t lose electricity until shortly before they had to evacuate at 4 a.m. Sunday.

When the sheriff shouted for people to evacuate over a loudspeaker, Deghi and her family left the area with three clients whose families were not able to retrieve them. They landed at the Pataluma Veterans Hall, alongside several other families and pets.

The Deghis hope that their neighborhood won’t be consumed by flames, but they understand the possibility of destruction. “The winds are so unpredictable,” Deghi said.

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The National Weather Service recorded one gust Sunday morning at 96 mph outside of Healdsburg.

Structures in wine country were burning, including some owned by wineries in the Alexander Valley. The Soda Rock winery along State Highway 128 near Healdsburg was consumed early Sunday morning.

Another wine country town in danger was Geyserville, near where the fire started.

On Sunday morning, Eddie Gravier was waiting at the side of the road with a giant silver fuel truck behind him. An employee of Redwood Coast Fuels, Gravier had been in town all night refueling firetrucks and emergency vehicles as they battled to keep flames from taking over the hills just a short distance away.

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HEALDSBURG, CALIF. - OCT. 26, 2019. The Soda Ranch winery along State Highway 128 near Healdsburg is consumed by the Kincade fire early Sunday morning, Oct. 27, 2019. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
(Luis Sinco)

“By 4 o’clock, the spot fires started up again and they said, ‘Get out of here,’” Gravier said. “I said, ‘No problem.'“

Geyserville has so far escaped damage. With the heavy winds blowing south, Healdsburg appeared to be in more in jeopardy.


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