SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Wind gusts of a hurricane force 89 mph whipped through the hills above wine country Sunday night as fire crews across the Bay Area kept a watchful eye, responding to several fires in the North and East Bay.
The high winds come as PG&E ordered a Public Safety Power Shutoff that darkened thousands of San Francisco Bay Area homes in the hopes of preventing a major outbreak of deadly wildfires.
The region was under a Red Flag Warning until Tuesday with the National Weather Service clocking gusts of a hurricane-force 80 mph at Mt. St. Helena at 8:40 p.m. and 83 mph in the Healdsburg Hills. A later gust measured at 89 mph occurred on Mt. St. Helena at around 11:20 p.m.
Mt. St. Helena West just reported a gust to 89 mph. Critically dry conditions persist over the entire North Bay as well with gusty conditions reaching some valley locations as well. #CAwx #NorthBay #Windy #FireDanger pic.twitter.com/uHsxsioMdZ
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) October 26, 2020
Other recorded peak wind gusts Sunday night included a 66 mph gust at Mount Hood and a gust of 59 mph on Mount Umunhum.
There were reports of a possible flare-up within the Glass Fire burn zone in Napa County Sunday night off Highway 29 near the top end of Old Lawley Toll Road by Table Rock at around 10:50 p.m., but no official confirmation of the new fire.
Shortly before 1 a.m., there were reports of an additional fire burning east of Castro Valley in Alameda County on the south side of I-580 near Eden Canyon Road. Crews were still working to contain the fire at 3-4 acres as of around 2 a.m.
A first alarm wildland fire, #dozer17 and #dozer18 and @calfire unit are working to contain approximately 3-4 acres along 580 prior to Eden canyon eastbound in Castro Valley. A quick aggressive stop kept the fire from heavy brush. #ALCOFIRE pic.twitter.com/bkAe6rD9sg
— Alameda County Fire (@AlamedaCoFire) October 26, 2020
There were multiple reports of another fire that broke out in Sonoma County at around the same time near the intersection of Healdsburg Avenue and Passalaqua Road northeast of Healdsburg. That fire reportedly grew to 1-2 acres in size as of 1:30 a.m. and was visible on wildfire cameras.
So far, there were no reports of evacuations in connection with the fire.
— US StormWatch (@GreatWinter2017) October 26, 2020
The Santa Rosa Fire Department posted video on it’s Twitter account that showed how hard the wind was blowing Sunday night at around 9:45 p.m., saying that the department had received reports of damage and recommending that residents secure items that could be blown away.
We are getting reports of damaged canopies and outdoor furniture. Please take time to secure items on your property now.
Estamos recibiendo informes sobre carpas y muebles del exterior dañados. Por favor, tómense su tiempo para asegurar los artículos de su propiedad ahora. pic.twitter.com/93vyMS4z1r
— Santa Rosa Fire Department (@SantaRosaFire) October 26, 2020
The department also responded to a vegetation fire shortly before 2 a.m., but that fire was quickly contained.
Update: The fire is contained and there are no threats to structures. The fire was caused by an illegal campfire in Howarth Park. SRFD and SRPD are investigating. pic.twitter.com/JS7QisAImf
— Santa Rosa Fire Department (@SantaRosaFire) October 26, 2020
In the East Bay, gusts of nearly 70 mph were whipping up Mt. Diablo. There was also a report of a wind gust measured at 58 mph at the Oakland Airport. Weather Service forecasters said the winds would continue to build in intensity until early Monday.
“As is often the case as the sun goes down the winds will increase,” the weather service warned. “Between sunset and the overnight hours the northeast winds will howl across much of the Bay Area.”
Across the region, residents braced for a night of threatening weather as drought conditions, tinder-dry hills, low humidity and gusty winds created a formula for a wildfire outbreak.
“This is happening on top of extremely dry fuels out there,” said PG&E Chief Meteorologist Scott Strenfel, noting that fire seasons have become longer and more extreme. “This is shaping up to be a critical fire weather day.”
PG&E turned off electricity in parts of the East Bay hills after 8:30 p.m. In the Oakland hills, shoppers and diners fled the popular Montclair Village after it went dark.
Oakland Fire Department spokesman Michael Hunt told KPIX 5 they have increased staffing levels during the red flag warning. Some firefighters will be out patrolling the hills overnight.
On top of the increased staffing level for many fire departments, Hunt said 300 additional firefighters and fire apparatus from jurisdictions around the great Bay Area are working as strike team members. They have been pre-positioned in strategic locations across the region as part of a coordinated effort to knock out any fires that pop up.
In Contra Costa County, Orinda police turned on their emergency lights to alert drivers of the outage at the large intersection of Camino Pablo and Santa Maria Way.
Berkeley and Contra Costa fire officials both warned residents in wildfire prone areas in the hills to consider leaving their homes for a safer venues on Sunday afternoon.
“I believe right now our community’s injected with a lot of fear,” said Berkeley Hills resident Elsie Wright. “My husband and I have decided that we’re not going to go along with that (voluntarily leave their home). We’re going to hope for the best.”
The East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District tweeted that several engines responded to a fire in Byron, but crews were able to knock down the fires and turn the property over to the owner.
Byron: 8:13PM Engine 359, 352 and BC5 responded to a fire involving multiple piles of used horse stable shavings. The high winds were causing embers to spread from pile to pile. Crews were able to knock down the visible fires and then turned the scene over to the property owner. pic.twitter.com/OGxYcChCzI
— ECCFPD (@ECCFPD) October 26, 2020
Because of increased fire risk because of extreme winds, the East Bay Municipal Utility District is closing Lafayette and San Pablo Reservoir
Recreation Areas, as well as East Bay trails in its watershed, on Monday.
The closure was also in effect Sunday.
EBMUD has deployed additional patrol rangers and is working with its partner, East Bay Regional Park District, to post signs and close trail and recreation area entrances. For up-to-date information on closures and re-openings, visit ebmud.com/recreation
Separately, several parks operated by the East Bay Regional Park District are expected to remain closed Monday because of the same concerns about fire danger. Parks that will remain closed Monday include Anthony Chabot, Claremont Canyon, Huckleberry, Lake Chabot, Leona Canyon, Redwood, Roberts, Sibley, Tilden, Wildcat Canyon and Kennedy Grove. Updates are available at www.ebparks.org
Pacific Gas & Electric officials launched their preventive rolling power outages in the Sierra counties on Sunday morning and expanded them into the Bay Area Sunday evening.
Utility officials said at a Sunday evening news conference that approximately 361,000 customers in 36 counties would have their power cut off. By 6 p.m. 225,000 customers, including 23,464 customers in Sonoma County, had their power shut off with another 136,000 set to go dark by midnight.
“This by far the largest (planned outage) we’ve experienced this year, and the most extreme weather,” said Aaron Johnson, PG&E’s vice president of wildfire safety and public engagement.
PG&E said it expected to be able to restore power on Tuesday.
Forecast wind gusts from Sunday morning through Monday evening. Offshore winds (from the north and northeast) increase from north to south across the #BayArea today and peak overnight before gradually diminishing on Monday. Red Flag Warnings and Wind Advisories in effect. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/Ah7XLHEdHE
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) October 25, 2020
Some of the largest and deadliest fires in recent years were started by utility equipment being damaged by high winds, so PG&E has been aggressive about pre-emptively cutting power when fire conditions are most dangerous. This will be the fifth time PG&E has cut power to customers this year and by far the largest shutdown.
“We obviously recognize that power outages (Public Safety Power Shutoffs) present hardships. That’s why we try to make it as small as we can,” PG&E incident commander Mark Quinlan said, noting that the planned shutdown had been reduced from 466,000 customers.
Cities throughout the region planned to open emergency operations centers and add police officers and firefighters to patrol high-risk areas. Officials also were encouraging people to have their cellphones fully charged or, if they have a landline, to connect an older model phone that doesn’t depend on electricity.
A county breakdown of the outages included:
- 23,464 customers in Sonoma County
- 16,329 customers in Alameda County
- 17,966 customers in Contra Costa County
- 13,809 in Marin County
- 11,026 in Napa County
- 3,671 in San Mateo County
- 4,182 customers in Santa Clara County
- 13,872 customers in Santa Cruz County
- 1,597 customers in Solano County
Across the Bay Area, residents had been preparing for as much as two days without power to light their homes and refrigerate their food.
At Silverado Ace Hardware store in Calistoga, people were buying generators, electrical cords, flashlights, batteries, gas cans and other items, said Kathleen Collins, the store’s assistant manager.
The Napa County town of 5,000 people has been affected by many of the power outages this year. But in the previous outage, the PG&E brought in temporary generators to provide electricity.
“The generators are are still set up out there, so I’m hoping they’re going to keep our power up,” Collins said.
She said losing power is becoming a common occurrence, and people are having to live without electricity for days at time.
“There’s not much we can do about it,” Collins said. “We’ve already been devastated so much by these fires. Being without power seems the only solution right now.”
In John Meserve’s Kenwood neighborhood, folks are getting used to it.
“It’s like the song of our people,” Meserve said. “You drive through the neighborhood and there’s just generator after generator after generator. So, yeah, I mean, we all expect it. We’ve been through it enough times.”
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report