More than 15 wildfires are burning right now across the Golden State of California. Some of them have been raging for more than two weeks. The threat of wind-driven fires spreading and destroying more communities continuing this week is a stark reality.
The largest fire is the Kincade Fire. Five days after it started, the Kincade Fire surged through Sonoma County early this morning, Oct. 28, burning new homes and other structures as it moved southward through rugged terrain toward neighborhoods on the north edge of Santa Rosa – areas that were ravaged by the deadly Tubbs Fire of 2017.
Wind gusts of nearly 100 mph over the weekend turned the Kincade Fire into a beast of an inferno, expanding three to four times in size from Sunday into today. More than 3,400 firefighters are working to contain it. In Sonoma County, the Kincade Fire has taken over more than 66,000 acres – about one-third the size of New York City.
As of early this morning, officials with the California Department of Forestry and Protection (Cal Fire) said at least 96 structures have been destroyed and 17 damaged, with 80,000 structures in jeopardy of damage or being burned to the ground. The fire is only 5% contained. Fortunately, no deaths or missing persons have been reported. Portions of US-101 are closed on an 18-mile stretch from Larkfield-Wikiup to Geyserville.
“We’re continuing to see the erratic fire spread,” said fire behavior analyst Steve Volmer at a Cal Fire press conference late Sunday, Oct. 27.
Winds have weakened a bit this afternoon, and Red Flag Warnings issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) have expired in northern California. Firefighters hope to make an aggressive stand at the fire’s perimeter before high winds move back into the area by tomorrow afternoon, Oct. 29.
“It looks like we have about a 24-hour window of favorable weather Monday into Tuesday,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Walbrun said.
At a news conference this morning, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said it planned to start repopulating some evacuated areas soon, but did not yet give specify precise timing or locations. Repopulation efforts will take place in reverse order of evacuations, starting in western Sonoma County and moving inland toward the fire. As of 9 a.m. today, all evacuation orders were still in full effect.
As of last night, the Kincade Fire was spreading quickly toward Larkfield-Wikiup and Mark West. These are two unincorporated communities of Sonoma County north of Santa Rosa. Sheriff’s deputies used sirens to warn any remaining residents and ordered them to evacuate immediately.
They issued an immediate evacuation order for the neighborhood around Faught Road, from Shiloh Road to Old Redwood Highway. The neighborhood is east of Highway 101 and south of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park. Residents there had already been warned to evacuate, but deputies made a final pass through the area to ensure everyone was out. Authorities do not know the cause of the Kincade Fire at this time.
Hard to breathe
Besides the fire threatening to practically wipe neighborhoods off the map, smoke from the Kincade Fire has been creeping into San Francisco area. The air in some parts of the metropolitan area has become unhealthy or dangerous to breathe.
Bay Area air quality officials declared Monday another “Spare-the-Air” day, asking people to take public transportation and refrain from using their fireplaces. Health officials were also concerned about people with respiratory needs because a large number of customers in the Bay Area have no electricity because of Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s public safety power shutoffs (PSPs). For asthma suffers, for example, their home purifiers used to filter out the smoke were not working. The PSPs are affecting almost a million customers across California.
“They’re [fire crews] doing tactical patrol. They’re going from house to house making sure they have proper clearance, defensible space and if there’s any residents still at home, try to evacuate them,” said Rigo Herrera, a Cal Fire spokesperson. “And they make sure all power is out, gas and electricity is shut to the house. They make sure your windows and doors are closed. You don’t want embers to get into your house.”
Southern California flames
The latest wildfire, the Getty Fire, was reported just this morning. It has led to evacuations, as well as road and school closures. The brush fire erupted along the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, near the Getty Center in Los Angeles. It’s been spreading quickly into neighborhoods, burning homes in its path. The Getty Fire now covers more than 500 acres.
As of this morning, the southbound off-ramps at Skirball Center Drive, Sepulveda Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Getty Center Drive and Mulholland Drive on the 405 Freeway (I-405) are closed. The southbound portion of the freeway from the 101 (US-101) to Sunset Boulevard was expected to be closed by midday PDT, according to the California Highway Patrol. Portions of Sepulveda Boulevard were also shut down.
Future roadblocks are possible near any of the wildfires in California, leading to potential short-term delays in trucking freight through what is perhaps the busiest market in the country. The latest FreightWaves data, as of this morning, show that the Ontario, California market has the largest volume of outbound freight (OTMS.ONT) compared to the other 134 markets. This is expressed as a percentage. So, right now, Ontario has an outbound market share of more than 4.7%, as seen in the chart directly below.
But air cargo may be delayed too – not necessarily because of the fires, but because of the intense winds gusting to 60 mph or more. This includes San Francisco International Airport (ICAO: SFO), Sacramento International Airport (ICAO code: SMF), Bob Hope Airport (ICAO code: BUR), Los Angeles International Airport (ICAO code: LAX) and Ontario International Airport (ICAO code: ONT).
These airports, as well as other assets, are housed inside the FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events platform, indicated by the red and orange “donuts” on the map below.
With very dry air staying in place, no rain in sight for the rest of October or early November, and ferocious winds coming back very soon, wildfires will continue to threaten California communities for several days. Look for updates on the FreightWaves website and social media accounts.