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Kincade Fire Menaces Sonoma County

At 6.30 pm yesterday Saturday 26 October local time, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, along with local authorities, issued the most unprecedented mandatory evacuation order in the history of California. These orders were prompted by the Kincade Fire, a 26,000-acre (10,500-ha) wildfire in northern Sonoma County combined with forecasts of historically fierce winds exceeding 70 miles per hour. As of Saturday evening local time, the fire was only 11% contained.

Mandatory evacuation orders had already been issued earlier in the day for the towns of Healdsburg and Windsor, forcing nearly 40,000 residents to leave their homes. But the newest orders require a further 80,000 people to depart and head south or north to safety.

The area affected consists of roughly 400 square miles in the heart of Sonoma County, extending west from the town of Healdsburg to the Pacific Ocean, and stretching from a bit north of the town of Jenner south to the town of Valley Ford.

This area includes the towns of Bodega Bay, Bodega, Freestone, Occidental, Camp Meeker, Forestville, Graton, Ross, Duncans Mills, Guerneville, Cazadero and more, many of them names familiar to wine lovers. It encompasses large swathes of several major wine growing regions, including the Western Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and of course the Alexander Valley, which is most imminently threatened by the blaze. The largest city in the region, Santa Rosa, with its population of 175,000, sits nervously only a few miles to the south.

The fire, which began at 9.30 pm on the evening of Wednesday 23 October in a remote mountainous section of Sonoma County, quickly spread towards the town of Geyserville thanks to exceptionally low humidity and unseasonably warm temperatures. Information regarding its impacts remains tenuous and incomplete, but authorities report that it has destroyed 77 structures and damaged 14 since it began, with rumours of damage to one or more wineries.

The area currently under evacuation, however, contains more than 23,500 structures, according to authorities, who don’t believe that even under the best of conditions they could fully contain the fires’ spread before 7 November. More than 2,800 firefighters are battling the conflagration.

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