Bay Area red flag warning, dry lightning send extra fire crews to hills

The homes in the hills of Santa Rosa and Napa are where fire crews devoted extra resources throughout the day on Sunday, in anticipation of the 24-hour red flag warning that went into effect that evening.

Across Sonoma County, dozens of additional firefighters were called in, even though the National Weather Service indicated the threat for wildfires in the region was relatively low.

"Our concern with the lightning itself is with how critically dry the fuels are, that there's the potential that any strike could start a fire," Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal with the Santa Rosa Fire Department, said.

Wildland engines went up to the homes in the hills of Santa Rosa Sunday, monitoring wildfire conditions.

"Given what we've been through here with the Kinkaid, the Walbridge, the Meyers, the Glass, the Nuns, the Tubbs, there's a lot of fire history in this community, and all the more reason to up-staff and have more firefighters on hand given the potential," Lowenthal said.

Sonoma County, the city of Santa Rosa, and the National Weather Service postponed an emergency alert and warning exercise scheduled for Tuesday, to free up resources to respond to fires, Lowenthal said. 

In Healdsberg, the team working at Chalk Hill Ranch held a fire safety and preparedness meeting on Saturday, and went over the evacuation plan to keep their 56 horses safe, ranch manager Jessica Herland said. In 2017, the ranch was evacuated during the Tubbs fire, and all horses survived.

Many homes in the Santa Rosa hills didn't survive the Tubbs fire.

"We lost our house in the Tubbs fire," Tom Miles, who finished rebuilding his house near Skyfarm Drive more than a year ago, said.

Miles is reassured that his new house, which has better building materials and less foliage, can withstand another fire.

Many of his neighbors have rebuilt their houses too, with similar fire-safety updates.

"People are being much more careful. They're getting rid of the trees around their houses, they're keeping the brush clear. Typically the houses have a lot more stone in their composition, and or the roofs might be metal," Ben Stone, a Santa Rosa resident whose house also burned in the Tubbs Fire, said. "So I think people are trying to take precaustions based on what people learned from the last fires."