Red Flag warning for the North Bay hills; residents take precautions seriously

A Red Flag warning for the North Bay hills will occur while most people sleep but it's rarely routine for those who've experienced wildfire.

"I take it seriously, I do, every time," said Sharon Cox of Santa Rosa, after getting a phone alert about the warning, running from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 11 a.m. Thursday.

The National Weather Service is warning about gusting winds above 1000 feet in Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Combined with low humidity and dry vegetation, a fire might grow quickly if one were to spark.

"There's a little bit of fear and anxiety," said David Cox, describing how the Glass Fire one year ago crept frighteningly close to their Rincon Valley street.

After burning for three weeks, the Glass Fire destroyed 1500 structures and charred 70,000 acres in the two counties.

"I did not evacuate and I was seeing the fire come over the hill from Calistoga," David Cox said. 

The hills above his neighborhood are blackened with the scars of both the Glass Fire and the Tubbs Fire of 2017, which was even more devastating.  

That's why the couple pays attention when fire watches and warnings hit their phones, as they have been frequently since August.

"We make sure everything is charged, all our devices, flashlights and the car is ready to go," David Cox said. "And a lot of us back onto our driveway so we can make a quick getaway if we have to."

The couple also alerts their adult children who live outside the area, in case they need to stay with them.

"And we try not to keep too much food in the refrigerator because we've had power outages at the same time as the fires," Sharon Cox said. 

To the east, Calistoga is bustling with tourists,

While they may not know red wine from red flag, locals do- time after time.  

"I don't think people will ever get that fatigue factor," said Calistoga Fire Dept. Engineer Jaime Orozco. "With all the fires burning in California, it's hard to keep track of, but a somber reminder of the devastation that can happen."

The red flag on the firehouse flag pole was not whipping Wednesday evening, and the weather station inside showed normal readings.

"We might not be feeling it here but if you go to the top of Mt. St. Helena, we're going to have a much different weather event, wind gusts of 15 to 45 mph on the peaks," said Orozco.

He notes many Calistogans have taken steps in recent years to become more fire-prepared, including displaying new reflective house markers which are more visible to first responders.

"People here spread the word, they keep the vigilance, and people are very aware of the situation and we encourage that," said Orozco.