Firefighters are battling a growing wildfire moving through The Geysers in northeastern Sonoma County last reported to have reached 1,500 acres, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department said.
By mid-afternoon the blaze, officially named the Sawmill fire, was reportedly 10 percent contained but still had the capacity to be a significant event, officials said.
The fire was reported about 11 a.m. at 13025 Big Geysers Road, an area controlled by Calpine, a geothermal energy corporation which maintains 14 power plants in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Geyserville.
Firefighters were attacking the fire with aircraft and ground crews in temperatures that by early afternoon topped 90 degrees.
Approximately 25 homes in the Pocket Ranch area in the rural hills above Geyserville had been advised, but not ordered, to evacuate. Another 15 to 20 homes on The Geysers Road were notified to evacuate, said Capt. Tiffany Mercado of Cal Fire in St. Helena.
Firefighters on Sunday were on high alert because of the difficult weather conditions.
“It’s very hot, very dry and the winds are kicking up,” Mercado said.
About 240 fire personnel had been deployed to the blaze, which, at last report, was moving northward within the confines of Sonoma County.
But the same high fire conditions — high temperatures, gusting winds and low humidity — that had fire agencies staffed up going into the weekend suggested the Sawmill Fire could easily get out of hand.
Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal, a spokesman for the North Bay Incident Management Team, said the remote area has a history of serious vegetation fires.
“We’re preparing for it to become a significant incident, which is why there were a tremendous number of resources that were thrown at this immediately,” he said.
Officials said some of the homes in the rural area are hunting cabins or vacation homes, but Lowenthall said officials estimated about 89 individuals were affected by early evacuations of 36 homes.
The Red Cross was preparing to set up an evacuation center at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1402 University Ave., in Healdsburg.
Geysers Road was closed to all traffic at River Road and at Red Winery Road, officials said.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said heavy spotting was reported, and public officials were closely monitoring and coordinating on the firefighting effort.
He said resources were being drawn from around the region, especially Marin County, and that at least one “super scooper” aircraft, capable of scooping up as much as 1,800 gallons of water within 20 seconds for delivery to a fire site, was part of the effort.
The fire, which at one point was burning toward the Lake County line, prompted understandable alarm among residents there, many of whom endured the 76,000-acre Valley Fire a year ago and remain surrounded by the scars of that disaster.
A huge plume of smoke was visible above the ridge line in the Cobb Mountain Area, where much of the Valley Fire burned, and hundreds of worried callers bombarded the Kelseyville Fire Protection District in Lake County to inquire about the fire’s whereabouts, fire engineer Scott Crawford said.
“We’re all very much on edge up here, for obvious reasons,” said Andy Alexander, whose neighborhood near Gifford Springs in the Cobb Area was nearly destroyed in the Valley Fire. “We just don’t know, but it (the fire) is on your side of the hill right now, and we kind of hope it stays there. We’ll see. We’re just praying for the best.”