- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Firefighters were hampered by erratic wind and low humidity yesterday as they made slow progress against a fire that had burned nearly 12,000 acres and four homes in the Northern California wine country.

The fire, which started Friday northeast of Geyserville in Sonoma County, had been 20 percent contained, and full containment was not expected until tomorrow, said Janet Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The unpredictable wind and dry vegetation, compounded by uneven and often steep terrain, made the situation extremely dangerous for the 1,875 firefighters, Miss Marshall said.

“These are very erratic winds, which can be blowing perpendicular to one another,” she said. “You never know where they’re coming from, and that’s a huge safety concern for firefighters.”

Two firefighters had been injured, but not critically.

In addition to the four homes, eight outbuildings and 12 cars had been destroyed. About 40 residents had been evacuated from the area, about 60 miles north of San Francisco, including occupants of six homes ordered evacuated yesterday morning, Miss Marshall said.

Others living in the area were urged to have evacuation plans ready, because the blaze was considered to be threatening 200 other houses and five businesses.

The fire also threatened major power lines from 21 generating plants in the Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal-power facility.

On Saturday, two-thirds of the plants and two transmission lines were shut down, said Kent Robertson, a spokesman for Calpine Corp., which owns the lines. The company rerouted electricity from other plants, and no outages were reported.

Yesterday, winery workers worried about the approaching flames.

“Jack rabbits were running out of the vineyard, and the geese were flying away,” said Sarah Campbell, a saleswoman at the Sausal Winery in Healdsburg. “We were worried that as soon as it came over that ridge, we’d have to bail, but it never did.”

In the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County, another fire sparked by a burning motor home on Friday destroyed 11 homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate rural subdivisions, fire officials said. Evacuees were allowed to return Saturday.

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