A newly worsening wildfire in rugged terrain west of Healdsburg in Sonoma County prompted an evacuation warning Tuesday that was pushed out to cellphones to all Sonoma County residents, raising alarm bells for many nowhere near the blaze.
The fire, which is being called the 13-4 Fire for now, was sparked by a lightning strike on Monday, like several wildfires that have since expanded to thousands of acres in nearby Napa County. As the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports, the fire is "burning in an area near Gray Creek and the end of Mill Creek Road, west of Healdsburg and north of the Austin Creek recreational area." It's one of two wildfires in the western part of Sonoma County being watched and battled right now — the other being a smaller fire near the coast at Jenner, near Meyer’s Grade. But Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls tells the Press Democrat that the 13-4 fire "has the potential to become a major fire."
The wildfire stands at around 75 acres and it is burning in a southerly direction, toward more populated areas.
The evacuation warning, which is not yet an order, was issued at 11:50 a.m. for areas north of the Austin Creek Recreational Area, east of The Cedars, west of the end of Mill Creek Road, and south of Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road.
Seeing some fire activity in the North West portion of Sonoma County. Tough to gauge the exact location, but roughly North of Rio Nido and Northeast of Austin Creek State Recreation Area. pic.twitter.com/qDu6XdmDcl— Mike DeWald (@mike_dewald) August 18, 2020
Sonoma County residents reacted on Twitter to the alarming warning, which came as a surprise given that the 13-4 Fire hadn't yet received much of any media or Twitter coverage, and it's burning in a fairly remote area far from any of the county's population centers.
"Wireless Emergency Alerts can be geo-targeted to specific areas. This one wasn't done properly," writes one local Twitterer. "I suggest some of the PG&E settlement money goes to a consultant for Sonoma County IPAWS-OPEN training."
The Santa Rosa Fire Department also issued its own clarification.
The Wireless Emergency Alert received by Santa Rosa residents is for a fire in West Sonoma County. It is NOT related to Austin Creek in Skyhawk and NOT threatening the City of Santa Rosa.— Santa Rosa Fire Department (@SantaRosaFire) August 18, 2020
Go to https://t.co/FUO1G8zPOV for information from the County of Sonoma. pic.twitter.com/C8xGcGZ9me
Wireless Emergency Alerts can be geo-targeted to specific areas. This one wasn't done properly. I suggest some of the PG&E settlement money goes to a consultant for Sonoma County IPAWS-OPEN training.— Tom (@hostaris) August 18, 2020
And so it begins! Fire season is off to a rough start already, barely halfway through August, and there's at least three months of fire stress left to go with our election stress.