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Officials Warn of Possible Sinkholes After North Bay Wildfires Torched Underground Piping

The wildfires have been extinguished, but a new risk has reared its head in the North Bay.

Officials on Sunday announced that a number of underground plastic pipes were damaged by the destructive wildfires, resulting in the potential for sinkholes, landslides and flooding amid ongoing storm systems.

"The pipes caught fire and in some cases were destroyed for significant lengths, up to a few hundred feet," Director of Santa Rosa Water Ben Horenstein said.

The wind-whipped flames destoyed at least eight sections of piping — ranging anywhere from 15 to 18 inches in diameter to as large as 36 inches in diameter — primarily in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa, according to Horenstein. There are an additional 20 areas with piping that may have been wiped out.

A sinkhole opened up Sunday at the end of Newbury Court in Fountain Grove, but repairs are nearly complete, officials said. On Sunday afternoon, authorities closed a mile-long stretch of Cross Creek Road over concerns that a portion of the road could collapse.

Construction crews awaited the delivery of steel plates to reinforce the roadway.

"We're gonna put a couple plates over it, and we’re gonna keep the road closed," worker Shane Terrill said. "But just in case someone does go past the barricades, they’re not in any danger."

The threat of additional sinkholes opening up prompted officials to reactivate Santa Rosa's Emergency Operations Center, Horenstein said.

The city of Santa Rosa will have teams in the field during the upcoming storms to monitor the affected areas.

Mayor Chris Coursey hopes that evacuations due to sinkholes or flooding will not be necessary, but Santa Rosa Deputy Fire Chief Bill Shubin said residents should still be prepared.

"If that gets to the point where it's mudslides or main roads are compromised, we’re going to have to ask people to leave the area," Coursey said. "I hope that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t sound like the rain that’s coming is that severe.

"We are asking residents, especially in the Fountaingrove area, to be extra vigilant and to have a plan to leave in the event that it is necessary," he said.

Another round of rain is expected to arrive late Sunday and continue into Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Rain totals are expected to range anywhere from one-quarter to one-half inch in the valleys and reach as high as one inch in the hills.

More and potentially heavier rain is forecasted to arrive on Wednesday.

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