UPDATED: Bodega Lab Remains Closed

Bodega Marine Laboratory on Bodega Head, overlooking Pacific Ocean.
UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory, within the university’s Bodega Marine Reserve on Bodega Head.

Updated 6 p.m. Oct. 28: The Bodega Marine Laboratory will remain closed at least through Tuesday (Oct. 29), lab officials said, even though the lab is no longer subject to mandatory evacuation. Instead, Sonoma County authorities reinstated an evacuation warning for the county’s west side, extending to the Pacific Ocean.


However, said Patrick Helbling, the lab’s associate director, the Sheriff’s Department advised that the warning can quickly be upgraded again, depending on what’s happening with the Kincade Fire.

Knowing that high winds are projected for tomorrow (Tuesday) beginning around 9 a.m. through Thursday, we decided that the lab will remain closed on Tuesday (Oct. 29) and we will assess the situation in the late afternoon when the winds begin to diminish,” Helbling said in an email to lab residents (faculty, staff and students) at about 5:30 p.m.

Air quality also played a factor in the lab’s decision to remain closed Tuesday, Helbling said. Prior to PG&E’s public safety power shutoff,  air monitoring stations measured the air quality in the Bodega area at around 155 (unhealthy) on the Air Quality Index. “With the power down, not all sensors are working on these sites,” he said. However, “we estimate the air quality is still very poor.”

PG&E is inspecting power lines and equipment in preparation for restoring power, Helbling said, and the lab remains hopeful its power will be restored in the next day or so. 

Updated 3 p.m. Oct. 28: The Bodega Marine Laboratory remains closed until further notice, despite Sonoma County authorities’ pulling back their mandatory evacuation zone in the western part of the county. The pullback placed the lab back in an evacuation warning zone. See the latest map.

“Before we make the decision to reopen the lab for access, we are in contact with authorities to determine if tomorrow’s (Tuesday, Oct. 29) projected wind event could impact the zoning designation, reverting it back to a mandatory state,” Patrick Helbling, the lab’s associate director, said in an email to lab residents (faculty, staff and students). “We are aware that the authorities are sensitive to restoring these zones as soon as possible for people to return. “

Helbling promised an update shortly on the lab’s status: open or still closed.

Updated 10:30 a.m. Oct. 27, with this statement from UC Davis: “We are monitoring the wind, fire and air quality conditions in Sonoma County. Our colleagues in Bodega Bay have evacuated and employees have developed a contingency plan should the Kincade Fire move toward the lab. Please be safe as the winds continue to pick up.”

Patrick Helbling, associate director of the Bodega Marine Lab, reported this morning that the lab’s generators are up and running, supporting the lab while the PG&E power is off.

Campus officials relayed a PG&E report of power being out to almost 4,000 customers in Davis.

Updated 7 p.m. Oct. 26: Bodega Head, site of UC Davis’ Bodega Marine lab and natural reserve, is now under a mandatory evacuation order — along with other parts of western Sonoma County that lie between the coast and the Kincade Fire. See map here.

“We currently have a small crew here at the lab managing the potential power outage from PG&E and will remain in place throughout the night,” said Patrick Helbling, the lab’s associate director. “We have developed a contingency should it appear the fire is moving in this direction.”

Helbling said there were few people on site today and he was in communication with them. Some 75 visiting students from UCLA and the California State University system evacuated the lab’s housing area about a mile east of the research facility: The UCLA contingent, about 35 students, departed for a shelter in Petaluma, while 40 or so CSU students departed for their campus.

UC Davis’ Bodega Marine lab and reserve lie within an evacuation warning zone announced today (Oct. 26) in connection with the Kincade Fire that is raging in Sonoma County, where more mandatory evacuations are underway in advance of the fierce winds expected overnight.

The fear is the fire will spread even farther south and west, prompting the evacuation warning that extends all the way to the Pacific Coast.

Elsewhere in UC Davis’ Natural Reserve System — including Stebbins Cold Canyon — officials are urging caution amid the threat of wind-fueled wildfire across Northern California.  

The Bodega Marine Lab’s associate director, Patrick Helbling, was on site today, monitoring the wind threat and the Kincade Fire’s expanding evacuation zone, and said he will be there into the night. As usual on weekends, few “residents” (faculty and other researchers, staff and students) were at the lab, but he was communicating with those who were, and with some 75 visiting students from UCLA and the California State University system, who are staying in lab housing about a mile east of the lab. He said they were prepared to go to an evacuation center in Petaluma if necessary.   

“We will communicate with BML residents if there is any change in the designation of the evacuation warning,” Helbling said. 

He said PG&E advised that the lab would lose power at 4 p.m., but it was still on shortly after 4. Regardless, he said, the lab has generators to support full operations.

If the fire threat continues, communications will go out to all residents to ensure their own safety first and not come to the lab if not necessary.

Jeffrey Clary, associate director of UC Davis’ Natural Reserve System, said the Bodega reserve director, Suzanne Olyarnik, was establishing a communications plan with all researchers who had registered their intention to visit the reserve over the next couple of days. Olyarnik was providing information about nearby evacuation shelters should they be necessary.

Hikers beware

People thinking about going to Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve this weekend, a popular hiking destination west of Winters, are encouraged to heed the “Current Reserve Status” notice on the reserve's website: “Extremely dangerous fire conditions. Extreme risk of fast-moving wildfires. Please see National Weather Service and Cal Fire websites for latest updates on conditions.”

Look for information here:

Clary reported just after 2 p.m. that UC Davis’ Quail Ridge and McLaughlin reserves “are currently not threatened by any active fires.” However, because of the dangerous fire weather, he asked reserve managers to contact all researchers intending to access the reserves in the next couple of days to reinforce emergency communication and evacuation plans.

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