At least 11 dead as fires rage in Northern California

Posted at 8:25 PM, Oct 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-10 09:09:19-04

More than a dozen wildfires raged across Northern California on Tuesday morning, with the biggest ones scorching the state’s famous wine country, killing at least 11 people and burning more than 1,500 homes and businesses, authorities said.

The fires were burning in California’s wine country destinations — Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties — as well as Yuba County, north of Sacramento, with flames ripping through the lush, picturesque landscape.

Here’s what we know so far, according to California authorities.

• At least 11 people have died since Sunday night when most of the fires began. Seven deaths were reported in the city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, two in Napa County, one in Mendocino County and one in Yuba County, according to officials.

• More than 100 people were being treated at Napa- and Sonoma-area hospitals for fire-related injuries or health issues, including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

• Wildfires were burning more than 119,032 acres in California as of Monday night.

• More than 100 phone calls have been made to Sonoma County’s missing persons hotline, the county said Monday.

• More than 20,000 people evacuated, some with little notice.

• Most of the Northern California fires ignited Sunday night, driven by winds of more than 50 mph and dry conditions, Director Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Monday. The high winds led to “extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions,” according to Cal Fire.

• Firefighters in Northern California appeared to be getting a break from the weather Tuesday. Winds decreased throughout the area — 6 to 13 mph was forecast around Santa Rosa. “Winds and the fire weather threat will decrease Tuesday in the north, but a threat will remain in Southern California,” according to the National Weather Service on Tuesday.

Destruction in Santa Rosa

The devastation was significant in Santa Rosa, a city of about 175,000, where the fire leveled subdivisions and reduced cars and homes into burnt piles of ash and rubble.

Seven deaths were reported there, but Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said, “That number’s going to change.”

Officers were still searching for people to evacuate and rescue, he said, and “it’s just logical” more bodies will be found.

Destroyed landmark buildings in the city included the Fountaingrove Inn, a 124-room hotel; a nearby event center, the Fountaingrove Round Barn; and classrooms at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat reported.One of Santa Rosa’s fire stations was also lost in the fire, according to a post on the Mountain View Fire Department’s Facebook account.

“I’m lucky,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said at a news conference. “My house is fine. My family is fine. My city is not.”

A large part of the city was evacuated, including Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital. Authorities imposed a sundown-to-sunrise curfew for the northern and eastern parts of the city under evacuation orders.

‘Wine doesn’t matter. People matter.’

Napa County was dealing with the biggest blazes, with the Tubbs fire at 27,000 acres, the Atlas fire at 25,000 acres and the Partrick fire at 5,000 acres.

In Sonoma County, firefighters also battled the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, the Nuns fire at 5,000 acres and another fire that spread 1,500 acres.

In Mendocino County, the Redwood Complex fire had burned at least 19,000 acres, as of Monday night.

Large wildfires often are named for local geographic areas or features.

Alison Crowe, the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley, said she has not been told to evacuate her home on the western edge of downtown Napa.

“I have friends fighting off fires with hoses in the hills. Thankfully a lot of my friends got out last night,” she said Monday.

The main road through the area is still open, but she said the aggressive nature of the blaze worries her.

“It’s scary. We feel surrounded,” she said.

The city of Napa was not under evacuation, but parts of it remained under boil water notice, and many lost power and cell service, according to the Napa police. Nearly 35,000 people were without power throughout the state, according to an outage map from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. early Tuesday.

Crowe estimated two-thirds to three-fourths of Napa’s grape harvest already had taken place but said some grapes still haven’t been picked. The 2017 harvest will be remembered for this fire, she said.

“Wine doesn’t matter; people matter,” she said. “I know that’s people’s attitude right now.”

Napa and Sonoma counties have the most wineries in California. The economic impact from the wine industry was estimated at $13 billion for each county, according to 2012and 2014 researchdone by Stonebridge Research Group.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, said she has heard of winery losses in her county, but that the total impact won’t be known for some time as evacuations are still in place.

She lost her home in the fire after she evacuated at 2 a.m. Monday. She had 10 minutes to evacuate and came back later in the day to find her home gone.

“I’m lucky. I’m out. I’m safe,” Kruse told CNN. “I’m still probably a little in shock myself.”

Fires fueled by wind and dry conditions

Authorities have not said what caused the fires but noted windy and dry conditions Sunday and Monday made it easy for the fires to spread. October is typically the busiest month for wildfires in California, they said.

Complicating firefighting efforts were low humidity and a lack of resources, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said Monday.

“As of right now, with these conditions, we can’t get in front of this fire and do anything about the forward progress,” he said, adding that resources were to begin arriving in the area later that day.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday issued an emergency proclamationfor Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties. Southern California’s Orange County is dealing with a 6,000-acre fire that resulted in evacuations.

“These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents,” the governor’s emergency proclamation said.