At least 10 dead as fires rage in Northern California
(CNN) — Fifteen wildfires raged across Northern California, with the biggest ones scorching the state’s famous wine country, killing at least 10 people, and burning over 1,500 homes and businesses, authorities said.
The fires burned into the night Monday in California’s wine country destinations — Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties — with flames ripping through the lush, picturesque landscape.
Here’s what we know so far, according to California authorities.
• Ten people have died and the number is expected to grow. Seven deaths were reported in the city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, two in Napa County and one in Mendocino 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 over 119,032 acres in California, as of Monday night.
The fires in Northern California ignited Sunday night and spread with explosive speed because of dry conditions, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said at a Monday news conference. Fueled by strong winds reaching up to 50 mph, firefighters were dealing with “extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions,” according to Cal Fire.
More than 20,000 people evacuated, some with little notice.
Destruction in Santa Rosa
The devastation was significant in Santa Rosa, a town of about 175,000, where the fire leveled entire subdivisions and reduced cars and homes into burnt piles of ash and rubble.
Seven deaths have been reported in the city, 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 that “it’s just logical” more bodies will be found.”
Sonoma County received more than 100 missing person reports, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.
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 town 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 fires, with the Tubbs fire at 27,000 acres, the Atlas fire at 25,000 acres and the Patrick fire at 3,000 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 burned at 19,000 acres, as of Monday night local time.
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 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 Napa Police Department. Nearly 35,000 people were without power throughout the state, according to an outage map from Pacific Gas and Electric Company early Tuesday.
Crowe estimated two-thirds to three-fourths of Napa’s grape harvest has taken place. 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 County have the most wineries in California. The economic impact from the two counties’ wine industry was estimated at $13 billion each, according to 2012 and 2014 research done by Stonebridge Research Group.
Karisa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, said she has heard of winery losses in the 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 that dry conditions 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.
Firefighters may get a break from the weather on Tuesday.
“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 Monday.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday issued an emergency proclamation for Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties. Orange County, in Southern California, is dealing with a 4,500-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.