At least 10 dead, about 150 missing as wildfires ravage California's wine country
October 10 at 9:24 AM
SANTA ROSA, Calif. â" After battling massive wildfires that have killed at least 10 people in Californiaâs wine country and torched 107,000 acres across the northern part of the state, firefighters are hoping for some reprieve Tuesday morning as strong winds that fanned flames the night before continue to weaken.
Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director for Cal Fire, said winds have slowed to single-digit speeds, down from 50 to 60 mph reported Monday.
âThatâs given us a good opportunity to make progress on these fires,â Berlant said. âWeâre hoping to continue to see less wind and cooler temperatures. That combination is a welcomed sight compared to what we dealt with just 24 hours ago.â
Still, Berlant said, firefighters are still fighting 17 large wildfires that have destroyed 1,500 homes and commercial build ings across several Northern California counties and sent more than 20,000 people fleeing for safety.
Ten people from Californiaâs wine country have been reported dead as of Tuesday morning, and the governorâs Office of Emergency Services warned that the death toll could rise. Seven of the deaths were in Sonoma County, where officials said Tuesday that they are âpreparing for further fatalities.â The Sonoma County Sheriffâs Office said it has received about 150 missing-persons reports.
âWe are confident that many of these people will be found safe and reunited with loved ones, but unfortunately we are preparing for further fatalities,â the sheriffâs office said.
Two of the deaths were reported in the Atlas Fire in Napa County. One person was killed during a smaller but fast-moving fire in Mendocino County to the north, said Jonathan Cox, a battalion chief and spokesman for Cal Fire.
[These images show the devastation caused by Californi aâs deadly wine country fires]
Another death, which brings the death toll to a total of 11, was reported in Yuba County near the Sacramento area, outside of the stateâs wine country, Berlant said.
âThis is really serious. Itâs moving fast,â Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said Monday at a news conference in which he declared an emergency in seven counties. âThe heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse. Itâs not under control by any means. But weâre on it in the best way we know how.â
Later on Monday, Brown wrote a five-page letter to President Trump seeking federal emergency aid. A vocal critic of Trumpâs politics, Brown wrote that he has âdetermined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and supplemental federal assistance is necessary.â
The fires, which whipped up o vernight Sunday, added to what has already been a severe fire season in the West. More than 8 million acres have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.
The current wildfires had burned more than 73,000 acres in Northern California by Monday evening, nearly all of those in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heartland of the stateâs renowned wine industry.
The pace of the burn took firefighters by surprise: The fires charred 20,000 acres in about 12 hours, which Cox called âa phenomenal rate of growth.â He said firefighters had âzero percentâ containment and warned that, while winds had weakened slightly over the course of the day, âbecause of heat and low h umidity, fire growth is still likely.â
The situation in Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, appeared dire. The Tubbs Fire, as the biggest blaze in Sonoma is known, has charred 27,000 acres of land in the county. The fire sped southwest from Calistoga in Napa Valley, jumped Highway 101 and entered Santa Rosa. Cal Fire officials said the cause is under investigation.
A resident, Ron Dodds, told TV station KTVU that âpeople are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing.â
âItâs a scary time,â Dodds said. âIt looks like Armageddon.â
The city imposed a curfew Monday, running from 6:45 p.m. until sunrise Tuesday, to prevent looting in the evacuation zone, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kaiser Permanente evacuated about 130 patients from the Santa Rosa Medical Center by ambulance and private bus early Monday morning, according to Jenny Mack, the health systemâs public relations director for Northern California. The patien ts were taken to Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael, in Marin County, and to other hospitals and evacuation sites.
Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital also evacuated all of its patients. By Monday afternoon, the hospital was inaccessible because of road closures.
Will Powers, a Cal Fire representative, said the California Highway Patrol was evacuating some people by helicopter in rural areas of Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties.
Fire glows on a hillside in Napa. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
The vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties are the source of some of the countryâs best wines, and the scores of tasting rooms are among the stateâs most popular tourism destinations.
There are more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes planted in the two counties, which are home t o more than 650 wineries, according to the Wine Institute, which represents the industry in the state.
The two counties produce about 13 percent of all wine made in California, according to trade groupâs data; a much higher percentage of the most acclaimed and coveted U.S. wines come from Napa and Sonoma.
The sectorâs economic impact is immense: The Wine Institute estimates that the industry generates more than $55 billion in economic activity in California â" and twice as much nationally â" each year.
Witness accounts Monday suggested that damage to the industry could be significant, especially if the fires continue to burn in the days ahead.
âIt looks like a bombing run,â Joe Nielsen, the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma County, told SFGate. âJust chimneys and burned-out cars and cooked trees.â
Images showed one Napa winery, Signorello Estate, completely destroyed by fire.
The entrance to fire-ravaged Signorello Estate winery is seen Monday in Napa. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Evacuations began at about 11 p.m. Sunday evening and continued through Monday.
Some people left burning homes for evacuation centers, only to find those centers threatened by fire a few hours later.
In Rincon Valley, on the northeast outskirts of Santa Rosa, pastor Andy VomSteeg opened his New Vintage Church to those fleeing the fire. By Monday afternoon, more than 400 people, many of them elderly, had taken refuge inside.
âI left without my clothes,â said Nell Magnuson, a resident of the luxury retirement home Villa Capri. She wore only a maroon robe.
âWe had to get out in a hurry,â she said. âWhen we left, the flames were in the second floor.â
Magnuson, who was worried about where s he would sleep Monday night, said that âour whole lives have turned upside down. We donât have a clue whatâs going to happen. Itâs just losing everything. All the pictures, my whole life.â
But before her concerns could be addressed, the fire began to threaten the church.
âYou caught us just in time,â Magnuson said as she headed for the exit. âWeâre being evacuated again.â
Thick smoke hung over Sonoma County, and ash rained down in some towns. People wore masks on the streets, and businesses shut down.
In Healdsburg, a town nearly circled by fire 16 miles north of Santa Rosa, exhausted evacuees bought supplies, fueled up and looked for a place to stay for the night.
A woman goes through a destroyed home in Santa Rosa on Monday. (John G. Maban glo/European PressphotoAgency/EFE/REX)
Cindy Luzzi, who was visiting her son and his family in Santa Rosa, said her daughter-in-law got a call from a neighbor at about 2:30 a.m., telling them to evacuate.
âAt first we didnât think it was anything to worry about. Then we went downstairs, opened our front door and looked toward the center of town,â Luzzi said. âIt was just red, nothing but red.â
Luzzi, her daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren took refuge at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in nearby Geyserville from 3 a.m. until 8 a.m., waiting for her son to join them. They were then able to book a room at the Best Western in town. But by 2 p.m., the hotel had filled up.
Shortages of rooms, bottled water and fuel were affecting surrounding towns as well.
âWeâre almost out of gas,â said Hardeep Gill, who owns a filling station in downtown Healdsburg, just off Highway 101.
Gill, who came into work because his employees couldn ât get there, said he had lost a commercial building he owned worth about $9 million.
âI got a call around 3 a.m. because the fire sprinklers were going off,â he said. âThatâs when I knew it was a total loss.â
Kerr reported from Healdsburg, Calif., and Wilson and Phillips reported from Washington. Alissa Greenberg in Berkeley, Calif., and Mary Hui, Herman Wong and J. Freedom du Lac in Washington contributed to this report, which has been updated.Full Screen Autoplay Close Skip Ad Ã The scene as wildfires devastate Northern Californiaâs wine region View Photos Caption More than 50,000 acres are burning in Napa and Sonoma co unties alone. Authorities say wildfires have destroyed at least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures and forced an estimated 20,000 people to evacuate from eight counties. Buy Photo Wait 1 second to continue.
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