SAN FRANCISCO – The Northern California wine region was ablaze again on Monday, as strong winds stoked the flames in the already burned region, destroying homes and causing overnight evacuation orders for more than 50,000 people.
Residents of the Oakmont Gardens retirement home in Santa Rosa boarded city buses lit in the dark at night, some wearing bathrobes and using walkers. They wore masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus as the orange flames marked the dark sky.
The threat of fire forced St. Helena Adventist Hospital to suspend treatment and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The fires that began Sunday in the popular Napa-Sonoma wine region, about 72 kilometers north of San Francisco, occurred as the region neared the third anniversary of the deadly fires that broke out in 2017, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning fire that became the fourth largest in the state’s history.
“Our firefighters didn’t have much break, and these residents didn’t have much break,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant assistant director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her home in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa around 1:00 am. He is rebuilding a house damaged by the 2017 fires. Gorin told the San Francisco Chronicle that he is numb and the situation seems surreal.
“It’s like God has no sympathy, no empathy for Sonoma County,” he said.
More than 53,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties were evacuated in the last hell, one of 27 major groups of burning fires in the state, Berlant said. Many others have been warned that they may have to flee, although officials expect winds to ease until Tuesday.
The Glass Fire broke out before 4am on Sunday and merged with two other fires to burn 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) early Monday. Officials did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the fire engulfed the Chateau Boswell winery in St. Helena and at least one five-star resort.
Logan Hertel of Santa Rosa used a garden hose to put out the flames at a neighbor’s home in the Skyhawk neighborhood until firefighters managed to free it.
“They seem to have had enough already. So I wanted to step in and put out the fire, ”Hertel said.
Dominic Wiggens, who lives in the same neighborhood, was evacuated but returned later Monday. His house was still standing, but many others had disappeared. “It’s so sad,” he said.
Pacific Gas & Electric was inspecting its equipment while trying to restore power to more than 100,000 customers who had shut it down before gusts of wind and in areas with active fire zones. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 campfire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Evacuations have also been ordered in Shasta County as the Zogg fire spread over 23 square miles (59 square kilometers). The residences are widely scattered in the wooded area in the far north of the state. The region was set ablaze just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire, infamous for producing a huge tornado-like vortex of fire.
The causes of the new fires were being investigated.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said 2020 was challenging.
“The bright side is that people living in California become more prepared, they are more aware, they know these events are taking place and we are seeing a citizenry who understands that and is working hard to be prepared,” he said.
Numerous studies in recent years have linked large fires in America to climate change due to the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.
The latest fires erupted when a gigantic high-pressure ridge settled in the west, producing powerful gusts that blew from the interior towards the coast, bringing down humidity levels and raising temperatures.
So far in this year’s historic fire season, more than 8,100 fires in California have killed 26 people, burned 5,780 square miles (14,970 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.
Most of the losses occurred after a dry lightning frenzy in mid-August triggered a massive outbreak of wildfires.
Concerns about wildfires were developing throughout Southern California on Monday, although it was unclear how strong Santa Ana’s forecast winds would become. The heat and extreme drought should also have created problems.
Conditions were also hot, dry and windy in parts of Arizona, where the Sears Fire in the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix has grown to over 36 square kilometers since it erupted on Friday. Authorities reported zero containment.
Associated Press reporters John Antczak in Los Angeles, Juliet Williams in San Francisco, and Haven Daley in Santa Rosa, California contributed to this report.
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