SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Firefighters struggled overnight to control multiple fires that roared through California wine country Monday, killing at least 10 people, injuring numerous others, and torching more than 2,000 homes and businesses.
At least 15 separate blazes burned in nine Northern California counties, prompting evacuations of more than 20,000 frightened residents, including patients in threatened hospitals. Efforts to contain the fires were helped some by calmer winds overnight; but emergency officials cautioned that the conditions, particularly winds that at times exceeded 50 miles per hour, could exacerbate the wildfires in the days ahead.
Officials in Sonoma County – where most of the deaths have been reported – said late Monday that they had received more than 100 missing-persons reports, and the governor’s Office of Emergency Services warned that the death toll could rise.
“This is really serious; it’s moving fast,” Gov. Jerry Brown, D, said Monday at a news conference in which he declared an emergency in seven counties. “The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse. It’s not under control by any means. But we’re on it in the best way we know how.”
Later in the day, Brown wrote a five-page letter to President Trump seeking federal emergency aid. A vocal critic of Trump’s politics, Brown wrote that he has “determined 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.”
The fires, which whipped up overnight 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.
Coffey Park homes burn on Monday in Santa Rosa, Calif. The flames have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and businesses and sent thousands of people fleeing. Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP
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 state’s renowned wine industry.
A smaller but fast-moving fire in Mendocino County to the north killed one person, according to Jonathan Cox, a battalion chief and spokesman for Cal Fire. The sheriff of Sonoma County confirmed seven additional deaths there, and Cal Fire confirmed two deaths in the Atlas Fire in Napa County.
The pace of the burn took firefighters by surprise: The fires charred 20,000 acres in about 12 hours, which Cox called “a phenomenal rate of growth.” He said firefighters had “zero percent” containment and warned that, while winds had weakened slightly over the course of the day, “because of heat and low humidity, fire growth is still likely.”
The situation in Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, appeared dire. The Tubbs Fire, as the biggest blaze in Sonoma is known, 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 “people are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing.”
“It’s a scary time,” Dodds said. “It looks like Armageddon.”
Michael Pond, left, looks through ashes as his wife Kristine gets a hug from Zack Thurston, their daughter’s boyfriend, while they search the ruins of their home in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday. Associated Press/Jeff Chiu
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 system’s public relations director for Northern California. The patients 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.
The vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties are the source of some of the country’s best wines, and the scores of tasting rooms are among the state’s most popular tourism destinations.
There are more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes planted in the two counties, which are home to more than 650 wineries, according to the Wine Institute, which represents the industry in the state.
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