Calmer winds aid firefighters
But California wine country still menaced by blazes
SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The winds that have fanned Northern California’s winecountry wildfires were calmer Thursday, giving firefighters a badly needed break from the “red flag” conditions that have made this menacing arc of flames so deadly and destructive.
The National Weather Service said the calmer winds are expected to last through Friday, giving fire crews a fighting chance against the blazes that have mostly raged uncontrolled.
The 21 fires currently burning across the northern part of the state have killed at least 24 people, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and torched more than 191,000 acres — a collective area nearly the size of New York City.
And they continue to menace populated areas: One evacuation order Wednesday covered the entire city of Calistoga in Napa County.
In neighbouring Sonoma County, where the fires have done the most damage, Geyserville residents were urged to leave Wednesday evening; two hours later, another evacuation order was issued in the Sonoma Valley.
“These fires are a long way from being contained, so we’re doing the best we can to help people who have been displaced,” said Sonoma County spokesman Barry Dugan.
Nine fires are now burning in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heart of California’s wine-growing industry. One of the biggest and by far the deadliest, the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma grew about 6,000 acres overnight before conditions began to improve.
More than 450 people are still reported missing in Sonoma County, where the sheriff expects to confirm more fatalities as officers and cadaver dogs gain access to the “hot zones” that were immolated in the firestorm.
Fourteen people have