Winds ex­pected to drive next wave of deadly Cal­i­for­nia fires

Truro Daily News - - WORLD -

Gust­ing winds and dry air fore­cast for Thurs­day drove the next wave of dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires that are al­ready well on their way to be­com­ing the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory.

Winds up to 72 kilo­me­tres per hour pum­melled ar­eas north of San Fran­cisco where at least 23 peo­ple have died and at least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed.

“It’s go­ing to con­tinue to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter,” state fire Chief Ken Pim­lott said.

En­tire cities had evac­u­ated in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the next round of flames, their streets empty, the only mo­tion com­ing from ashes fall­ing like snowflakes.

In Cal­is­toga, a his­toric re­sort town known for wine tast­ings and hot springs, 5,300 peo­ple were un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders. Tens of thou­sands more have been driven from their homes by the flames. A few left be­hind cook­ies for fire­fight­ers and signs read­ing, “Please save our home!”

The 22 fires, many out of con­trol, spanned more than 686 square kilo­me­tres as the in­ferno en­tered its fourth day. Strate­gic at­tacks that have kept wild­fire de­struc­tion and death tolls low in re­cent years haven’t worked against the fe­roc­ity of the blazes.

“We are lit­er­ally look­ing at ex­plo­sive veg­e­ta­tion,” Pim­lott said.

“Make no mis­take,” he added later, “this is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event.”

Of­fi­cials say fire crews have some progress on the dead­li­est fire in Sonoma County, bring­ing con­tain­ment to 10 per cent.

How­ever, res­i­dents in the com­mu­nity of Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County were told to clear out Wed­nes­day, and the streets were quickly lined with cars packed with flee­ing peo­ple.

“That’s very bad,” res­i­dent Nick Hin­man said when a deputy warned him that the driv­ing winds could shift the wild­fires to­ward the town of Sonoma, where

11,000 peo­ple live. “It’ll go up like a can­dle.”

The ash rained down on e Sonoma Val­ley, cover­ing wind­shields, as winds picked up. Count­less emer­gency ve­hi­cles hur­ried to­ward the flames, sirens blar­ing, as evac­uees sped away af­ter jam­ming posses­sions into their cars and filling their gas tanks.

Of­fi­cials voiced con­cern that the 22 sep­a­rate blazes would merge into larger in­fer­nos.

“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the big­gest, most se­ri­ous, and it’s not over,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, along­side the state’s top emer­gency of­fi­cials.

They said 8,000 fire­fight­ers and other per­son­nel were bat­tling the blazes, with more re­sources pour­ing in from Ari­zona, Ne­vada, Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon.

Flames have raced across the wine-grow­ing re­gion and the scenic coastal area of Men­do­cino far­ther north, lev­el­ling whole neigh­bour­hoods and leav­ing brick chim­neys and charred ap­pli­ances to mark the sites where

homes once stood.

In Boyes Hot Springs, res­i­dents had watched ridges over the west side of town for days to gauge how close the or­ange flames had come. On Wed­nes­day, the ridges were ob­scured by grow­ing clouds of smoke.

With fires ad­vanc­ing from sev­eral sides in Sonoma Val­ley, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers on loan from other ar­eas barred res­i­dents of evac­u­ated com­mu­ni­ties from re­turn­ing to see how their homes and busi­nesses had fared. Road­blocks were set up between Sonoma and dev­as­tated ar­eas of Santa Rosa.

Ale­jan­dro Ro­driguez had been evac­u­ated from one tiny Sonoma Val­ley town, only to have deputies come to the neigh­bour­hood where he had re­lo­cated and tell res­i­dents to pack up and go.

“I want to see my house, see if any­thing’s left,” Ro­driguez said, ges­tur­ing at of­fi­cers at one road­block. “They won’t tell us noth­ing.”

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said hun­dreds of peo­ple had been re­ported miss­ing. But

of­fi­cials be­lieve many will even­tu­ally be found. Chaotic evac­u­a­tions and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions over the past few days have made lo­cat­ing friends and fam­ily dif­fi­cult.

The sher­iff ex­pects the death toll to climb.

“The dev­as­ta­tion is enor­mous,” he said. “We can’t even get into most ar­eas.”

He­li­copters and air tankers were as­sist­ing thou­sands of fire­fight­ers try­ing to beat back the flames. Un­til now, the ef­forts have fo­cused on “life safety” rather than ex­tin­guish­ing the blazes, partly be­cause the flames were shift­ing with winds and tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties with­out warn­ing.

Fires were “burn­ing faster than fire­fight­ers can run, in some sit­u­a­tions,” Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci said.

In south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, cooler weather and moist ocean air helped fire­fight­ers gain ground against a wild­fire that has scorched nearly 36 square kilo­me­tres.

Or­ange County fire of­fi­cials said the blaze was 60 per cent con­tained.

AP PHOTO

Smoke and haze from wild­fires hov­ers over the sky­line in San Fran­cisco yes­ter­day,

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