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 been found dead so far in the county, and Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said Thurs­day it would be “un­re­al­is­tic” to think that num­ber won’t rise.

Soon, th­ese fires will col­lec­tively be­come the dead­li­est in Cal­i­for­nia’s mod­ern his­tory, sur­pass­ing the Oakland Hills Fire that killed 25 in 1991.

“We’ve found bones that were al­most com­pletely in­tact,” Gior­dano said at a morn­ing news briefing. “We’ve found bodies that are noth­ing more than ashes and bones.”

As thou­sands of fire­fight­ers work to con­tain the blazes, of­fi­cials have started look­ing at what’s ahead: Clean­ing up the charred re­mains of thou­sands of struc­tures, some of which could con­tain po­ten­tially haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als.


Cal Fire’s Kim Sone in­spects homes de­stroyed by wild­fires in Santa Rosa, Calif., yes­ter­day.

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