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.