At least 10 dead as blazes rav­age northern Cal­i­for­nia


NAPA (Los Angeles Times/TNS) Scott Lam­bert and his wife were sleep­ing in their home north of Napa on Sun­day night when they awoke to the sound of a honk­ing horn and shouts of “Get out!”

At the door, he was greeted by wind and an eerie night sky washed in or­ange.

Lam­bert, 76, and his wife, Laura, grabbed a few things and fled, first to a friend’s win­ery and then to a Napa com­mu­nity church that was dou­bling as a Red Cross shel­ter.

Heavy smoke choked the air and bits of white ash from the At­las fire drifted earth­ward Monday morn­ing as he fret­ted over the fate of the house his par­ents bought three decades ago.

“I think the out­look is bad,” said Lam­bert, who is re­tired from the oil in­dus­try and has a pas­sion for English lit­er­a­ture. “I had my li­brary, thou­sands of care­fully se­lected books. My grand piano. My mu­sic...”

The At­las was one of 14 wild­fires that cut a dev­as­tat­ing and deadly path across Northern Cal­i­for­nia on Sun­day night. Driven by ap­pro­pri­ately named Di­ablo winds, the firestorm killed at least 10 peo­ple and de­stroyed 1,500 struc­tures across eight coun­ties.

Seven deaths were re­ported in Sonoma County, two in Napa County and one in Men­do­cino County, ac­cord­ing to author­i­ties.

As of Monday af­ter­noon, the blazes ranked as the state’s fifth­most de­struc­tive and among the 10 dead­li­est.

“We are a re­silient county,” Sonoma County Su­per­vi­sor Shirlee Zane said. “We will come back from this. But right now we need to grieve.”

Of­fi­cials with the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion said 17 large wild­fires, in­clud­ing the Ana­heim Hills blaze in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, had black­ened more than 94,000 acres (38,000 hectares) across the state. Three-quar­ters of the acreage was in the North.

Leap­ing from ridge top to ridge top in grass and oak wood­lands, flames raced across the heart of the Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try, claim­ing houses, at least one win­ery and a dairy.

In Santa Rosa, the Tubbs fire lev­eled an en­tire neigh­bor­hood, burned a Hil­ton ho­tel, turned big-box stores into smok­ing ru­ins and prompted the evac­u­a­tion of two hos­pi­tals, Sut­ter Santa Rosa Re­gional Hospi­tal and Kaiser’s Santa Rosa Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Video on so­cial me­dia showed flames danc­ing in the back­ground as nurses hur­riedly wheeled a pa­tient in a hospi­tal bed across a park­ing lot, IV drip bags in tow.

“Late last night, start­ing around 10 o’clock, you had 50- to 60-mph winds that sur­faced – re­ally across the whole northern half of the state,” CalFire di­rec­tor Ken Pim­lott said Monday. “Ev­ery spark is go­ing to ig­nite.”

Though the con­di­tions that fed the blazes – high winds from the in­te­rior, dried-up veg­e­ta­tion and low hu­mid­ity – are more typ­i­cal of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s fall fire sea­son, the North has seen its share of hor­rific au­tumn wild­fires.

The state’s sec­ond-dead­li­est blaze is the Oc­to­ber 1991 Tun­nel fire in the Oak­land and Berke­ley hills, which erupted on a quiet Sun­day and killed 25 peo­ple.

The Tun­nel also ranks as the most de­struc­tive wild­fire in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory, con­sum­ing 2,900 struc­tures.

Two years ago, the Val­ley fire roared across Lake, Napa and Sonoma coun­ties, killing four peo­ple and de­stroy­ing 1,995 build­ings.

The scene Sun­day night when Brenda Burke, 55, fled her cot­tage north of Napa “was aw­ful,” she said.

The fire “would move with the wind. You knew when a house went up be­cause there would be a whole slew of smoke and you could hear the propane tanks ex­plod­ing.”

Ea­ger to find out if her home sur­vived, she went back Monday morn­ing, past fire-gut­ted houses and smok­ing lawns. When she got to her drive­way, she saw flames “from what ap­peared to be the front of my house.”

Later in the day, she threw her­self into vol­un­teer work at an an­i­mal res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Sit­ting out­side a Napa emer­gency shel­ter with a dog and a cat pulled from a parked van, she man­aged a tight smile.

“I have what I’m wear­ing right now and my dog and my phone,” she said. “And I have friends and fam­ily. I will be fine.”

About 45,000 peo­ple were with­out power and/or cell ser­vice in Napa and Sonoma coun­ties.

Res­i­dents flocked to Napa’s largely shut­tered down­town to take ad­van­tage of the Wi-Fi at a Star­bucks, one of the few busi­nesses open. The smoke was so thick that most driv­ers turned on their head­lights.

In the hard-hit Cof­fey Park neigh­bor­hood of Santa Rosa, Diana Wilder stood out­side the pile of rub­ble that was once her home, clutch­ing a con­crete Bud­dha lawn or­na­ment.

“I wanted to take some­thing from the house with me,” said Wilder, 53, a homemaker.

A safe and some flower pots were ev­i­dent in the wreck­age, but not much else.

“I was pray­ing all night, ‘Please, house, still be there,’” said Wilder, who spent Sun­day night with her hus­band in a su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot.

Wilder re­turned to find ev­ery house on her cul-de-sac burned to the ground, the charred re­mains of wash­ing ma­chines, bar­be­cues and chim­neys stand­ing amid the grave­yard of homes.

She and her hus­band bought their house in 2000. Their monthly pay­ment was $1,200. These days, she doubts she can find an apart­ment for that amount and plans to live with her brother un­til she fig­ures out what to do next.

(Stephen Lam/Reuters)

A BURN­ING STRUC­TURE is seen at the Hil­ton Sonoma Wine Coun­try on Monday night­dur­ing the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia.

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