Fires ravage California wine country
UNITED STATES: Wildfires pushed by warm winds and fuelled by dry ground have swept through California’s wine country, killing at least 10 people, injuring numerous others and torching more than 1500 homes and businesses.
State fire officials have warned that weather conditions, particularly winds that at times exceed 80kmh, are likely to exacerbate the fires in the days ahead.
At least 14 blazes are burning in eight northern California counties, prompting evacuations of more than 20,000 frightened residents, including patients in threatened hospitals.
‘‘This is really serious; it’s mov- ing fast,’’ Governor Jerry Brown said during a news conference at which he declared an emergency in three counties.
The fires, which were whipped up on Monday, add to what has already been a severe wildfire season in the western US. More than 3.2 million hectares have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.
The current fires had burned more than 28,000ha in northern California by yesterday, nearly all of those in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heartland of the state’s renowned wine industry.
A smaller but fast-moving fire in Mendocino County to the north had killed one person, according to Jonathan Cox, a battalion chief and spokesman for Cal Fire. The sheriff of Sonoma County confirmed seven deaths there, and Cal Fire confirmed two more deaths in the Atlas Fire in Napa County.
The pace of the burn took firefighters by surprise: The fires charred over 8000ha in about 12 hours, which Cox called ‘‘a phenomenal rate of growth’’. He said firefighters had ‘‘zero per cent’’ containment.
The situation in Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, appeared dire. The Tubbs fire, as the blaze in Sonoma is known, sped southwest from Calistoga in the Napa Valley, jumped Highway 101 and entered Santa Rosa.
Will Powers, a Cal Fire representative, said the California Highway Patrol was evacuating some people by helicopter in rural areas of Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties.
Witness accounts suggested damage to the wine industry could be significant. ‘‘It looks like a bombing run,’’ said Joe Nielsen, the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma County. ‘‘Just chimneys and burned-out cars and cooked trees.’’ - Washington Post
The North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco have left block after block of burned-out properties.