Un­pre­dictable winds spread Cal­i­for­nian fires

Business Day - - INTERNATIONAL - Alexan­dria Sage Sonoma

Fire­fight­ers strug­gled overnight to halt the spread of wild­fires known to have killed 23 peo­ple in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, pre­par­ing for winds to shift after one town threat­ened by flames evac­u­ated all res­i­dents.

The edge of the deadly Tubbs fire was less than 3km from Cal­is­toga, a Napa Val­ley com­mu­nity whose 5,000 res­i­dents left their homes on Wed­nes­day.

Whether the town burns “is go­ing to de­pend on the wind,” fire chief Steve Camp­bell told Reuters on Thurs­day. “High winds are pre­dicted, but we have not re­ceived them yet.”

Tubbs is one of nearly two dozen fires span­ning eight coun­ties that have raged largely unchecked since ig­nit­ing on Sun­day, leav­ing hun­dreds of res­i­dents un­ac­counted for.

They have charred about 69,000ha of land and de­stroyed about 3,500 build­ings.

While their cause has not been con­clu­sively de­ter­mined, they are thought to have been sparked by power lines top­pled by gale force winds and fanned by hot, dry Di­ablo winds blow­ing into north­ern Cal­i­for­nia to­wards the Pa­cific.

New ad­vi­sory evac­u­a­tions were is­sued in Sonoma County late on Wed­nes­day for parts of Santa Rosa — the largest city in the state’s world-renowned wine coun­try — and Gey­serville, an un­in­cor­po­rated town of 800 peo­ple.

“The winds are pre­dicted to be very er­ratic,” said county spokesman Barry Du­gan. “There will be bursts of high gusts that can be ... very un­pre­dictable and dif­fi­cult when you are fight­ing a fire and also for res­i­dents who we are try­ing to keep posted.”

Wild­fires had dam­aged or de­mol­ished at least 13 Napa Val­ley winer­ies, a vint­ners’ trade group said on Tues­day.

About 25,000 peo­ple re­mained un­der evac­u­a­tion on Wed­nes­day as smoke drifted to the San Fran­cisco Bay area.

MISS­ING PEO­PLE

More than 285 peo­ple were still miss­ing in Sonoma County late on Wed­nes­day night, the sher­iff said on Twit­ter. It was un­clear how many may be fire vic­tims rather than evac­uees who had not checked in with au­thor­i­ties.

In Santa Rosa, blocks in some ar­eas re­sem­bled war zones, with lit­tle left but charred de­bris and burned-out cars.

The 23 recorded deaths make the fires the dead­li­est in the state since 1991, with Tubbs, which has ac­counted for 13 fa­tal­i­ties, the worst sin­gle blaze since 2003, ac­cord­ing to state data.

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