Winds whip new ter­ror into deadly wild­fires.

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE -

SONOMA (AP) — Fu­eled by the re­turn of strong winds, the wild­fires tear­ing through Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try ex­ploded in size and num­ber Wednesday as au­thor­i­ties or­dered new evac­u­a­tions and the death toll climbed to 21 — a fig­ure ex­pected to rise higher still.

Three days after the fires be­gan, firefighters were still un­able to gain con­trol of the blazes that had turned en­tire North­ern Cal­i­for­nia neigh­bor­hoods to ash and de­stroyed at least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses.

“We are lit­er­ally look­ing at ex­plo­sive veg­e­ta­tion,” said Ken Pim­lott, chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion. “It is very dy­namic. These fires are chang­ing by the minute in many ar­eas.”

The en­tire his­toric town of Cal­is­toga, pop­u­la­tion 5,000, was evac­u­ated.

In neigh­bor­ing Sonoma County, au­thor­i­ties is­sued an evac­u­a­tion ad­vi­sory for part of the town of Sonoma and the com­mu­nity of Boyes Hot Springs.

By that time, lines of cars were al­ready flee­ing.

“That’s very bad,” res­i­dent Nick Hin­man said when a deputy sher­iff warned him that the driv­ing winds could shift the wild­fires to­ward the town of Sonoma proper, with 11,000 res­i­dents. “It’ll go up like a can­dle.”

Ash snowed over the Sonoma Val­ley, cov­er­ing wind­shields, as winds be­gan pick­ing up to­ward the po­ten­tially dis­as­trous fore­cast speed of 30 mph.

Cars of evac­uees raced away from the flames while count­less emer­gency ve­hi­cles sped to­ward them, sirens blar­ing.

Res­i­dents man­han­dled can­vas bags into cars jammed with pos­ses­sions or filled their gas tanks.

The wild­fires ranked as the third dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive in state his­tory. And of­fi­cials warned the worst was far from over.

“Make no mis­take, this is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event,” Pim­lott said.

The fires have burned through a stag­ger­ing 265 square miles of ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas.

High winds and low hu­mid­ity made con­di­tions ideal for fire to ignite vir­tu­ally any­where on ground or brush that was parched from years of drought.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Ber­lant said 22 wild­fires were burn­ing Wednesday, up from 17 the day be­fore.

As the fires grow, of­fi­cials voiced con­cern that sep­a­rate fires would merge into even larger in­fer­nos.

“We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the big­gest, most se­ri­ous, and it’s not over,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news con­fer­ence, along­side the state’s top emer­gency of­fi­cials.

They said 8,000 firefighters and other per­son­nel were bat­tling the blazes and more re­sources were pour­ing in from Ore­gon, Ne­vada, Washington and Ari­zona.

Flames have raced across the wine-grow­ing re­gion and the scenic coastal area of Men­do­cino far­ther north, leav­ing lit­tle more than smol­der­ing ashes and eye-sting­ing smoke in their wake.

Whole neigh­bor­hoods were lev­eled, leav­ing only brick chim­neys and charred ap­pli­ances to mark sites that were once fam­ily homes.

In Boyes Hot Springs, res­i­dents for days had watched the ridges over the west side of town to gauge how close the bil­low­ing smoke and or­ange flames of the wild­fires had come.

On Wednesday, the ridges them­selves were ob­scured by the grow­ing clouds of smoke.

In­creas­ingly large pieces of gray ash drifted down on the com­mu­nity. Sirens wailed. Res­i­dents who had held out hope of stay­ing at home, packed up to leave.

With fires ad­vanc­ing from sev­eral sides in Sonoma Val­ley, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers on loan from other ar­eas of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia barred res­i­dents of evac­u­ated com­mu­ni­ties from re­turn­ing to see how the homes and busi­nesses had fared.

Manned road­blocks blocked routes be­tween Sonoma and dev­as­tated ar­eas of Santa Rosa.

Colby Clark of San Fran­cisco (left), com­forts her mother, Bon­nie Trexler, after be­ing es­corted by law en­force­ment to her home in Sil­ver­ado High­land to re­trieve medicine and some per­sonal items on Wednesday in Napa. Trexler was one of the lucky few who found that her home was spared from the devastating fire which burned homes around her Mon­day. RANDY PENCH /THE SACRA­MENTO BEE VIA AP

PHOTO/ERIC RISBERG

A Cal Fire of­fi­cial looks out at the re­mains of the Jour­ney’s End mo­bile home park Wednesday in Santa Rosa. Blazes burn­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia have be­come some of the dead­li­est in state his­tory. AP

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