Officials begin to appraise staggering damage levels
The scale of devastation in Sonoma County started to come into focus Thursday as local officials began to assess the massive losses.
There were 15 fatalities reported as of early afternoon, a number that officials expected would rise in the coming days.
Of the 1,000 people reported missing, nearly 400 were still unaccounted for, said Sheriff Rob Giordano. Searchand-rescue teams with cadaver dogs were starting to head into burn zones to look for the missing.
“We’re moving into a recovery phase,” Giordano said. “That is the reality part of it.”
Even as the fires continued to threaten residential areas on the southeast side of Santa Rosa, officials offered the first official count of structures lost, including 2,834 homes and more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We’re going to be a long time recovering from this incident,” said Mayor Chris Coursey. “The city of Santa Rosa has suffered a serious blow.”
The city also lost a new fire station in the Fountaingrove neighborhood as well as two sewer lift stations.
Thousands were still under mandatory evacuation orders and more than 4,000 people were in the 24 shelters open across the county.
“We ask for your patience and your kindness to one another as we deal with this disaster as a community,” said Supervisor Shirley Zane.
Winds continued to fuel the fires in Sonoma County, including the flames from the Adobe Fire spreading through Bennett Valley, although there were no new evacuations ordered Thursday morning.
Across the county, four major fires had burned more than 65,000 acres. They included the Tubbs Fire, which was just 10 percent contained Thursday. The Adobe Fire was just 1 percent contained, with 7,955 acres burned.
County residents were not allowed to return to homes in mandatory evacuation zones and it was unclear when that would happen. Even in neighborhoods that were spared, it could be at least Monday before they would be allowed back, Giordano said.
Many of those evacuated still didn’t know if they still had a home.
Katherine Lukezic knew. Her home in Fountaingrove was gone. On Thursday morning, she was at the bottom of Fountaingrove Parkway, trying to convince a police officer to let her up onto the hill. She wanted to see if any pictures or jewelry were spared.
She had been alerted to the fire by a text from a friend and fled. “We grabbed nothing,” she said. In Fountaingrove and other areas where some homes still stood among ruin, hundreds of police officers and National Guard soldiers patrolled the evacuated zones to prevent looting. There had been few calls for looting and five arrests in evacuation zones as of Thursday, Giordano said.