Wildfires scorch wine country
Wind-whipped fires sweeping across California’s wine country Monday burned hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee communities, hospitals and wineries ahead of the hard-charging flames.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Kim Pimlott estimated 1,500 homes, buildings and other structures were destroyed and up to 20,000 people evacuated. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to help combat the crisis.
The fire erupted during the fall’s first significant blast of Santa Ana winds, the seasonal gusts linked to some of the region’s worst wildfires.
In Santa Rosa, 50 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, “fast-moving fires” compelled authorities to continually expanded the area of mandatory evacuations. More than a dozen evacuation centers were opened, though some quickly filled.
The Sutter Santa Rosa Hospital evacuated its 80 patients; the hospital reported on social media that “all patients and staff are safe.” Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa medical center evacuated 130 patients.
“Leave immediately,” the Police Department warned residents on Facebook after the fire jumped a freeway. “This is a life threatening situation.”
Marian Williams said she caravanned with neighbors through the flames as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards near her home in Kenwood.
“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” she said. “Trees were on fire like torches.”
The National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning — critical fire conditions — for the region, citing high winds and low humidity. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” the weather service warned.
In Napa County, east of Sonoma, one fire burned 200 acres and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes and businesses. Another fire straddling the two counties ballooned from 200 acres to 20,000 acres.
In Marin County, the Sheriff’s Office said it was overwhelmed with calls based on smoke blowing into the county from the north.