‘Cat­a­strophic event’: Deadly Cal­i­for­nia fires ex­plode again

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Jonathan J. Cooper and Jo­ce­lyn Gecker

SANTA ROSA » The wild­fires tear­ing through Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try flared anew Wednesday, grow­ing in size and num­ber as au­thor­i­ties is­sued new evac­u­a­tion or­ders and an­nounced that hun­dreds more homes and busi­nesses had been lost. The death toll climbed to 21 and was ex­pected to rise higher still.

At least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses have been de­stroyed since the fires started Sun­day, mak­ing them the third dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive blazes in state his­tory.

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

Nearly three days after the flames ig­nited, firefighters were still un­able to gain con­trol of the blazes. Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion spokesman Daniel Ber­lant said 22 wild­fires were burn­ing, up from 17 on Tues­day.

“Make no mis­take, this is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event,” said Ken Pim­lott, chief of the depart­ment. He said the fires have burned through a stag­ger­ing 265 square miles (686 square kilo­me­ters) of ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas. The re­turn of high winds and low hu­mid­ity ig­nited ground that was parched from years of drought.

“We are lit­er­ally look­ing at ex­plo­sive veg­e­ta­tion,” he said. “It is very dy­namic. These fires are chang­ing by the minute in many ar­eas.”

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

“These fires are lit­er­ally just burn­ing faster than firefighters can run in some sit­u­a­tions,” Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Direc­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci said.

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 are gone, with only brick chim­neys and charred ap­pli­ances to mark sites that were once fam­ily homes.

Au­thor­i­ties or­dered more evac­u­a­tions for parts of Sonoma Val­ley after a blaze grew to 44 square miles (113 square kilo­me­ters).

Sonoma County Sher­iff Robert Gior­dano said hun­dreds of peo­ple were still re­ported miss­ing. But of­fi­cials be­lieve many of those peo­ple will be found be­cause chaotic evac­u­a­tions and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions over the past few days have made lo­cat­ing friends and fam­ily dif­fi­cult.

The sher­iff also ex­pects the death toll to climb.

“The dev­as­ta­tion is enor­mous,” he said. “We can’t even get into most ar­eas.”

Of­fi­cials in Napa County say al­most half the pop­u­la­tion of Cal­is­toga was or­dered to evac­u­ate be­fore sun­rise. Of­fi­cials went through the town of 5,000 peo­ple block by block, knock­ing on doors to warn peo­ple to leave, Napa County Su­per­vi­sor Diane Dil­lon said.

New evac­u­a­tion or­ders were also in place for Green Val­ley in Solano County.

Mean­while in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, cooler weather and moist ocean air helped firefighters gain ground against a wild­fire that has scorched more than a dozen square miles.

ERIC RISBERG — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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