Wind-fu­eled wild­fires ex­pected to worsen

Fire chief: Blazes ‘cat­a­strophic’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA KELLY

At least 21 peo­ple have died and hun­dreds are miss­ing as dozens of fires rage across North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and of­fi­cials ex­pect con­di­tions to worsen over the com­ing days as strong winds carry flames across a parched land­scape rich with kin­dling.

“We’re not out of the woods, and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great num­ber of days to come,” Cal­i­for­nia Fire Chief Ken Pim­lott said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Wednesday af­ter­noon.

“Make no mis­take: This is a se­ri­ous, crit­i­cal, cat­a­strophic event,” Chief Pim­lott said, adding that he is con­cerned that sev­eral of the fires will merge into one con­fla­gra­tion.

On Wednesday morn­ing, of­fi­cials said 22 fires had burned

170,000 acres across North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with the famed wine coun­try of Napa and Sonoma coun­ties the hard­est hit.

Of­fi­cials said the At­las fire had burned 42,000 acres in Napa Val­ley, and the Tubbs fire in neigh­bor­ing Sonoma had scorched 25,000 acres.

At least 11 peo­ple died in the Tubbs fire, mak­ing it the sixth-dead­li­est fire in the state’s his­tory, ac­cord­ing to fire of­fi­cials.

Sonoma County Sher­iff Rob Gior­dano said Wednesday af­ter­noon that at least 380 peo­ple were miss­ing, but he ex­pects that num­ber to drop as com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines are re­stored and peo­ple are lo­cated after the chaos of evac­u­a­tions.

At least 20,000 peo­ple have evac­u­ated ar­eas af­fected by the fires.

At least 3,500 homes and busi­nesses were de­stroyed in the fires, and emer­gency dec­la­ra­tions were made for the coun­ties of Yuba, Butte, Lake, Men­do­cino, Ne­vada, Or­ange and Solano.

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown said the fires are the “big­gest, most se­ri­ous” event to oc­cur in the state, and “it’s not over.”

“That’s the way it is with a warm­ing cli­mate, dry weather and re­duc­ing mois­ture,” Mr. Brown said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence.

“These kind of catas­tro­phes have hap­pened and will con­tinue to hap­pen, and we have to be pre­pared to do ev­ery­thing we can to mit­i­gate,” said the gover­nor, a Democrat. “It’s going to cost a lot of money … along with the other ones in Texas, Florida and else­where, this will be tens of bil­lions of dol­lars. We have to be ready to deal with this sit­u­a­tion and pre­pare for oth­ers that will follow in the years to come.”

Pres­i­dent Trump on Tues­day signed an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion for coun­ties in Cal­i­for­nia af­fected by the wild­fires, which in­cluded 10 grants from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to sup­ple­ment emer­gency costs and pro­vide com­modi­ties of food, wa­ter, cots and blan­kets in ad­di­tion to ground per­son­nel as­so­ci­ated with at least six fed­eral agen­cies.

Mark Ghi­lar­ducci, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Gover­nor’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices, said at least 5,000 peo­ple — in­clud­ing lo­cal, state, fed­eral and mil­i­tary per­son­nel — were re­spond­ing to the fires. He said neigh­bor­ing states Ore­gon and Ne­vada have of­fered to send peo­ple and ser­vices to help bat­tle and con­tain the flames.

Act­ing Com­mis­sioner of High­way Patrol War­ren Stan­ley said his team helped trans­port at least 80 peo­ple to hos­pi­tals Tues­day night and that patrol he­li­copters res­cued 44 peo­ple, five dogs and two cats from Sun­day night into Mon­day.

By late Tues­day, Amer­i­can Red Cross of­fi­cials said they were shel­ter­ing more than 2,000 peo­ple. More are ex­pected as evac­u­a­tion or­ders con­tinue and of­fi­cials warn peo­ple against re­turn­ing to their homes un­til early next week.

The fires be­gan in earnest Sun­day evening, of­fi­cials said, and grew quickly in fe­roc­ity and scope be­cause of hur­ri­cane-force winds, low hu­mid­ity and am­ple kin­dling.

Jonathan Erd­man, a se­nior me­te­o­rol­o­gist for Weather.com and The Weather Chan­nel, said wild­fires are par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous this time of year be­cause of the com­bi­na­tion of dry ground and strong off­shore winds.

“Dry, strong off­shore winds be­come more preva­lent in Oc­to­ber, which can quickly take a small brush fire and whip it into a de­struc­tive firestorm in a mat­ter of min­utes or hours,” Mr. Erd­man said in an email to The Washington Times, adding that con­di­tions are ex­pected to worsen.

“Un­for­tu­nately, two more rounds of off­shore winds are on tap, Wednesday night into Thursday, then pos­si­bly again Fri­day night into Saturday,” the me­te­o­rol­o­gist said. “While they aren’t ex­pected to be as strong as the first in­tense round of winds re­spon­si­ble for the original firestorm, they will still be dan­ger­ous for both the ex­ist­ing fires and any new ones that may start.”

Sonoma County res­i­dent Maayan Lieber­man said she was alerted to evac­u­ate her home in Foun­tain­grove when a neigh­bor honked a car horn in the early hours of Mon­day.

“We left at four in the morn­ing with just our pa­ja­mas and no socks. We ran for our lives,” said Ms. Lieber­man, speak­ing by phone with The Times.

“We drove out of the house — the whole en­tire area was cov­ered with fires — and drove through fires to get out. Ev­ery­thing was closed off, free­ways were closed off. We drove on closed free­ways,” she said. “There were maybe three or four cars to­tal around us be­cause many en­trances were closed off, and on both sides we saw burn­ing build­ings. We drove over logs, there were fly­ing logs, fly­ing sparks and flames. We were very lucky to get out.”

Ms. Lieber­man, a psy­chi­a­trist, said she is ex­pected to re­port for work on Fri­day even though her hos­pi­tal — Kaiser Per­ma­nente — is closed be­cause of the fires.

“It’s a lit­tle ironic to have PTSD,” she said of her ap­pre­hen­sion about re­turn­ing to treat evac­uees and peo­ple who have lost their homes and prop­erty.

Ms. Lieber­man said that even though her house is still stand­ing, all of her be­long­ings have been ru­ined by the fire and smoke.

“Ev­ery­thing is gone. I have noth­ing to go home to,” she said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

SCORCH­ING: Fire con­sumed two cars but spared a home near Ken­wood, Cal­i­for­nia. Gov. Jerry Brown said the fires are the “big­gest, most se­ri­ous” event to oc­cur in the state, and “it’s not over.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­i­dents were wait­ing for po­lice of­fi­cers to es­cort them to their prop­er­ties in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia. Of­fi­cials say they have thou­sands of firefighters on the job.

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