Winds fan wild­fires; more evac­u­a­tions

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL - By Janie Har and An­drew Dal­ton

SONOMA, Calif. — Ris­ing winds fanned the Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires again, forc­ing hun­dreds more peo­ple to flee from their homes in the state’s fa­bled wine coun­try and test­ing the ef­forts of crews who have spent days try­ing to cor­ral the flames be­hind fire­breaks.

Just a day af­ter fire­fight­ers re­ported mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress, the winds kicked up sev­eral hours be­fore dawn and pushed flames into the hills on the edge of Sonoma, a town of 11,000. About 400 homes were evac­u­ated as the fires threated Sonoma and a por­tion of Santa Rosa that in­cluded a re­tire­ment community that evac­u­ated ear­lier this week, au­thor­i­ties said.

Dean Vin­cent Bordi­gioni, wine­maker and pro­pri­etor at the An­nadel Es­tate Win­ery awoke at 3 a.m. with flames erupt­ing on the ridge above his prop­erty. “Things went to hell last night,” he said. “They’ve got a good fight go­ing on.”

Nearly a week af­ter the blazes be­gan, the fire zone had swollen to an area as long as 100 miles on a side. The flames have left at least 35 peo­ple dead and de­stroyed at least 5,700 homes and busi­nesses, mak­ing them the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive group of wild­fires Cal­i­for­nia has ever seen.

On Satur­day, an un­known num­ber of ad­di­tional struc­tures burned down in a ru­ral area, said Daniel Ber­lant, a spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

Judy Gut­tridge, who was evac­u­at­ing for the sec­ond time this week, said her daugh­ter saw flames ad­vanc­ing over the side of a hill around the same time Bordi­gioni did and told the fam­ily to get out.

“I have good in­surance, ev­ery­thing,” she said. “All the kids, grand­kids, great-grand­kids are fine. I’m OK with that.”

Fire­fight­ers s pent much of the last week dig­ging de­fense lines to keep the flames from spread­ing. On Fri­day, they tried to for­tify the edge of Sonoma us­ing bull­doz­ers and other heavy equip­ment.

But if winds push the flames over that bar­rier, neigh­bor­hoods in­clud­ing some of the town’s costli­est homes were in the path, along with a historic cen­tral plaza built cen­turies ago when the area was un­der Span­ish rule.

The re­newed strength of the winds was “test­ing the work that we ac­com- plished,” Ber­lant said. The great­est risk was that winds would blow em­bers across the fire­breaks and ig­nite new blazes.

Winds gust­ing up to 40 mph were ex­pected to con­tinue through­out the day and into the evening.

Also Fri­day, a lucky few of the nearly 100,000 peo­ple who have fled from their homes got to re­turn, and ex­am­ples of char­ity were ev­ery­where, along with a sign that be­gan pop­ping up in more and more places: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”

As­ton­ish­ing video re­leased from the fire’s hellish first night showed the courage of the deputies and fire­fight­ers work­ing amid the flames.

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!” an uniden­ti­fied Sonoma County deputy can be heard yelling in the body­cam­era video re­leased by the Sonoma County Sher­iff’s Of­fice. The footage was recorded as he urged hes­i­tant driv­ers to speed out of a town that was be­ing de­voured by flames.

Jae C. Hong / The As­so­ci­ated Press

A fire­fighter re­moves a propane gas tank in an evac­u­ated res­i­den­tial area as wild­fires con­tinue to burn in Santa Rosa, Calif.

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