29 dead as wildfires rage in California’s wine country

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Wildfires roared across California throughout the week, forcing evacuations and destroying homes and businesses in their paths. The biggest fires burned in the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties.

As of Thursday, 29  people have died.

More than 100 people were being treated at Napa- and Sonoma-area hospitals for fire-related injuries or health issues including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

An estimated 1,500 structures have been destroyed and 57,000 acres burned in eight counties.

A wildfire in Anaheim, in Southern California, has spread to 4,000 to 5,000 acres and burned at least six buildings.

The fires ignited Sunday night and Monday and spread with alarming speed because of dry conditions, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said at a news conference.

More than 20,000 people evacuated, some with little notice.

Jesus Torres of Napa said a neighbor called to tell him the fire was bearing down on his house, KPIX reported.

“We gathered up a few of our things and our pets and headed out to our car,” Torres said. “We could see the sky was turning red. … We didn’t know (about the fire) until the last second. There was smoke all over the area.”

Marlene Rosenberg told KPIX that she and her husband were preparing to leave their home early Monday near the Silverado Country Club, where a professional golf tournament had been played the day before

“The power was out so we had to raise our garage door by hand,” she said. “When we pulled up the door, there was a fireman standing there. He said you go to go now.”

The first known fatality occurred as a result of the Redwood Complex fire in Mendocino County, Mendocino County Sheriff spokesman Capt. Greg Van Patten said.

Cal Fire tweeted that two people died in the Atlas Fire in Napa County. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said seven people had died there. No additional details were available.

A large section of Santa Rosa, a town of about 175,000, was evacuated, including Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital. Photos and video on social media showed blocks of residences in ruins.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat said the fire destroyed the Fountaingrove Inn, a 124-room hotel; a nearby event center, the Fountaingrove Round Barn; a Kmart store; classrooms at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts; and restaurants like Willi’s Wine Bar.

More than 100 patients were treated at Napa and Sonoma area hospitals because of fire-related injuries and issues, said Vanessa DeGier, spokeswoman for St. Joseph Health.

Santa Rosa Memorial also accepted 12 patients from the two nearby hospitals that evacuated, including expectant mothers, she said.

“Our hospitals are beginning to see patients with injuries incurred as a result of evacuation. This includes victims of car crashes and injuries from falling,” a statement from St. Joseph Health said.

Napa County is dealing with the biggest fires, Cal Fire said. The Tubbs and Atlas fires each cover about 25,000 acres. The Patrick fire west of Napa was at 3,000 acres.

The Nuns fire in Sonoma County covers 5,000 acres, and firefighters also are battling a 1,500 acre fire at Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway in Sonoma.

Alison Crowe, the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley, said she has not been told to evacuate her home on the western edge of downtown Napa.

“A quarter of my co-workers have been evacuated,” she said. “I have friends fighting off fires with hoses in the hills. Thankfully, a lot of my friends got out last night.”

The main road through the area is still open but the aggressive nature of the blaze worries her.

“It’s scary. We feel surrounded,” she said.

Crowe estimated two-thirds to three-fourths of Napa’s grape harvest has taken place. The 2017 harvest will be remembered for this fire, she said.

“Wine doesn’t matter, people matter,” she said. “I know that’s people’s attitude right now.”

Authorities have not said what caused the fires, but noted dry conditions made it easy for the fires to spread. October is typically the busiest month for wildfires in California, they said.

Complicating firefighting efforts are low humidity and a lack of resources, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said.

“As of right now, with these conditions, we can’t get in front of this fire and do anything about the forward progress,” he said, adding that resources from across California were to begin arriving in the area later Monday.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

“These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents,” the governor’s emergency proclamation said. “These fires have damaged and continue to threaten critical infrastructure and have forced the closure of major highways and local roads.”

The California National Guard has sent three medical evacuation helicopters, six firefighting helicopters and 100 military police personnel to assist local law enforcement.

The fire spread smoke across the San Francisco Bay area and the Anaheim-area fire turned the sky red over Disneyland, according to a social media posting.

Firefighters might get a break from the weather on Tuesday, mainly with decreasing winds.