Fires pushed by warm winds and fueled by dry ground swept through California wine country Monday, killing at least 10 people, injuring numerous others and torching more than 1,500 homes and businesses.
State fire officials warned that the conditions, particularly winds that at times exceeded 50 miles per hour, would likely exacerbate the fires in the days ahead. At least 14 separate blazes burned in eight Northern California counties, prompting evacuations of more than 20,000 frightened residents, including patients in threatened hospitals.
“This is really serious; it’s moving fast,” Gov. Jerry Brown, D, said during a news conference in which he declared an emergency in three counties. “The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse. It’s not under control by any means. But we’re on it in the best way we know how.”
The fires, which whipped up overnight Sunday, added to what has already been a severe fire season in the West. More than 8 million acres have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.
The current wildfires had burned more than 70,000 acres in Northern California by late Monday afternoon, nearly all of those in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heartland of the state’s renowned wine industry. A smaller but fast-moving fire in Mendocino County to the north killed one person, according to Jonathan Cox, a battalion chief and spokesman for Cal Fire. The sheriff of Sonoma County confirmed seven additional deaths there, and Cal Fire confirmed two more deaths in the Atlas Fire in Napa County.
The pace of the burn took firefighters by surprise: The fires charred 20,000 acres in about 12 hours, which Cox called “a phenomenal rate of growth.” He said firefighters had “zero percent” containment and warned that, while winds had weakened slightly over the course of the day, “because of heat and low humidity, fire growth is still likely.”
The situation in Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, appeared dire. The Tubbs fire, as the blaze in Sonoma is known, sped southwest from Calistoga in Napa Valley, jumped Highway 101 and entered Santa Rosa. Cal Fire officials said the cause is under investigation.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Breena Kerr, Alissa Greenberg, Cara Strickland, Scott Wilson, Herman Wong