Wine Country Wildfires Torch California Homes

By ELLEN KNICKMEYER | October 10, 2017

Firefighters are currently battling 15 expanding wind-whipped fires across Northern California’s wine country, triggering a rush by residents to flee the area. The wildfires in nine counties have already burned over 73,000 acres in the past 12 hours, according to an online Cal Fire update.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered after blazes broke out late Sunday across several counties. Winds of up to 50 mph are causing challenges for firefighters. According to a statewide summary released this morning, Gov. Brown declared a State of Emergency in Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba Counties. There has been one fatality and several reports of injuries.

“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” said Marian Williams, who caravanned with neighbors through flames before dawn as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards and ridges at her small Sonoma County town of Kenwood.

Williams could feel the heat of her fire through the car as she fled.

“Trees were on fire like torches,” she said.

With so many fires, residents of Sonoma County struggled to figure out what roads to take, finding downed trees or flames blocking some routes in the region north of San Francisco Bay.

Hundreds of evacuees gathered at an all-night Safeway market in Sonoma. Several residents said they saw homes burning.

Cal Fire reports the fires have burned an estimated 1,500 homes and commercial structures. Several Damage Assessment Teams have been activated to get a full account of the destruction.

Deputies were dispatched to help firefighters and California Highway Patrol officers with evacuations, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Windsor Fire Chief Jack Piccinini said that nearly all of Sonoma County’s fire resources were being used.

“Everyone in Sonoma County is spread out fighting these fires, but they don’t have enough resources to handle something like this. The only thing we can do is hope the wind will come down,” he said.

Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke in the area, prompting officials to ask that the public “only use 911 if they see actual unattended flames, or are having another emergency.”

The National Weather Service said widespread wind gusts between 35 mph and 50 mph were observed in the north San Francisco Bay region and isolated spots hit 70 mph. The winds were expected to subside at midday.

Cal Fire reported that firefighters were battling a 200-acre (80.9-hectare) fire in Napa County.

Community centers, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and other local centers were opened for evacuees.

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