Northern California wildfires: Ten dead, emergency declared

Wildfires have destroyed some 1,500 structures in Northern California and killed 10 people. Photo courtesy the California Highway Patrol

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes – UPI

Ten people died Monday in California as wildfires ravaged the San Francisco Bay area, emergency officials said.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office confirmed seven fire-related deaths in the county, minutes after Cal Fire said two others died in the Atlas Fire in Napa County.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection assistant deputy director Daniel Berlant said one victim died in the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino County.

Earlier in the day, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. The proclamation covers Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, areas famous in the wine industry. Brown said the fires threaten infrastructure, people and their homes.

“This is really serious. It’s moving fast,” he said. “It’s not under control by any means.”

Fire officials said more than 1,500 structures have burned so far, including homes. The fires have charred tens of thousands of acres. Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said low humidity and a lack of resources have driven the fire.

“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.

Fires throughout the region have been fanned by strong, dry northeastern winds. The National Weather Service reported four separate fires burning

Santa Rosa, Calif., Mayor Chris Coursey said the Tubbs Fire has also has destroyed structures. The Santa Rosa Police Department said the blaze jumped Highway 101 Monday morning and ignited structures near a shopping area, prompting another neighborhood evacuation. The Los Angeles Times reported the fire’s burned 35,000 acres.

“We’ve seen major devastation of several neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, both residential and commercial,” Coursey told the Sacramento Bee. “The city has never seen anything like this.”

“If you live near Cardinal Newman High School or Larkfield, it is time to evacuate,” read a message from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Emergency dispatchers were overwhelmed with 911 calls and advised callers to only call if actual flames were spotted.

Up to 10 separate fires threaten Sonoma County, where officials evacuated Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health hospitals.

Officials said Napa Country’s Silverado Resort and Spa, which hosted a prominent golf event that ended Sunday, also was evacuated after it lost electrical power.

“We were sleeping, but we kept smelling smoke. It was surreal,” tourist Chris Thomas told the San Francisco Gate. “When I started loading stuff into the car it was a hell-storm of smoke and ash. There were 30 to 40 mph winds. I couldn’t even breathe.”

Shelters were opened at the Calistoga Fairgrounds and a Napa church, and firefighters said their primary focus is on saving lives before fighting the flames.

The 1,000-acre Cherokee Fire in prompted evacuations in Oroville, Calif., and the 500-acre Lobo Fire threatened 7,000 to 8,000 homes in Nevada County. The Redwood Complex Fire injured one person in Mendocino County.

All told, fires in Northern California have so far burned a minimum of 45,000 acres.

The wind-driven fires have created hazardous air in parts of both counties, by sending burning embers across a large area.

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