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Approximately 90 percent of homes were destroyed at Journey's End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa. Photo taken Oct. 9, 2017. Jeremy Siegel/KQED
Approximately 90 percent of homes were destroyed at Journey's End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa. Photo taken Oct. 9, 2017. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

Deadly, Destructive Wildfires Rage Through Northern California

Deadly, Destructive Wildfires Rage Through Northern California

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This post is no longer being updated. For our most up-to-date fire coverage, click here.

Updated Oct. 11, 12:15 p.m.

Authorities say some of the most destructive wildfires in California's history have killed 21 people.

Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott gave an updated death toll Wednesday, calling the series of wildfires in wine country "a serious, critical, catastrophic event."

He says 8,000 firefighters are focusing on protecting lives and property as they battle the flames chewing through critically dry vegetation.


The blazes have also left at least 180 people injured and have destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses.

Updated Oct. 11, 10 a.m.

Cal Fire says there are 21 wildfires burning in Northern California, which have burned 162,000 acres across the region. Officials have confirmed those fires have killed 17 people.

Cal Fire has also confirmed to KQED that it is investigating whether falling power lines and exploding electrical transformers may have caused some of the wildfires that started in the North Bay Sunday night. The Bay Area News Group reports that Sonoma County dispatchers sent fire crews out to at least 10 different locations over a 90-minute period starting around 9:20 p.m. on Sunday to respond to calls about electrical problems.

A Cal Fire spokeswoman stresses that the agency is investigating a number of potential causes. A Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman says the historic wind event that swept through the utility's service area late Sunday night and early Monday packed hurricane strength winds. PG&E blames those winds, the drought and the winter storms for causing trees, branches and debris to impact the company's electrical lines in the North Bay.

New evacuations have been ordered for residents of Calistoga who live north of Grant street. Overnight, Sonoma County sheriff's officials ordered residents out of several areas in Geyserville and Sonoma Valley. The fire has spread into Solano County prompting Governor Jerry Brown to include Solano in his emergency declaration.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Sonoma County officials reminded people to abide by evacuation orders. They said they are still focused on saving lives and expect the death toll to rise.

"The devastation is enormous," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano. "We can't even get into most of the areas."

Giordano said they have reports of 670 missing people and have safely located 110. He said he hopes to find the remaining of the missing today.

Communications remain difficult, but Giordano said the National Guard has brought in a satelite cell system to help people connect with loved ones.

Officials are concerned about how intense winds today could impact the fires and are encouraging people to move south.

Updated Oct. 10, 8:00 p.m.

California's two senators are calling on the White House to speed up the availability of federal aid to California counties affected by wildfires that led to the deaths of at least 17 people.

Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein said they support California Gov. Jerry Brown's request for a major disaster declaration and asked President Trump to "expedite the damage assessment reviews necessary to make federal assistance available ... as soon as possible."

The senators said damage is especially bad in the counties of Butte, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Mendocino, Sonoma and Yuba.

Trump approved the request. He said he spoke with Brown on Monday night to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."

Updated Oct. 10, 12:20 p.m.

A fire official says two more people have died in Sonoma County, raising the total number of people killed in wildfires in Northern California to 15.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said Tuesday at least 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed.

He says it would be up to local authorities to release the names of the victims once their families have been notified.

Pimlott says there are 16 fires burning throughout the region with another blaze in Orange County.

At least 4,000 personnel are helping fight the blazes.

Sonoma County spokeswoman Maggie Fleming said about 200 missing-person reports have been lodged as family members and friends scramble to locate loved ones while wildfires ravage the region.

Fleming said Tuesday the reports have come via calls to a hotline.

She says it's possible that most of those reported missing are safe but can't be reached because of the widespread loss of cellphone service and other communications.

Updated Oct. 10, 9:30 a.m.

Power outage is widespread in Northern California. Currently, 27,000 people are without power in Napa County.

Comcast has set up complimentary hotspots for the following zip codes: "95401", "95403", "95404", "95405", "94558", "94559", "94903".

Cal Fire asks people to refrain from flying drones in fire areas, or else they can't fly their own aircraft.

To receive alerts on your phone for activity in your neighborhood, text your zip code to 888-777. To receive alerts in Spanish, text your zip code to: ESP 888-777.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 10, 9:15 a.m.

Two more people have died in Mendocino County bringing the total death toll to 13, Cal Fire reports.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 10, 6:45 a.m.

11 people have died in wildfires raging in Northern California since Sunday night. Nine people have been confirmed killed in Napa and Sonoma counties with fatalities also reported in Mendocino and Yuba counties.

Sonoma County spokesman Scott Alonso says more than 100 people have been reported missing in the county since Monday morning.

"This is a very trying time for a lot of folks," Alonso told KQED. "We're getting calls from all over the country and even out of the country looking for relatives, loved ones, friends. We're getting calls every hour."

Alonso said sheriff deputies are investigating the missing persons reports but that those investigations are made difficult by the ongoing blazes making some locations inaccessible. He encourages people who are looking for their loved ones to call the county hotline 707-565-3856.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 10, 5:25 a.m.

The fires that have devastated parts of Sonoma and Napa counties late Sunday night and into Monday have spread leading to more evacuations.

Several areas of west Solano County near where the Atlas Fire is burning in Napa County were ordered to evacuate on Monday night. A wildfire in Trione-Annadel State Park in Sonoma County moved into a residential Wild Oak neighborhood of Santa Rosa late Monday night forcing residents to evacuate.

Santa Rosa has imposed a curfew inside its mandatory evacuation area until 7:15 a.m. on Tuesday.

Schools across the region are closed on Tuesday, including all public schools in Sonoma County and the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Updated 7:45 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence appeared outside Sacramento today, and pledged federal support for the firefighting effort and recovery.

“We just learned today of 10 people having lost their lives,” Pence said. “The fires are going to continue. I spoke to Gov. Jerry Brown this afternoon. The dryness of the climate, the strength of the winds, you all in California know much better than this Midwesterner does.

Updated 5:45 p.m.

At least 10 people have died in fires in Northern California.

Capt. Mike Palacio, of the California Highway Patrol, said that seven people died in Sonoma County. However, the number of dead and injured is likely to rise, according to Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano.

"We’re still trying to evacuate. There is no searching yet, so it is logical we are going to find more people. This is just the beginning," he said.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said that he's also frustrated by the lack of information.

“It is going to take a long time to recover what’s happened today. Santa Rosa is a strong city, we’re a resilient city, we’re an indivisible city, and we’re going to need to hang together as we go through this," he said.

Acting Chief of the Santa Rosa Police Department Craig Schwartz said that evacuations are ongoing as new fires flare up in the city. Santa Rosa is now under an emergency order, and officials have enacted a curfew from 6:45 p.m. until dawn.

Updated 5 p.m.

Fires burning in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties have claimed 10 lives, according to a Cal Fire spokesperson. The fires have burned more than 58,000 acres in both Sonoma and Napa counties and destroyed about 1,500 homes and businesses.

Gov. Jerry Brown also requested a presidential major disaster declaration to support the state and local response, following the emergency proclamation issued earlier today for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

Updated 4:15 p.m.

A Cal Fire official and local sheriff confirmed Monday afternoon that two people died in the Atlas Fire in Napa County. Earlier today, officials confirmed another death in Mendocino County. State fire officials warned that early estimates of the dead and wounded were bound to climb.

The flames were burning "at explosive rates" because of 50 mph winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But weather forecasts indicate winds should subside over the next few hours, Pimlott said.

Fourteen large fires were burning north of San Francisco, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. It was unusual to have so many fires take off at the same time, fire officials said, though October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires.

Authorities have also expanded evacuations in Southern California's Orange County because of a fast-moving wildfire. Television cameras showed homes charred by flames in the area known as Anaheim Hills. At least 1,000 homes in that area were previously evacuated.

Updated 1:45 p.m.

State fire officials say at least one person was killed and two others were seriously injured in fast-spreading wildfires in Northern California.

Cal Fire said Monday the death and injuries occurred in Mendocino County, one of several counties struggling to contain a total of 14 major fires burning out of control.

Additional details were not immediately available.

Updated 12:45 p.m.

California’s fire chief says at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed in wildfires that have ripped through the state’s wine country.

He said numerous people have been injured and a number of residents are also missing as 14 large fires burn.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said an estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated.

He called the estimates of destroyed structures very conservative. Pimlott says the fires are burning throughout an eight-county swath of Northern California, including Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

Approximately 57,000 total acres (89 square miles) have burned so far and there is little to no containment, Pimlott said.

Pimlott said most of the fires started at about 10 p.m. Sunday and their causes are under investigation. He said firefighters are concentrating on saving lives rather than battling the blazes.

He said winds whipped up to 50 mph overnight fueling the blazes, but said weather forecasts indicate winds should subside over the next few hours, slowing their forward progress.

He didn’t have an estimate on the number of people hurt and missing.

The California National Guard has deployed six helicopters and 100 personnel to assist Cal Fire, according to Maj. Gen. David Baldwin.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency declaration that will free up resources for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

"This is really serious, it's moving fast. The heat, lack of humidity and wind are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse," Brown said. "We are getting mutual aid from local counties and other parts of the country. ... This is serious business, we are watching it, and it is not under control by any means."

More than 200 people were hurriedly evacuated from two Santa Rosa hospitals threatened by the wildfires that erupted overnight.

Lisa Amador, a spokeswoman with Sutter Health, said around 9 a.m. that Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital had finished evacuating the last of more than 80 patients in surgical, labor and emergency care.

She says the hospital is sending staff home. Amador says the hospital and the medical office building next to it are intact, but other structures are ruined.

Jenny Mack, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, says about 130 patients were evacuated from the Santa Rosa medical center Monday morning.

She said all appointments and surgeries are canceled for the day in Santa Rosa and Napa, and the KP medical offices in Napa are closed.

Original Post

Firefighters are battling multiple wind-whipped fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties that have forced thousands of evacuations.

"I woke up to an orange glow in the window," said resident John Campbell, who described seeing flames in his backyard and then quickly fleeing his home with just his shorts on. Campbell grabbed his dog and took off in his truck to the Napa shelter, where he said, "I'm in shock."

Sonoma County resident John Campbell fled his home with no shirt. Someone gave him the shirt he is wearing (Mina Kim/KQED)

There have been numerous reports of structures damaged, including some homes. The Santa Rosa city manager has declared the fires in Santa Rosa as a local emergency.

At the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa, evacuees were cramming to get to safety.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that authorities were evacuating Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital at 1:30 a.m. Traffic was backed up at multiple intersections and many people had abandoned their cars in the streets to flee the flames, the Press Democrat reported.

Kaiser Permanente Hospital was also being evacuated.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says deputies were dispatched to help firefighters and California Highway Patrol officers with evacuations.

The multiple fires broke out Sunday night as strong winds buffeted the area. Emergency lines were inundated with callers reporting smoke in the area.

Flames overtake a structure as nearby homes burn in the Napa wine region in California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.
Flames overtake a structure as nearby homes burn in the Napa wine region in California on Oct. 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Jean Altobell of Napa was awakened by police banging on her door early Monday. She grabbed what she could from her home and then helped her 92-year-old neighbor evacuate.

Despite the frantic escape, Altobell appeared remarkably calm. “What else can you do?” she asked.

Downed trees were blocking parts of one rural road and fires were burning on both sides of Highway 12.

In Napa County, Cal Fire says firefighters were battling as many as 10 blazes that forced hundreds of evacuations in the Soda Canyon, Atlas Peak and Patrick Road areas of Napa and in Calistoga.

Shelters are set up at sites throughout the two counties. At the Crosswalk Community Church in Napa, evacuees told of dramatic escapes as they tried to stay calm.

At the Santa Rosa Vets Building, evacuees Jenine and David Akers sit, along with their cat. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

More neighborhoods were added to the evacuation orders, including all residences to the north of Fountaingrove Parkway. Authorities were advising anyone who was not under an order to evacuate to stay off the roads to reduce congestion.

Here's how the Napa Valley Register described the scene early Monday:

"Flames illuminated hillsides, smoke saturated the air and in places ash rained down as residents up and down the Napa Valley took to their yards and cars to assess their safety."

Cal Fire has ordered 24 strike teams from as far away as San Francisco to try to deal with this unprecedented situation, Belia Ramos, the chair of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, told the Register.

Residents throughout the Bay Area could smell the smoke blanketing the valley.

Here are some of the emergency shelters being listed:

  • Petaluma Community Center
  • Napa County Fairgrounds
  • Crosswalk Community Church in Napa
  • Napa Valley Junior College
  • The Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building
  • Large animals can be taken to the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds

The Associated Press, Don Clyde and Lisa Pickoff-White contributed to this report.

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