Dying Winds Offer Small Hope in All-Out Battle Against Fierce Northern California Blazes

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Santa Rosa and Petaluma fire crews work to put out a fire at a home on White Oak Drive in the Oakmont neighborhood in east Santa Rosa on Sept. 28, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

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Easing winds gave California firefighters a welcome break Tuesday as crews continued battling a destructive wildfire in wine country that ignited Sunday on the western side of the Napa Valley and burned into Santa Rosa.

Breezes replaced the powerful gusts that sent the Glass Fire raging through Napa and Sonoma counties over the past two days, scorching more than 46,600 acres amid bone-dry conditions. As of Tuesday evening, the blaze was 2% contained.

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As winds slowed Monday evening, firefighters were feeling “much more confident," said Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls. “We don’t have those critical burning conditions that we were experiencing those last two nights.”

The fire has so far destroyed at least 80 single-family residences — 28 in Sonoma County and 52 in Napa County — and more than 30 other structures, Cal Fire reported Tuesday morning. Nearly 1,500 personnel are currently battling the blaze, including federal and state firefighters, as well as first responders from local departments throughout California.

"I just want to let everyone know that every firefighter that could work, came to work and went to work and most of them are still out there supporting the incident," said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner at a Tuesday morning press briefing. "It’s been a long two days for everyone."

"We’re going to be in this for a couple of weeks, is my take on this. Which means it’s going to be kinda long and it’s going to be painful for those that are dealing with it," Gossner added, urging residents to "take a deep breath," heed evacuation warnings and look out for their neighbors.

Fire crews on Tuesday continued to focus their efforts on protecting the densely populated neighborhoods in the east Santa Rosa area along the upper part of Calistoga Road and the Highway 12 corridor, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Brunton, noting "good success" establishing fire breaks and containing flames in nearby Trione-Annadel State Park.

The fire had receded considerably on the lower part of Calistoga Road, which he said was "looking pretty good." By Tuesday afternoon, evacuation orders had been downgraded to warnings in a number of nearby Santa Rosa neighborhoods.

In eastern Sonoma County, the fire had reached Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where crews were working to connect old control lines from the 2017 North Bay fires to block its spread, Brunton said. But ongoing smoky conditions, he added, were continuing to prevent aircraft from supporting suppression efforts.

In rural Napa County, crews on Tuesday were still fighting to protect the community of Angwin, nestled in the steep hills above the Napa Valley, in what Brunton called a "run-and-gun battle" against the blaze as it continued spreading toward Pope Valley, east of Calistoga. All residents in and around the area were ordered that morning to evacuate. Clearer air, however, was allowing aircraft to begin "aggressively" supporting ground crews there, he said.

More than 68,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties had already been evacuated from their homes as of Monday evening, Cal Fire said, with more evacuations likely in the coming days. On Monday evening, the city of Calistoga in coordination with Napa County, expanded mandatory evacuation orders that now include that entire city.


The Glass Fire is raging through brush that has not burned for a century, even as its flames spread in between areas that were incinerated in a series of massive blazes in recent years.

"This is all unburned vegetation that did not burn in 2017," said Cal Fire Incident Commander Billy See, referring to the devastating Tubbs, Nuns and Adobe fires. "This fire is 42,000 acres of change at this point, sitting in the wildland interface area. Here in California, with all these interface areas, these fires become very disastrous with the amount of structures and populace impacted."

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick acknowledged that many residents in the area have now had to evacuate multiple times in the last three years, and are likely dealing with serious "fire fatigue." "We are nearing the three-year mark of the Tubbs Fire that devastated our community," he said. "[The Glass Fire] is the fourth major fire in our community since 2017."

A Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service for increased fire danger in the area due to hot and windy weather expired late Monday as winds died down, but above-average temperatures are expected to remain for the rest of the week.

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The Glass Fire is one of nearly 30 wildfires burning across California. That includes the Zogg Fire, another fierce blaze farther north in rural Shasta County that also ignited on Sunday and has already charred more than 40,300 acres, killed three people and destroyed some 150 structures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday night issued an emergency proclamation for Napa, Sonoma and Shasta counties. The governor has also declared a statewide emergency due to the widespread fires and extreme weather conditions, activated the State Operations Center to its highest level and signed an executive order to streamline recovery efforts in communities impacted by fires.

Additionally, Newsom said he sent a letter to President Trump requesting a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to assist state and local wildfire response and recovery efforts in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino, San Diego and Siskiyou counties.

The Zogg Fire is burning in a heavily forested area, where more than 1,200 people have been evacuated.

Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini on Monday confirmed the deaths of three people in the fire, but offered no details. He strongly urged people who receive evacuation orders to leave immediately: "Do not wait," he warned.

Residences are widely scattered in Shasta County, which was torched just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire — infamously remembered for producing a huge tornado-like fire whirl.

So far in this year’s historic fire season, more than 8,100 California wildfires have killed 29 people, scorched 5,780 square miles and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings. The causes of the new fires are under investigation.

"It's been a long season," said Billy See, from Cal Fire. "Most of [these firefighters] have been going since the middle of July, without rest, from fire to fire to fire here in the northern part of the state."

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KQED's Lakshmi Sarah contributed to this story, with additional reporting from the Associated Press.

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