Glass Fire Continues as California Wildfires Burn Over 4 Million Acres

The Glass Fire burns in the hillside above Old Lawley Toll Road and Hwy 29 north of Calistoga on Sept. 30, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 6 p.m. Sunday 

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The state reached a grim milestone — over 4 million acres have burned this year by wildfires Cal Fire announced during a Sunday morning briefing. The number is more than double the previous record for the most land burned in a single year.

Cal Fire said the state hit the milestone Sunday with about two months remaining in the fire season. The previous record was set two years ago when wildfires destroyed 1.67 million acres. About 17,000 firefighters are still battling nearly two dozen major blazes throughout the state.

Despite the frightening totals, zeroing in on Glass Fire, some progress had been made over the weekend.

Glass Fire is 26% contained as of Sunday evening, according to Cal Fire, with 64,900 acres burning so far and roughly 235 structures destroyed in Sonoma alone. About 36,000 people remain evacuated, Cal Fire said, meaning some tens of thousands have been able to return home.

Sean Norman, a Cal Fire section chief, sounded an optimistic tone in a briefing Sunday evening.

“We’re feeling good about our lines," he said. "We don’t consider the fire contained or controlled, it’ll be weeks before we get to that benchmark. But that doesn’t mean we feel an imminent threat to any specific community.”

Evacuation orders were reduced to evacuation warnings in parts of Sonoma County, Sunday afternoon, effective 3 p.m. For a full listening of areas downgraded to an evacuation warning, check Cal Fire's post here.

Parts of Lake County were issued evacuation warnings by Cal Fire Sunday afternoon at about 4 p.m., including the areas south of Rancheria Road, East of the Lake/Sonoma County line, north of the Lake/Napa County line, and west of Highway 29, among other areas. For a full listing, check here.

Heavy winds returned to the North Bay Saturday evening, prompting the emergency officials to renew a red flag warning for the area.  Strong winds can increase oxygen supplies for wildfires, helping them burn quicker, spread embers, and also dry out fuel like brush, creating the conditions for a stronger blaze. Saturday evening's winds were expected to approach from the northwest at 15-25 miles-per-hour, with 25-35 mile-per-hour gusts, according to the National Weather Service.

Above-average temperatures at higher elevations, along with low humidity and huge buildups of downed trees and dried vegetation, hindered any major containment gains during the week as more than 2,500 firefighters battled the blaze in alternating 24-hour shifts.

The firefight intensified in the east, in the hills above the Napa Valley, where flames continued to pose a major threat to several communities.

By Friday morning, the fire was hovering on the outskirts of Calistoga. Fire crews scrambled to stave off the flames, blocking them from crossing Highway 29 in the Palisades mountain range north of the city.

"Due to the topography and so forth it’s been very difficult for us to place good direct control lines in there," Brunton said. "So we’ve had to go structure by structure prepping those structures and preparing and extinguishing fires as we can in that area."

More crews and equipment were deployed in and around the town of 5,300 people, known for its hot springs, mud baths and wineries.

All of Calistoga and the surrounding area remained under mandatory evacuation orders Friday, where a hazardous layer of smoke continued to shroud the sky, preventing air tankers from attacking the fire from above.


"This our second time being evacuated as an entire city. First time was in 2017 for the Tubbs Fire, and that was the first time in our history since 1863," said Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning. "We're tired of it."

Regardless of where people stand on the root causes of the fires, he said, there's no denying that conditions in the region have changed dramatically.

"There is something different, there is something odd, there is something wrong, and it's year after year after year," he said.

Crews on Friday were also working to establish control lines above the community of Oakville and beefed up efforts to protect the hillside community of Angwin, where clearer skies have allowed helicopters to drop retardant, Brunton said.

Additionally, crews have been sent to the Highway 29 corridor on the floor of the Napa Valley, where anticipated wind gusts from the north could blow embers onto dry vegetation.

The Glass Fire, which erupted during a high-wind event on Sunday, has destroyed more than 400 homes and commercial buildings across both counties and continued to threaten more than 28,800 others. No deaths or major injuries have been reported so far.

Fire and public safety officials warned that more evacuations are possible, and asked residents to remain vigilant, stay out of evacuation zones and stop demanding that officers let them back into off-limit neighborhoods.


The National Weather Service's red flag warning of gusts of up to 30 mph and hot, dry air, was in effect through early Saturday morning for the North Bay mountains. It also covered the East Bay Hills and Diablo Range, the Santa Cruz mountains and Los Padres National Forest, where the Dolan Fire is burning.

The Glass Fire is one of 23 wildfires currently burning across California, and among the more than 8,200 that have burned this year.

California wildfires have already killed 30 people and incinerated hundreds of homes in what is already the worst fire season on record. Virtually all the damage has been done since mid-August, when five of the six largest fires in state history erupted after a major a series of lightning strikes.

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Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, resulting in much more flammable trees and other vegetation.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom toured fire-ravaged Napa County on Thursday and said the state was putting "all we have in terms of resources" into firefighting, particularly over the 36 hours of the windy period.

"I’ve got four young kids in elementary school and I can’t imagine for the children and parents, the families, that may be seeing these images, what's going through your minds," Newsom said, standing in front of a burned-out elementary school building.

"We’re in it for the long haul. We’re not just here for a moment. We're here to rebuild and to reimagine your school," he said, adding: “We have your backs."

The Glass Fire is the fourth major blaze in the region in three years — burning between the scars of previous blazes — and comes just ahead of the third anniversary of the 2017 Tubbs Fire which killed 22 people.

Newsom said people there have been "torn asunder by wildfires seemingly every single year, this drumbeat, where people are exhausted, concerned, anxious about their fate and their future."

In Shasta County about 150 miles to the north, the Zogg Fire — which also erupted during Sunday’s high winds and grew quickly — has killed four people.

The Shasta County Sheriff’s office released two of their names Thursday: Karin King, 79, who was found on the road where the fire started, and Kenneth Vossen, 52, who suffered serious burns and later died in a hospital. Both were from the small town of Igo.

Hurricane Marie, spinning in the Pacific southwest of Baja California, was expected to weaken by the middle of next week but leftover tropical moisture may be pulled northward and bring "impressive rainfall" to Northern California, forecasters said.

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This story includes additional reporting from KQED's Alex Emslie and the Associated Press.

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