Deadly California wildfires force thousands to evacuate

At least 10 were killed, 100 injured and 1,500 homes and businesses destroyed

An onslaught of wildfires across a wide swath of Northern California broke out almost simultaneously then grew exponentially, swallowing up properties from wineries to trailer parks and tearing through both tiny rural towns and urban subdivisions.

At least 10 were dead, at least 100 injured and at least 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, authorities said. All three figures were expected to surge in the coming days as more information is reported.

Taken as a group, the fires are already among the deadliest in California history.

Residents who gathered at emergency shelters and grocery stores said they were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the flames. They recalled all the possessions they had left behind and were lost.

“All that good stuff, I’m never going to see it again,” said Jeff Okrepkie, who fled his neighbourhood in Santa Rosa knowing it was probably the last time he would see his home of the past five years standing.

His worst fears were confirmed Monday, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smouldering heap of burnt metal and debris.

Some of the largest of the 14 blazes burning over a 200-mile region were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. They sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (96 kilometres) away.

Sonoma County said it has received more than 100 missing-person reports as family and friends scramble to locate loved ones.

The reports have come via calls to a hotline the county set up for the missing, according to Scott Alonso, communications director for Sonoma County.

It’s possible that many or most of the missing are safe but simply can’t be reached because of the widespread loss of cell service and other communications.

Much of the damage was in Santa Rosa, a far larger and more developed city than usually finds itself at the mercy of a wildfire. The city is home to 175,000 residents, including both the wine-country wealthy and the working class.

The flames were unforgiving to both groups. Hundreds of homes of all sizes were levelled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned aluminum wheels into liquid.

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, who now runs an outdoor sporting goods store in Santa Rosa, was forced to flee in minutes along with his wife, two daughters, and a son just over 2 weeks old.

“I can’t shake hearing people scream in terror as the flames barrelled down on us,” Lowry said.

His family and another evacuating with them tried to take U.S. 101 to evacuate but found it blocked by flames, and had to take country roads to get to the family friends who took them in.

A 90-mile (145-kilometre) stretch of the highway is framed by the flames and a major concern overnight, said Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Highway 12, which winds through the heart of wine country, was also rendered unusable by the flames.

“Sonoma and Napa counties have been hit very hard,” Alexander said.

The ferocity of the flames forced authorities to focus primarily on getting people out safely, even if it meant abandoning structures to the fire.

Firefighters rushed to a state home for the severely disabled when flames reached one side of the centre’s sprawling campus in the historic Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen.

Crews got the more than 200 people from the threatened buildings, one firefighter said, as flames closed within a few dozen feet.

Fires from ruptured gas lines dotted the smoky landscapes of blackened Santa Rosa hillsides. Fire trucks raced by smouldering roadside landscaping in search of higher priorities.

The flames were fickle in some corners of the city. One hillside home remained unscathed while a dozen surrounding it were destroyed.

Kim Hoe, a 33-year-old tech worker from Penang, Malaysia, was staying at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which was gutted by flames. He said the power went out around 1 a.m., and he and his colleagues started packing up when someone knocked on the door and told them to run.

“We just had to run and run. It was full of smoke. We could barely breathe,” Hoe said.

The large majority of the injured were treated for smoke inhalation, according to St. Joseph Health, which operates hospitals in the Santa Rosa area. Two were in critical condition and one was in serious condition. The number of injured is expected to climb as information comes in for all the other areas affected by the firestorm consuming the state.

October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires. What was unusual Sunday, however, was to have so many fires take off at the same time.

Other than the windy conditions that helped drive them all, there was no known connection between the fires, and no cause has been released for any of them.

But the conditions late Monday and early Tuesday were calmer than they were 24 hours earlier, bringing hopes of progress against the flames.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the fire areas, and asked the federal government to do the same. Vice-President Mike Pence, who is visiting California, said at an event near Sacramento that the federal government stands with California as it takes on the blazes, but he made no specific promises.

To the south in Orange County, more than 5,000 homes were evacuated because of a fire in the Anaheim area. The blaze had grown to nearly 10 square miles and had destroyed 24 structures.

___

Knickmeyer reported from Sonoma, California. Associated Press writers Paul Elias, Jocelyn Gecker, Sudhin Thanawala, Juliet Williams and Janie McCauley in San Francisco, John Antczak and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles and Martha Bellisle in Seattle contributed to this report.

Jeff Chiu And Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

Revelstoke makes list of “coolest ski towns”

Comes in at number two on the Matador Network list of 21

Search at Silver Creek property enters third day

A portion of the property has been cordoned off with black landscaping fabric

Man in custody linked to Silver Creek property search

Police are not saying how this search is related to Curtis Wayne Sagmoen’s current criminal charges

Debate heats up over fire protection

Revelstoke and regional district at odds over fire suppression agreement

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

Symphony trumpets in new season

Kamloops Symphony makes first appearance of the 2017-18 season in Salmon Arm

Column: Back to the land in the 21st century

By Jim Cooperman, Observer columnist There is a slowly growing movement back… Continue reading

Most Read