3,500 Structures Lost to Deadly California Wildfires, Officials Say

Pam Wright
Published: October 11, 2017

The number of homes and other buildings lost to the deadly wildfires in California's wine country has almost doubled in just 24 hours. California fire officials said Wednesday that around 3,500 structures have been lost to a series of more than a dozen fires burning in Northern California. 

Authorities ordered additional evacuations early Wednesday morning as multiple wildfires raced toward neighborhoods in Napa County. The Napa County Sheriff's Office told residents in parts of the town of Calistoga to evacuate "as a result of significant changing fire conditions," according to a release. The new order asked all residents north of Grant Street to leave their homes, but also to let family members know they were leaving beforehand.

The Napa Valley town, which is home to some 5,000 people, is known for its wineries.

Hundreds of firefighters joined the battle Tuesday against more than a dozen wildfires that have killed at least 17 people and scorched upwards of 156 square miles in California's Wine Country. Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the governor's Office of Emergency Services, said firefighters from throughout the state would join the fight Tuesday, along with fire crews from the U.S. Forest Service in Nevada, the Associated Press reported.

Thousands of buildings have been destroyed and at least 25,000 people were evacuated from the fires that are still burning out of control. California's fire chief said at least 2,000 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed by the fires that threaten thousands of homes in northern California, according to the AP.

Fire officials warned that winds were expected to pick up again on Wednesday, making the fight against these advancing blazes even harder.

(MORE: Northern California Wineries Burned, Others Under Siege by Fast-Moving Wildfires)

The Signorello Estate winery burns 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)

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office has confirmed 11 fire-related deaths. More than 150 other people may be missing, the sheriff's department posted on Facebook Tuesday, although the office noted that they are "confident that many of these people will be found safe and reunited with loved ones."

There is a widespread loss of cell service and other communications in the county, the AP also reported, so it's possible that many of the "missing" people are simply cut off from communications.

At least three deaths and several injuries were reported in Mendocino County, Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman said during a Tuesday press conference.

In Yuba County, a woman died while trying to flee the flames in her vehicle, the county's coroner confirmed Tuesday to KCRA. Two deaths were reported in Napa County Monday, according to Cal Fire.

While in California for a fundraising event for Republican congressional candidates on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence promised federal assistance to California.

“I can assure you, as I did the governor, the federal government stands ready to provide any and all assistance to the state of California as your courageous firefighters and first responders confront this widening challenge,” Pence said.

(MORE: Why California's Wildfires Are Worse in the Fall Months)

The dire situation prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Monday in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, where the most devastating fires have burned.

Charles Rippey, 100, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara, died inside their home, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said Tuesday. According to the couple's granddaughter, Ruby Gibney, the couple had recently celebrated 75 years of marriage.

"Imagine a wind-whipped fire burning at explosive rates," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott told the AP. "This is 50 miles per hour. Literally, it's burning into the city of Santa Rosa ... burning box stores."

The fire-ravaged Signorello Estate winery is seen Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, California.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

He added that this is traditionally the worst time of the year for fires in California.

Marian Williams, a resident of the small Sonoma County town of Kenwood, described the blaze to AP as "an inferno like you've never seen before."

"Trees were on fire like torches," she said.

The Tubbs fire, which ignited around 10 p.m. Sunday, had burned nearly 44 square miles by late Tuesday night. There is no containment on what has been the largest of the infernos, according to Cal Fire.

"There was no wind, then there would be a rush of wind and it would stop," resident Ken Moholt-Siebert told the Los Angeles Times. "Then there would be another gust from a different direction. The flames wrapped around us. I was just being pelted with all this smoke and embers. It was just really fast."

(MORE: The Latest on the Southern California Wildfires)

The L.A. Times noted that entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa were leveled by the conflagration, and the city’s new fire station, Fire State 5, was destroyed. The fire also burned Santa Rosa’s historic round barn, the city's K-mart, the Santa Rosa Hilton Sonoma Hotel and destroyed homes at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park.

"It’s real bad," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville told the L.A. Times. "This is an example of nature in control, and we are doing what we can, but we’re not being that effective at stopping the fire."

The Napa Valley wildfires spread quickly thanks to strong north to northeast winds on the backside of what was Winter Storm Aiden, bringing snow to the Rockies, said weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman, noting that at both the Napa County Airport and in Santa Rosa, 20 to 30 mph winds were common, with slightly higher gusts early Monday morning.

"Surface dewpoints, a measure of moisture in the air, were in the mid-upper teens, lower than values in Las Vegas or Phoenix," Erdman added.

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