California fires: three killed as new blazes force widespread evacuation orders

Destructive new wildfires in northern California have killed three people, officials said on Monday, as strong winds fanned flames in the already badly scorched state.

The three were killed by a fast-moving blaze west of Redding, where more than 1,200 people shave been evacuated, but more details were not given.

The Zogg fire is one of nearly 30 major wildfires burning in California. In Sonoma and Napa counties, where the rapidly expanding Glass fire broke out over the weekend, more than 53,000 people were under orders to evacuate.

The Glass fire engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery and the Black Rock Inn in St Helena and multiple homes in the city of Santa Rosa, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Residents of a senior home were among those evacuated.

On Sunday, the fire came within a mile of the Adventist Health St Helena hospital, forcing the evacuation of 55 patients.

The wine country fire had burned 11,000 acres as of Monday afternoon, according to the California department of forestry and fire protection, or Cal Fire.

Wine country – a diverse region that is home to some of the state’s most famous wineries as well as low-income neighborhoods and homeless communities – has been scarred by terrible fires in recent years, including the 2017 Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 homes and other buildings. “The county is experienced with this, sadly,” the Sonoma county lawmaker Susan Gorin said in a news briefing. Gorin lost her home in the 2017 fires and was forced to evacuate on Sunday.

More than 53,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties were under evacuation orders, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with Cal Fire. Many more have been warned that they may have to flee. Paul Lowenthal, another Cal Fire spokesman, said more than 13,000 homes were threatened in Santa Rosa alone.

Sonoma county officials were urging people to heed the evacuation orders, saying some residents who did not flee had to be rescued on Sunday night, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“This historic wildfire season isn’t close to being over,” tweeted Kamala Harris, the California senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee, on Monday. “I’ll say it again: evacuate immediately if you’re ordered to do so. Listen to the local officials.”

Numerous studies have linked more frequent and extreme wildfires in recent years to the climate crisis, with drier and hotter conditions leaving a landscape that is tinder-dry and more prone to fire. California wildfires have scorched more than 3.7m acres in the first nine months of 2020, far exceeding any single year in state history, killing 26 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.

Sunday’s fires burned through areas untouched by the 2017 Tubbs and Nuns fires, officials said, and they ran through two state parks that had been regrowing in the aftermath of those two blazes.

“It did burn into the Nuns and the Tubbs scar, and it burned just as well there because those had been filled in with light flashy fuels like grass and some new brush,” Tony Gossner, the chief of the Santa Rosa fire department, said in a news briefing. “Every year brings a new challenge. The grass burns much faster and it’s much harder to control when it’s pushed under these types of conditions.”

The new fires come amid a devastating wildfire season for the state, which has seen a record number of acres burned this year. At a press briefing on Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom said more than 18,0000 firefighters were currently working on 27 major fires, which have destroyed at least 7,000 structures. The deaths on Monday brought the toll of the fire season to 29.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company on Sunday temporarily halted power to transmission lines in parts of 16 counties across northern and central California to guard against greater wildfire risks in hot, windy and dry weather.

In Shasta county, a forested area in the far north, the Zogg fire had scorched 15,000 acres by Monday afternoon and forced evacuations. The region was torched two years ago by the deadly Carr ire.

The causes of both fires were under investigation.

Fire worries were also developing across southern California although it was unclear how strong predicted Santa Ana winds would be. Heat and extreme dryness were expected to be problematic nonetheless.

Back in the wine country, all 55 patients in the Adventist Health St Helena hospital were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours on Sunday, hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams said.

“We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay Area,” Williams said, adding that although smoke shrouded the facility, the skies above were clear enough for helicopters.

It was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in a month, after a huge cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay in August.

The blaze erupted midway through the traditional grape-harvesting period in the Napa Valley. The area’s 475 wineries account for 4% of the state’s total annual grape harvest but half of the retail value of all California wines sold, according to the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.

Of Napa’s 16 wine-growing districts, or sub-appellations, the Howell Mountain area may have faced the greatest threat, said Lisa Covey, a spokeswoman for Hall Family Wines, which kept open during the day all its three tasting rooms in the county.

Susan Krausz, co-owner of Arkenstone Estate Vineyards in the Howell Mountain community of Angwin, said it would take days or weeks to assess the impact of the latest blaze.

“Most people have harvested,” she said, but added: “Any time’s a bad time for a fire.”