‘Like God has no sympathy’: Crews struggle with deadly wildfires racing through Northern California, wine country

2020-09-29 19:46:42

SAN FRANCISCO – Fire crews on Tuesday battled two ferocious blazes – including one torching portions of the state’s beloved wine country –  that destroyed homes and forced at least 70,000 people to scramble to safety.

The entire town of Calistoga in Napa County was ordered to evacuate Monday evening as flames closed in on the 5,000-population community.

Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini confirmed three people died in the Zogg Fire, which has burned through 40,317 acres near Redding in Northern California since Sunday.

The Glass Fire, which also ignited Sunday, has charred more than 36,236 acres in the Napa and Sonoma wine region about 45 miles north of San Francisco, according to Cal Fire

Gusty winds, which accelerated the pace of the fires, eased somewhat. But the Glass and Zogg fires were still at 0% containment as of Tuesday. “Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire’s assistant deputy director.

Fire officials say the Zogg Fire exhibits “high-intensity” fire behavior on the northwest end and is partially burning in the footprint of the 2018 Carr Fire.

The Glass Fire has destroyed dozens of structures, including homes in Santa Rosa, the Chateau Boswell winery and the Black Rock Inn in the Napa County town of St. Helena. At least 14 restaurants, resorts and wineries, including Calistoga Ranch and St. Helena’s acclaimed Restaurant at Meadowood, were damaged or lost, Eater San Francisco reported.

What we know: Zogg Fire near Redding more than doubles in size again, forces more to evacuate

Devastating photos: See Glass Fire’s impact on Chateau Boswell winery in California’s Napa Valley

The fires in Napa and Sonoma come as the region nears the third anniversary of deadly blazes that erupted in 2017, including one that killed 22 people and destroyed 5,600 structures. Last month, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.

Late Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Shasta, Napa and Sonoma counties and asked President Donald Trump for federal fire assistance. 

David Zachary Brown and Ricardo Mosqueda, who share an apartment in the Rincon Valley neighborhood of Santa Rosa, are among the evacuees staying at the Petaluma Community Center while waiting to find out when they can return home.

Both got cellphone alerts about the fire late Sunday and headed out around midnight.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Cliff DuGranrut walks through a pile of debris left from the Glass Fire in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2020.Deputy State Fire Marshal Cliff DuGranrut walks through a pile of debris left from the Glass Fire in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2020.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Cliff DuGranrut walks through a pile of debris left from the Glass Fire in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2020.

“We could see the fire coming down the hill next to Calistoga Road. Blazing red embers were just burning up the whole hillside,’’ Brown said. “At first it was over the hills and you could see the flames reflecting off the smoke, these big, bright billows of smoke. And a little while later it started coming over the hill.’’

Without a car or a ride, they left all their belongings behind and set out on foot, reaching the evacuation center at the Veterans Memorial Building some four miles away past 1:30 a.m.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her property in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa at about 1 a.m. Monday. Flames singed three neighboring houses as she fled, she said.

“We’re experienced with that,” she said. “Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who’ve lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West.”

Gorin, who is rebuilding a home damaged in the 2017 fires, struggled to make sense of another blow. “It’s like God has no sympathy, no empathy for Sonoma County,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

‘We just don’t have words’: At least 3 dead as California wildfires explode in wine country, forcing thousands to flee

The loss of revered Napa landmarks was devastating, Jean-Baptiste Jacquot told USA TODAY. Jacquot and wife Brittany run JBJ Pictures, a luxury wedding photo and video company that has shot numerous weddings at Meadowood and Calistoga Ranch. 

“We are heartbroken along with the rest of the wedding and hospitality professionals in Napa Valley,” Jacquot said. “This is where we used to document one of the best days of our couples’ lives, where they would gather with their family and friends to celebrate love.” 

Fire season in California has been historic this year: More than 8,100 wildfires have singed more than 3.7 million acres, according to Cal Fire. Since Aug. 15 – when California’s fire activity elevated – 29 people have died, and more than 7,000 structures have been destroyed.

By Monday night, Pacific Gas & Electric said it had restored electricity to all of the 100,000 customers whose power was shut off in advance of high winds in fire zones. However, PG&E said about 24,000 people remained without power in areas affected by two fires in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Contributing: David Benda and Michele Chandler, Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California wildfires: Zogg fire kills 3, Glass fire burns wine country

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