At least 15 dead, 100 injured as fires rage in California wine country – World
The fires broke out nearly simultaneously and then exploded overnight, sending residents fleeing as embers rained down and flames raged around them. Two hospitals in Santa Rosa, the largest city in the region with 175,000 people, were forced to move patients.
CRITICAL MESSAGE TO SANTA ROSA RESIDENTS: Evacuated residents should NOT attempt to return home until notified by City Officials.
Taken as a group, the fires are already among the 10 deadliest in California history, and the death toll is expected to grow.
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.
Little to salvage
One of the homes that was reduced to ash had a Mercedes Benz in the garage. Two cars parked across the street were untouched.
The flames were unforgiving throughout the city, torching block after block with little to salvage.
Hundreds of homes in the Fountain Grove area were levelled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned aluminum wheels into liquid. One neighbourhood of older homes was scorched, leaving only brick chimneys and downed power lines.
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.
‘Never going to see it again’
“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.
In the rush to leave, Okrepkie and his wife were able to gather important documents, photos and mementos, like letters from his wife’s late father. Still, Okrepkie was tortured by the things he left behind, including a framed photo of his grandfather that his grandmother had carried with her for a decade after he died.
Some of the largest of the 14 blazes burning over a 320-kilometre 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 90 kilometres away. The causes of the fires were unknown.
Fires burn ‘at explosive rates’
Winds have posed a challenge to firefighters in the state this year despite a relatively wet winter that followed years of drought. The fires that broke out Sunday burned “at explosive rates” because of 80 km/h winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
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.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Yuba counties. Authorities imposed a sunset-to-sunrise curfew in Santa Rosa, saying they were on the lookout for looters.