California's fire chief says at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed in wildfires ripping through Northern California. (Oct. 9) AP
Wind-whipped fires sweeping across California's wine country Monday killed at least 10 people, burned hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee communities, hospitals and wineries ahead of the hard-charging flames.
California State Forestry and Fire Protection chief Ken Pimlott estimated that 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures were destroyed — making Monday one of the most destructive wildfire days in state history. About 20,000 people evacuated, Pimlott said, and the fires continued Monday evening.
Officials confirmed seven dead in Sonoma County, two in Napa, and another in Mendocino County to the north.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to help combat the burgeoning crisis. CalFire also called in the world's largest firefighting air tanker, a Colorado-based converted 747 that made multiple drops in Northern California on Monday.
In Santa Rosa, 50 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, "fast-moving fires" compelled authorities to continually expanded the area of mandatory evacuations. More than a dozen evacuation centers were opened, though some quickly filled.
The Sutter Santa Rosa Hospital evacuated its 80 patients; the hospital reported on social media that "all patients and staff are safe." Kaiser Permanente's Santa Rosa medical center evacuated 130 patients.
"Leave immediately," the police department warned residents on Facebook after the fire jumped a freeway. "This is a life threatening situation."
Marian Williams said she caravanned with neighbors through the flames as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards near her home in Kenwood.
“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” she said. "“Trees were on fire like torches."
Another Kenwood resident, John Dean, said he drove past several burning houses.
The National Weather Service issued a "red flag" warning — critical fire conditions — for the region, citing high winds and low humidity.
"Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly," the weather service warned.
San Francisco smelled like fire, and the city warned residents to close windows and keep children and pets indoors to avoid inhaling the smoke.
In Napa County, east of Sonoma, one fire burned 200 acres and forced evacuation of hundreds of homes and businesses. Another fire straddling the two counties ballooned from 200 acres to more than 20,000 acres.
"This fire exploded," state Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox told KTVU in Oakland.
The Silverado Resort and Spa, which hosted the professional golf tour's Safeway Open that ended Sunday, was evacuated, the San Francisco Chronicle and other media reported. Calls to the resort were not answered. Chris Thomas, 42, of Kirkland, Wash., told the Chronicle he arrived late Sunday with his wife, Marissa Schneider.
They smelled smoke, saw a fire truck roll by, then were ordered to evacuate via loudspeaker, Thomas said.