Napa Valley Fire

Karlo E., Contributer

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At least 10 people have died and at least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed as more than 14 fires ravaged eight counties throughout Northern California on Monday, authorities said. Two people died because of the Atlas fire in Napa County.

The vast devastation over just a few hours made this firestorm one of the worst in California history, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency. Officials said the fires in Northern California have scorched 73,000 acres.

Local hospitals were treating those injured while others are unaccounted for, officials said. Additional fatalities were possible as search efforts continued. Northern California has seen its share of horrific wildfires — the state’s second-deadliest is the October 1991 Tunnel fire in the Oakland Hills, in which 25 people died. The Tunnel also ranks as the most destructive, charring 2,900 buildings.

But the combination of high winds, dried-up vegetation and low humidity driving flames into neighborhoods is more typical of Southern California. Despite a wet winter, vegetation still hasn’t recovered from California’s punishing drought, and at the end of the summer dry season, was ready to burn. Firefighters are hopeful the winds will calm Monday afternoon. But red flag weather conditions will persist into Tuesday.

While many evacuation centers were set up, some were filled to capacity due to the large number of people fleeing. Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said during a televised news conference Monday morning.

Schools throughout the Napa and Sonoma valleys were closed for the day, and cellphone service has been affected in Napa County, where residents and businesses are experiencing power outages and trees have been knocked down by the wind, officials said.

More than 50 structures, including homes and barns, have burned in the Atlas Peak fire alone, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said during the news conference. Residents described running from the approaching flames early in the morning.

Upward of 300 firefighters are battling the blazes in Napa County, said. There are three evacuation centers for Napa County residents, though one — the Crosswalk Community Church — is full, she said. The other two are the Calistoga Fairgrounds and at Napa Valley College. Those who evacuated described a chaotic scene.

A key reason why the fires burning through Napa and Sonoma counties became so devastating was that the ignitions happened at the worst possible moment: extremely dry conditions combined with so-called Diablo winds that fanned flames on the ridgetops with gusts as high as 70 mph.

It’s similar to the conditions that caused one of the most destructive blazes in Northern California history, the October 1991 firestorm that struck the Oakland and Berkeley hills that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,300 single-family homes.

The wine country fires so far haven’t approached that level of catastrophe, with officials reporting at least 1,500 structures lost, in part because the area burned isn’t as densely populated as the area that was hit hard in 1991.

 

 

 

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