17 October, Tuesday


Some pretty significant monsters': More homes evacuated as Northern California fires grow - PHOTOS

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As devastating wildfires continued to spread in Sonoma and Napa counties Wednesday, firefighters launched a desperate effort to extinguish key hot spots before heavy, fire-stoking winds could kick back up later in the evening.
 
Officials fear that strong winds forecast for Wednesday evening and Thursday morning will spread embers from the deadly Tubbs fire to populated areas of Santa Rosa and Calistoga that have so far been spared the flames — a development that would prompt new evacuations.
 
“We are facing some pretty significant monsters,” Cal Fire incident commander Bret Couvea told a room of about 200 firefighters and law enforcement officials at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.
 
Slide 9 of 26: An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017.  California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - RC156B4BE110
 
Already, the fires have scorched more than 100,000 acres and left at least 17 people dead. The quickening winds threatened to make containment of the fires even more difficult.
 
During the daytime, winds will be light, less than 5 miles per hours, from the north in the morning. They will increase to about 15 miles per hour in the afternoon in the valleys, officials said.
 
At night however, “the return of the north wind will have a strong influence on the southern portions of the Tubbs fire,” a Cal Fire weather report said. "Winds will be 25 to 30 miles per hour after 2 a.m. These strong winds have the potential to push the fire south back towards Calistoga and Santa Rosa, especially where the fire was active yesterday [Tuesday] on the north side."
 
Slide 1 of 26: Flames burn on a hillside near Napa Road during the Nuns Fire in Sonoma.
 
On Wednesday, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory evacuation order for residents of Middletown — which was heavily damaged in the Valley Fire just two years ago and rebuilt — as the Tubbs fire approached from the south.
 
Late Tuesday night, evacuations were ordered in Calistoga for the Tubbs fire, and in other areas of Napa and Sonoma counties for the Atlas Peak fire, the Nuns fire and the Pocket fire, officials said.
 
Firefighters hope to take advantage of the lull in the winds Wednesday morning and afternoon to attack hot spots and put out as many embers as possible before they can be revived and blown into areas that haven’t burned yet, they said.
 
Slide 2 of 26: A helicopter drops water on a wind driven wildfire in Orange. REUTERS/Mike Blake
 
By 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Tubbs fire had exceeded 28,000 acres with no containment. The Atlas fire in Napa County had grown to 26,000 acres and was 3% contained, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. Other fires ranging in size from 1,800 to 21,000 acres burned throughout the area and in surrounding counties.
 
As of Wednesday morning, the count of fire-related deaths stood at 17, including 11 people in Sonoma County and two in Napa County. Sonoma County has received about 300 reports of missing persons, and has confirmed that 110 of those people are safe, said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Jones.
 
While some evacuation orders in Yuba and Nevada counties were lifted, allowing residents to return to their homes, officials estimate that upwards of 50,000 people are still evacuated. More people in Sonoma and Napa counties were asked to leave their homes Tuesday night.
 
“The [Atlas] fire became active overnight, started burning more of the community,” Tolmachoff said.
 
Slide 3 of 26: GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 10: Grapes hang from a burned grave vine on October 10, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Fifteen people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 2,000 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
 
During a packed community meeting with emergency officials inside the Santa Rosa High School gym Tuesday evening, Sonoma County residents battered by the deadly wildfires were told that a "red flag" warning forecasting potentially hazardous fire conditions had been issued for Wednesday.
 
This comes after cooler weather allowed firefighters to gain ground battling multiple blazes in the county Tuesday morning, only to see the flames flare up again with afternoon winds.
 
"This is nowhere near over. This is still very dangerous," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said Tuesday night.
 
Officials hope, though, that they won’t again face the 80 mile-per-hour winds that stoked fires so quickly Sunday night.
 
In Mendocino County, where three people have died and the Redwood and Potter fires have reached a combined 21,000 acres without any containment, one resident recalled the rush to get out in time.
 
Slide 4 of 26: Rivers of melted metal flow from a vehicle parked at a home, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, that was destroyed by a wildfire near Napa, Calif. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through California wine country sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
 
It was just after 1 a.m. Monday when Jaime Lynn Lojowsky woke up to a pounding at the door.
 
“There is a fire on the mountain,” she heard her neighbor tell her husband. “It’s an emergency. It’s an emergency.”
 
Lojowsky, who lives in Redwood Valley with her husband, Mac, and two young girls, looked out her back window. Normally, she’d see bright stars, the moon peeking between the redwoods, pines and oak trees. It was one of the reasons why she’d moved from crowded and light-polluted Southern California more than a year ago.
 
This time, white smoke choked the night sky. The hillside was on fire. Flames licked the backyard of her 1-acre lot.
 
Lojowsky’s husband ran out the door to knock on neighbors’ doors to wake them, telling them to get out. One home had already caught fire.
 
Slide 6 of 26: Vineyards are lined up as a wildfire burns on a mountaintop Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
 
The winds picked up. The flames raced toward them.
 
“Jaime, the house is going to go. What do you want to take?” he asked.
 
She had minutes.
 
On the outside, the couple tried to stay calm for 5-year-old Isabella. Lojowsky asked her to grab some things she’d like to take. Isabella grabbed her blanket and a stash of Halloween-themed toys.
 
On the inside, Lojowsky panicked.
 
“We’re going to die. I don’t want my babies to die like this,” she thought. “This can’t be happening.”
 
Lojowsky roused her youngest — 2-year-old Lourdes — from bed. She piled the girls into her Kia Sedona. They were met with a cloud of white smoke when she opened her garage door. Ash and fire rained down on the vehicle as she drove down the driveway and into the main road. Her husband followed in a truck behind them. About a mile down the road, a wall of flames blocked their path.
 
Slide 7 of 26: Smoke from wildfires blankets the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in this view near Sausalito, Calif. An onslaught of wildfires across a wide swath of Northern California broke out almost simultaneously then grew exponentially, swallowing up properties from wineries to trailer parks and tearing through both tiny rural towns and urban subdivisions. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
 
It was the main way out. She’d never gone the back way — a windy, dirt and gravel mountain road through a canyon.
 
Some cars barreled through the flames. Others went off the road.
 
She was uncertain on what to do. If she turned back, would she be met by a raging fire?
 
That’s when she spotted a Cal Fire truck. The crew directed her to go back through the mountain pass. It was safe, they reassured her. She turned back and drove past her home. She zoomed by her neighbor’s house and saw the cars still parked outside. She wondered if they’d make it out. They had three young boys.
 
“They have to leave now,” she thought.
 
Slide 8 of 26: Smoke and flames from fire at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
 
Her car climbed up the mountain pass, tailing her husband’s truck. She called him on her cell, asking him to dial 911 to find out what they should do. She just wanted someone to tell her what to do or where to go.
 
The sky was still full of white smoke. She could see the flames in her rearview mirror. Lojowsky just kept driving, looking forward and keeping an eye on the gravel road speckled with potholes. Her vehicle weaved on a dirt road through a dense forest of redwoods, pines and oak trees. She could hardly see the road in front of her.
 
Ten minutes later, Isabella broke her silence.
 
“Great news, Mom. I can see the moon,” she said. “I can see stars.”
 
Lojowsky, who has fire insurance, would later discover that her house and farm had burned down. Only the brick fireplace remains of Lojowsky's three-bedroom home. It’s unclear whether her chickens survived. But her family, two dogs and cats had made it out alive.

 

Los Angeles Times

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