California wildfires destroy homes, prompt evacuations from Vacaville to Santa Cruz

Thousands of people were under orders to evacuate broad areas of Northern California Wednesday as some 30 wildfires blazed across the state amid a blistering heat wave now in its second week.

“Throughout the state of California right now, we are stretched thin for crews” because of the fires, said Will Powers, a state fire spokesman. “Air resources have been stretched thin throughout the whole state.”

Thousands of homes and businesses were threatened in the wine-growing counties of Napa and Sonoma in an area devastated by a series of deadly blazes in the last three years. At least seven fires were grouped together as one of two major Lightning Fires in Northern California, a nod to the bolts of lightning that ignited fires in the Bay Area.

Parts of the Bay Area not directly threatened by wildfires were still confronted by poor air quality on Wednesday. "The air quality will be very poor for the foreseeable future," the National Weather Service said.

By Wednesday, the LNU fires had burned 50 square miles and was 0% contained. To put that in perspective, that’s about the size of the entire city of Vallejo.

Authorities issued several evacuation orders in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. 

Police and firefighters went door-to-door in Vacaville early Wednesday in a frantic scramble to warn residents to evacuate.  Footage showed some homes in flames.

Christa Haefner had to evacuate.

"More than anything we’re worried about our animals," she said. "They don’t handle stress well." 

Mandatory evacuation orders issued for Hennessey Fire residents in rural Napa County

CZU Fire: 22,000 residents told to evacuate in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties

Fire officials warned of “extreme fire behavior” challenging firefighters there, including strong winds. Powers said much of the fire was burning through rural areas with steep terrain, making it difficult to get crews in. Wednesday's weather wasn't going to help. Temperatures were expected to soar past 100 degrees in many inland spots. 

Blazes engulfed rural and forest areas near the San Francisco Bay Area, near Salinas in Monterey County, around Oroville Dam north of Sacramento, forested areas west of Silicon Valley, in remote Mendocino County and near the Nevada state line north of Lake Tahoe.

The cluster of wine country fires threatens an area that only last year grappled with another massive blaze that forced 200,000 to flee. Evacuating residents will be a more complicated task this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are health concerns about sheltering large groups of people in gymnasiums, community centers and other spaces that typically serve as a refuge for people fleeing fires. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the fire was moving toward an area called Atlas Peak that burned in 2017 in a blaze that killed six people and destroyed nearly 800 buildings.

Robin Sisemore hosed down vegetation in front of her mother’s adjacent house. Both homes were new, replacing ones that burned just three years ago.

To the south, evacuations were ordered for all of Boulder Creek to the west of Silicon Valley, a community of 5,000 high in the Santa Cruz mountains where windy, long, forested roads, some paved, some dirt, can easily become blocked during storms or fires.

That fire is being called the CZU fire and was burning across both San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. Evacuations were ordered there too. As of Wednesday morning, the fire had burned 7,500 acres. 

Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said that the fires were actually 22 smaller blazes merged togther.

"It's a very active timber fire," Cox said. "And a very serious threat to public safety." 

As of Wednesday morning, the CZU Fire had burned 10,000 acres and 22,000 people had been evacuated in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide state of emergency due the outbreak of fires and extreme heat.