NAPA, Calif. (AP) - Northern California’s wine country was on fire again Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already scorched region, destroying homes and prompting overnight evacuation orders for more than 50,000 people.
Residents of the Oakmont Gardens senior living facility in Santa Rosa boarded brightly lit city buses in the darkness overnight, some wearing bathrobes and using walkers. They wore masks to protect against the coronavirus as orange flames marked the dark sky.
The fire threat forced Adventist Health St. Helena hospital to suspend care and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The fires that began Sunday in the famed Napa-Sonoma wine country came as the region nears the third anniversary of deadly wildfires that erupted in 2017, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.
“Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her home in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa about 1 a.m. She is rebuilding a home damaged in the 2017 fires. Gorin told the San Francisco Chronicle that she is numb, and the situation feels surreal.
“It’s like God has no sympathy, no empathy for Sonoma County,” she said.
More than 53,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties have been evacuated in the latest inferno, one of 27 major fire clusters burning across the state, said Berlant. Many more have been warned that they might have to flee, even though officials expect winds to ease into Tuesday.
The Glass Fire broke out before 4 a.m. Sunday and merged with two other fires to scorch 17 square miles as of early Monday. Officials did not have an estimate on the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the blaze engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery in St. Helena and at least one five-star resort.
Logan Hertel of Santa Rosa used a garden hose to fight flames at a neighbor’s house in the Skyhawk neighborhood until firefighters could relieve him.
“Seems like they got enough on their hands already. So I wanted to step in and put out the fire,” Hertel said.
Dominic Wiggens, who lives in the same neighborhood, evacuated but returned later Monday. His home was still standing, but many others were gone. “It’s so sad,” he said.
Pacific Gas & Electric was inspecting its equipment as it sought to restore power to more than 100,000 customers who had it turned off in advance of gusty winds and in areas with active fire zones. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.