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High Winds Could Fan Deadly Calif. Wine Country Wildfires

Time:2017-10-12 20:52wine - Red wine life health Click:

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Wine country wildfires already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history could gain momentum Thursday and erase even the modest gains firefighters have made.

Steady winds with gusts up to 45 mph with nearly non-existent humidity are expected to descend on the areas north of San Francisco where at least 23 people have died and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," state fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday.

The flames drove tens of thousands of wine country residents from their homes. Entire cities had evacuated in anticipation of the next wave, their streets empty, the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.

That includes Calistoga, known for wine tastings and hot springs, whose 5,300 people are all under evacuation orders. Someone left behind a note and some protein bars in the ghost town, asking firefighters to save a family's home. Derek Bohan, who was born and raised in Calistoga, said the experience has been "definitely scary."

The 22 fires spanned more than 265 square miles as they entered their fourth day, many of them completely out of control. Modern, strategic attacks that have kept destruction and death tolls low in recent years just haven't worked against their ferocity.

The Atlas Fire has burned over 42,000 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 3 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched nearly 28,000 acres in Napa County and is 10 percent contained; the Nuns Fire has burned 8,476 acres in Sonoma County and is 2 percent contained; the Partrick-Carneros Fire has charred over 9,500 acres and is 2 percent contained; and the Pocket Fire has burned 4,000 acres in Sonoma County, officials said.

"We are literally looking at explosive vegetation," Pimlott said.

"Make no mistake," he later added, "this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event."

The community of Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County also was told to clear out Wednesday, and the streets were quickly lined with cars packed with people fleeing.

"That's very bad," resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires toward the town of Sonoma proper, where 11,000 people live. "It'll go up like a candle."

The ash rained down on the Sonoma Valley, covering windshields, as winds began picking up toward the potentially disastrous forecast speed of 30 mph. Countless emergency vehicles sped toward the flames, sirens blaring, as evacuees sped away. Residents manhandled canvas bags into cars jammed with possessions or filled their gas tanks.

As the fires grow, officials voiced concern that separate blazes would merge into even larger infernos.

Fire officials said 8,000 firefighters and other personnel were battling the blazes and more resources were pouring in from Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the scenic coastal area of Mendocino farther north, leveling whole neighborhoods and leaving only brick chimneys and charred appliances to mark where homes once stood.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said hundreds of people were still reported missing. But officials believe many of those people will be found. Chaotic evacuations and poor communications over the past few days have made locating friends and family difficult.

The sheriff also expects the death toll to climb.

"The devastation is enormous," he said. "We can't even get into most areas."

Helicopters and air tankers were assisting thousands of firefighters trying to beat back the flames. Until now, the efforts have focused on "life safety" rather than extinguishing the blazes, partly because the flames were shifting with winds and targeting new communities without warning.

Fires were "burning faster than firefighters can run, in some situations," Emergency Operations Director Mark Ghilarducci said.

Published 3 hours ago | Updated 40 minutes ago

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

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