LOCAL CALIFORNIA

The death toll from the fires has hit 41, and officials believe that number will rise as searchers make their way through the neighborhoods in Santa Rosa that burned down as well as mountain communities across wine country.

What you need to know:

  • Officials said Monday they are making good progress on the massive Tubbs and Atlas fires, which are both more than 60% contained.
  • Crews have also achieved 50% containment on the Nuns fire, but a smaller adjacent blaze near the Oakmont neighborhood of Santa Rosa continues to cause trouble.
  • Mandatory evacuation orders for Calistoga residents east of the Tubbs fire and locals living south of Lake Curry east of the Atlas fire have been lifted. Orders remain in place for several communities to the Atlas fire's north, east and south flanks.
  • Over the next few days, weather conditions are expected to improve significantly.
  • Northern California fires have scorched more than 220,000 acres since they began Oct. 8. As many as 10,000 firefighters from throughout California and surrounding states have battled the fires around the clock.

A ghost town in Calistoga

The town of Calistoga is empty.

Motorcycle cops wearing masks are circling the deserted streets. Everything is closed in the downtown area -- the art galleries, wine tasting rooms, cafes. The thick smoke hangs like fog. Roads leading into town are closed.

Ten miles away at Napa Valley College, a Red Cross shelter had only 35 people through Tuesday night.

Then early Wednesday morning, hundreds evacuated early when police knocked on their doors and woke them up, demanding they leave their homes. Napa Valley College swelled with evacuees.

There were 683 people in the shelter at one point, and 386 by the last count Thursday morning. The parking lot was filled with cars, and cots were laid out in the cafeteria and gymnasium.

On Thursday morning the air outside the shelter was smoky, and some volunteers were shuttling back and forth with masks.

Yury Kopansky, 66, a retired software engineer, said he only had five minutes to grab a few things and get dressed. He's eager to go home. "I don't think it was necessary," he said about the evacuation.

David Sutidze, 55, evacuated with his mother-in-law. They had packed a bag two days before the evacuation, and were thinking about unpacking when police came by their house and told them to clear out.

Sutidze and his mother-in-law slept in their sedan with their two dogs, because dogs aren't allowed in the shelter, he said. A neighbor remained behind and has been sending updates.

"He said everything is fine," Sutidze said.

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