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.

CHP investigates fatal water truck accident

Cal Fire incident commander Bret Gouvea said the California Highway Patrol is investigating the death of a worker who was killed in a single-vehicle crash in Napa County early Monday. 

The victim worked for a private company under contract to supply water to the firefighters, Gouvea said.

An earlier Cal Fire statement said the driver of a water tender truck died in a rollover crash on Oakville Grade.

"He was helping to fight the fires and do the right thing," said CHP Capt. Mike Palacio. "Unfortunately, at this point, we don't know what happened."

Palacio said it would likely take a while before investigators determined the cause of the accident.

"It will probably take weeks, sometimes longer, to figure out how that happened," he said.

 

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At Napa vineyards untouched by wildfires, the grapes must still be picked

Overnight crews in Napa continue harvesting grapes despite the fires that seemingly surrounded them. None
Overnight crews in Napa continue harvesting grapes despite the fires that seemingly surrounded them.

Mario Maldonado didn’t wear a mask. The 22-year-old field laborer thought it would slow him down. Besides, he doesn’t like to cover his face when he tends to the vineyards on most nights.

But this Napa Valley harvest was different than most. A muddied pinkish glow emanated from the horizon. A haze hovered in the air and through the vines. A motor hummed from a generator that powered brilliant lights mounted on tractors idling behind the pickers. It illuminated the harvesters’ path and accentuated the fine ash and the dust swirling along with some moths.

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Firefighters make significant progress Monday, but face challenges in Oakmont

Residents were allowed to return to their homes in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa on Sunday night. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Residents were allowed to return to their homes in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa on Sunday night. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Firefighters made another night of steady progress against the wildfires burning in California’s wine country, gaining containment on four fires as temperatures dropped and winds died down.

More than 4,000 firefighters from across California worked to contain the fires. As of Monday morning, the 36,390-acre Tubbs fire was 70% contained; the 51,064-acre Atlas fire was 68% contained; and the 11,889-acre Pocket fire was 40% contained.

In the last week, the fires have scorched more than 200,000 acres, destroyed or damaged more than 5,500 homes, displaced 100,000 people and killed at least 41.

The Nuns fire claimed its first identified victim Monday morning, Cal Fire said. A private contract driver was delivering a tank full of water to help fight the Nuns fire when the large vehicle rolled over on Oakville Grade in Napa County around 7 a.m. Monday, killing the driver, according to Cal Fire and California Highway Patrol officials.

“This has been the deadliest week that we’ve experienced here in California… from wildfires,” Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Monday.

Taken separately, the Tubbs fire ranks third on the state’s list of deadliest fires, claiming at least 22 lives, and the Redwood fire, responsible for eight deaths, ranks 10th on the list.

Firefighters were looking forward to light winds Monday, but high morning temperatures combined with low humidity could be a challenge for those battling the flames, Berlant said.

Crews gained more of a toehold against the 48,627-acre Nuns fire, which was 50% contained. But a smaller blaze next to the Nuns fire that ignited Saturday near the Oakmont neighborhood of Santa Rosa continued to cause trouble.

Overnight, the 875-acre blaze jumped over bulldozed fire breaks, and merged with a corner of the Nuns fire burning near Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Cal Fire officials told firefighters at a morning briefing at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The fire, called the Oakmont branch, was 15% contained.

“We’ve got ahold of this horse, but it’s bucking us still in some areas,” incident commander Bret Gouvea said. 

Some residents in the Oakmont area had not left their homes, Santa Rosa fire chief Tony Gossner said. Local law enforcement will be knocking on doors in an effort to change that.

“We’re going to do our best to get people out who don’t want to come out,” Gossner said.

The area where the Oakmont branch is burning is relatively sparsely populated, but if the fire moves west, it could threaten more than 2,000 homes west of Los Alamos Road, Gossner said.

 

After losing their home in Coffey Park, this family helped with fire relief efforts

An aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
An aerial view of the damage caused by wildfire that destroyed the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Daniel Crowell and his 9-year-old daughter Iris loaded vehicles headed to Sonoma County at a collection center in San Francisco on Saturday.

Then they got a rental van and filled it to the ceiling with donated boxes of toiletries, gallons of water and other supplies to take to people in Santa Rosa. 

“I felt helpless, and it felt like the best thing to do when you feel helpless is to help others,” said Crowell, 43.

The Crowells’ home in Coffey Park burned down last week. They spent a few days in shock, grieving its loss, but eventually sought a distraction.

“We have friends and family who have been supporting us and helping us, but I know there are people who don’t have that, and I felt like I needed to do something just to kind of help make sure people get through this,” said Crowell, who works at a school in Santa Rosa.

Crowell said his daughter was excited to help. He woke up to the smell of smoke on Sunday night and rushed out of the house with his daughter and 6-year-old son as their front lawn began to catch fire. "I knew right then, this is it -- it’s gone," he said.

He said the family visited a Santa Rosa home owned by a friend on Sunday. They’ll be moving in next weekend, he said. 

“It’s smaller than what we’re used to, but at the same time we don’t have any possessions, so I think it’ll probably work out pretty good,” said Crowell, laughing.

He visited their Coffey Park home on Tuesday. All that was left were his car and ashes, along with two metallic folding chairs that peeked out of the rubble. 

Their new home is two miles away, and only three blocks from Iris’ school. 

“That’ll be good for her, she’s always wanted to ride her bike to school,” he said.

Clear Lake neighborhood lost 158 homes to Sulphur fire

At least 158 homes have been destroyed in the area around Clear Lake in Lake County, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Clearlake Park, a residential neighborhood on the lake's eastern shore, was one of the hardest hit areas, said Chris Chwialkowski, a captain with the Sheriff’s Office.

As the fires raged Monday morning, some residents had to be picked up off their docks by boat patrols, he said.

The neighborhood was in the path of the Sulphur fire, which is now 70% contained. The fire has burned at least 2,207 acres, according to Cal Fire.

After the devastation, Santa Rosa churchgoers pray together

425 homes destroyed by Mendocino County fires

Redwood Valley residents sort through donations and supplies at McCarty's Bar, which turned into an evacuation center in Redwood Valley, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 14. (Paul Elias/AP)
Redwood Valley residents sort through donations and supplies at McCarty's Bar, which turned into an evacuation center in Redwood Valley, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 14. (Paul Elias/AP)

The Redwood Valley and Sulphur fires burning in Mendocino County have destroyed at least 425 homes, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department. At least four commercial structures have been destroyed.

As of Sunday morning, the combined fires have burned more than 37,207 acres. The fires are 37% contained.

Some neighborhoods in Redwood Valley, Willits and Potter Valley are being repopulated at noon, according to the department. A list of the areas is available on the department's Facebook page.

38 people confirmed dead in Northern California fires

Charles and Sara Rippey died in their Napa home. (Associated Press)
Charles and Sara Rippey died in their Napa home. (Associated Press)

Officials confirmed Saturday that 38 people in four counties had died as a result of the fires in Northern California in the last week. 

  • Twenty people died in Sonoma County

  • Eight people died in Mendocino County

  • Six people died in Napa County

  • Four people died in Yuba County

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano announced his county's latest figures at a news conference Saturday afternoon, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection confirmed the other three counties' death tolls. 

Officials in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties have released the names of more than 15 of the victims, including Charles and Sara Rippey of Napa. The elderly couple -- he was 100, she was 98 -- died when fire overwhelmed their home in Napa.

For many immigrants fleeing wildfires and smoke-filled air, shelter is the beach

Kelly Ramirez, 17, left, and her sister Briseyda Sandoval, 6 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Kelly Ramirez, 17, left, and her sister Briseyda Sandoval, 6 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Patty Ginochio saw the long line of headlights arriving in the early-morning gloom.

When day broke, four hours later, the beaches of the coastal town of Bodega Bay, straddling Highway 1, teemed with refugees fleeing the wildfires that had destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens of people.

Many of the arrivals were immigrants, who huddled together and spoke their worries in Spanish.

Some parked into turnouts and slept in their vehicles. Others hunkered down on the cold asphalt, bundled up in blankets. Ginochio opened up her restaurant, Ginochio's Kitchen, and served free meals to an estimated 300 people.

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An assemblyman and a dentist, he's helping identify Northern California bodies

There's often little politicians can do when wildfires strike, besides comfort the residents who lost their homes and monitor emergency efforts to make sure they're getting the help they need.

California Assemblyman Jim Wood has another job.

"Most of my work is in the morgue at this point," he said.

A Democrat from Healdsburg, Wood is also a dentist who is helping law enforcement identify victims of the deadly fires in Northern California.

"These are my constituents," he said.

Wood represents an enormous, mostly rural district stretching from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border in the north. There aren't many people in the country with his skills and experience. So when the latest fires started, he said, "I knew at some point I would be called."

It's the kind of work he has done with sheriff's offices for years. Right now, he's working to identify bodies in Sonoma County, where there have been at least 19 deaths related to the Tubbs fire. He'll likely help Mendocino, too, where at least eight people have died.

Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Sometimes bodies are recovered mostly intact. Other times, there are only bone fragments.

It's slow work, and getting the right dental records to identify the remains can be difficult.

"It's a process that will take awhile," Wood said.

At a time when distraught families are desperate for information about missing loved ones, Wood said he is grateful there's something he can do to help bring a sense of conclusion.

"There's times we're all standing around wondering what to do," he said. The dental work, Wood said, "gives me a sense of purpose."

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Despite red flag conditions, Napa officials are optimistic about the Atlas fire

A deer peers out against the backdrop of a home that was destroyed in the Atlas fire in the Silverado Oaks neighborhood in Napa. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A deer peers out against the backdrop of a home that was destroyed in the Atlas fire in the Silverado Oaks neighborhood in Napa. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

One of the wettest winters on record, followed by the hottest summer on record, has created possibly the worst potential for fire in Napa County that the state has seen, authorities said Saturday.

Already entrenched in a weeklong battle against a series of fires scorching wine country that have killed dozens, the potential for more running flames remains, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Mike Smith.

Experts use a scientific formula to determine the potential of a fire, called its energy release component, Smith said.
On Saturday, that potential is the worst "in recorded history," Smith said.

Crews have not seen this amount of fuel this dry in the path of a fire in at least 26 years, he said.

"Today is going to be a much different day than you've experienced unless you were here" for the beginning, Tom Wright of the National Weather Service told fire crews at a Saturday morning briefing in Napa. "It's a really critical day."

But Napa County officials expressed some optimism at a Saturday morning news conference just an hour and a half later, saying they were confident that the Atlas fires would remain under control. Around 9 a.m., as supervisor Belia Ramos spoke, winds were light and no new evacuations were expected.

Outside of a troublesome 22- to 30-acre spot fire on the northern face of the Atlas fire, the blaze has stayed mostly within its current footprint, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said.

Recognizing the eagerness of residents to return to their homes, authorities on Saturday pleaded for patience. 
No one was going to be allowed into the evacuation areas Saturday, officials said, because Caltrans was spending the day trying to restore the roads.

The National Guard has been called in to help the California Highway Patrol block the roads, as Caltrans crews in the hills clear rocks, mud, burned trees, fallen branches and downed power lines, CHP Capt. Chris Childs said.

Locals have been urged to avoid trying to help the cleanup. The county public health director declared a local emergency to order to bring in more resources to remove toxic ash and burnt remnants of homes and cars.

Of 224 people unaccounted for in Napa County, 146 have been found safe, four have been identified as dead and 74 remain missing, county spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said.

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Downed power ignites flames In Sonoma County: 'It's still very volatile.'

During a night of strong winds, the 46,000-acre Nuns fire in Sonoma County grew by at least 300 acres, threatening the outskirts of the city of Sonoma and the Oakmont neighborhood in Santa Rosa. 

Early Saturday morning, a small fire that began when a downed power line ignited a tree branch rapidly grew into a 300-acre blaze on the southwest corner of the Nuns fire, east of Highway 12, Cal Fire officials told firefighters at a morning briefing.

"That's what a little wind can do," Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said in an interview. "It's still very volatile."

Officials issued new evacuation orders before 5 a.m. Saturday for a handful of homes on the northeastern edge of the city of Sonoma at risk from the Nuns fire.

The fire also grew to the north, reaching toward Oakmont and into Annadel State Park, McLean said Saturday morning. Evacuation orders are now in place for homes north and south of Highway 12 in that area.

A new 100-acre fire also erupted in Lake County, now called the Long fire.

Crews continued to gain ground against the 35,270-acre Tubbs fire, which is now 44% contained. The nearly 11,000-acre Pocket fire, just east of Geyserville, is 5% contained.

Firefighters will continue to face gusts of up to 40 mph until 11 a.m. Saturday along ridge lines where the Nuns fire and the Pocket fire are active, Cal Fire meteorologist Jimmy Tager said. Then winds will begin to die down to about 5 mph, continuing into the evening. 

Officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders for more than 26,000 people in Santa Rosa on Saturday night, though advisories are still in place. 

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'They haven't played politics': Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pleased with federal aid

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, from left, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and Congressman Mike Thompson survey fire damage. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, from left, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and Congressman Mike Thompson survey fire damage. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

For all the sparring between California and President Trump, there was little concern from some of the state's politicians about receiving federal assistance for the recent wildfires.

"They haven't played politics," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday while visiting some of Santa Rosa's most devastated areas.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) agreed.

"This has been extremely fast, what they've done," he said.

Thompson was pleased with federal assistance for firefighting, as well as help for individuals who have lost their homes.

"It usually takes a long time," he said.

Vice President Mike Pence said in a visit to California's emergency management headquarters that President Trump has approved a "major disaster declaration" for California to assist with the response to the fires that have burned thousands of acres in Northern California. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is conducting damage assessments, providing aid to local agencies and offering federal funding to residents affected by the fire, the agency announced Saturday.

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'Go! Go! Go!': Deputy's body camera captures frantic evacuation

 (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Body camera footage released by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office on Friday captured the frantic effort to evacuate Mark West Springs as fires raced toward the Santa Rosa neighborhood.

With heavy winds blowing and sparks flying, a sheriff's deputy raced from house to house, pounding on doors and shouting, "Sheriff's Office! Sheriff's Office!"

As he drove down the mountain, his camera showed flames licking the side of the hill on the right side of the road and devouring a fence. Sparks showered the windshield, and the sky was an ominous orange.

"I've gotta get out of here," he muttered, coughing. "We're in a bad spot."

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said 16 deputies spent hours in the neighborhood, ushering people to safety. At one point, the deputy lifted a disabled woman into the back of his cruiser, with the help of a co-worker.

The body camera footage showed cars racing down a smoky street as a deputy shouts: "Go! Go! Go! Drive!"

Another deputy in the neighborhood got trapped by fire on the road as he tried to escort residents out of the neighborhood, Giordano said. The deputy huddled at the Mark West Lodge with 35 residents, waiting, as the fire burned around them.

"They were just lucky," Giordano said.

Mendocino County fire evacuees seek refuge in Ukiah

Ukiah, the county seat of Mendocino County, is quickly becoming a place of refuge for those displaced by the deadly Redwood/Potter fires.

Employees at Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op make ham and turkey sandwiches every day for the volunteer fire fighters. Officials are running an evacuation center at the high school, while the fairgrounds are home to a growing number of tents and RVs.

“Wherever you go, there’s someone talking about how they had to be evacuated or lost their house,” said Lori Rosenberg, general manager at Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op.

Cassie Taaning-Trotter, 50, is staying with her mother in Ukiah after losing her own home in Redwood Valley, which is located about 10 miles north of Ukiah.

Taaning-Trotter said workers at a Ukiah sushi restaurant insisted on picking up her lunch tab and gave her a $50 gift certificate. “People are incredibly generous,” Taaning-Trotter said.

Magnus Kuhne Petersson, 34, his wife and 10-month-old baby fled their home in Redwood Valley and are housed at a friend’s residence in Ukiah.

He said he went to Mendo Baby, a Ukiah store to pick up some things, but the owner wouldn’t accept money for the baby clothes. The owner’s own house burned down, but she still insisted on giving away the items for free, he said.

“We’re very fortunate,” Kuhne Petersson said. “The community is very strong and supportive.”

Three fire victims identified in Mendocino County

Officials continued to identify victims of the fire Friday.

In Mendocino County, where at least eight people have died, officials identified three victims from the Redwood Valley: Kai Logan Shepherd, 14; Roy Howard Bowman, 87; and Irma Elsie Bowman, 88.

Kai, the 14-year-old, was found near his family’s house on the 11300 block of West Road. Authorities believe he was trying to escape the fire when he was “overtaken by flames,” according to a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department statement.

The Bowmans, who were married, were found in their home on the 4000 block of Fisher Lake Drive. “The residence was completely destroyed by the fire,” according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department statement.

The Redwood fire in Mendocino County has burned 34,000 acres and was 10% contained as of Friday. Between the Redwood fire and the 2,500-acre Sulphur fire, about 8,000 people have been evacuated, according to Cal Fire.

“Steep inaccessible terrain coupled with critical fuel moistures, and northwest winds will provide challenges for crews working on the fire,” a Cal Fire incident report read Thursday night.

The Northern California firestorm is straining hospitals and the healthcare system

 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The deadly Northern California fires — by forcing the evacuation of several hospitals and clinics and destroying the homes of many doctors and nurses — have put a strain on available medical services.

The Petaluma Health Center canceled all scheduled appointments this week to make time for people requiring urgent care. The center has treated asthmatics struggling to breathe amid some of the most unhealthy air in Bay Area history, as well as people who sprained their ankles or forgot to grab their medications as they raced from burning homes in nearby Santa Rosa, clinic chief administrative officer Pedro Toledo said.

Echoing health providers across the region, Toledo said the situation has been especially stressful because the danger isn’t gone. The many fires devastating wine country are nowhere near containment, and the clinic could be threatened if the wind changes. This week, staff members made emergency supply kits for their cars.

“A major earthquake hits, and then it’s over. … We still have no sense of when this is going to end,” Toledo said. “This thing could get worse.”

Where are all the fires in Northern California?

Resources

ICE suspends activity in Northern California fire zones

 (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles TImes)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles TImes)

Immigration officials have suspended operations in the Northern California fire areas, authorities said Friday. 

“The only time we’re going to pick someone up is in the event of a serious criminal presenting a current public safety threat,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman James Schwab said Friday.

He did not say how long the suspension would last.

Immigration enforcement will not detain anyone from evacuation sites, assistance shelters or food banks in the region, Schwab said.

Wildfire destroys home of ‘Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz

The home of “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz burned to the ground in the deadly California wildfires but his widow escaped, her stepson said Thursday.

Jean Schulz, 78, evacuated before flames engulfed her hillside home Monday and is staying with a daughter, Monte Schulz said.

The Schulzes built the California split-level home in the 1970s and the cartoonist lived there until his death in 2000.

“It's the house he died in. All of their memorabilia and everything is all gone,” Monte Schulz said.

He said he had not heard from his stepmother and learned about the disaster from his brother, Craig Schulz, who also lost his Santa Rosa home in the fire.

“The fire came by at, like, two in the morning,” Monte Schulz said. “Everything's gone.”

Fires in the Northern California wine country have killed at least 31 people since they began Sunday.

Monte Schulz said he had not visited his stepmother's home in recent years because he lives more than 300 miles away in Santa Barbara. He wasn't sure what might have burned.

“Obviously stuff from my dad and their life together, all gone,” he said.

Charles Schulz usually worked at an outside studio and most of his original artwork and memorabilia are at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, which escaped the flames.

But the loss of the house itself is painful, Monte Schulz said.

“I had memories of being in that house. I never lived there but I visited all the time,” he said. “That time of our lives is now completely erased.”

Charles Schulz had long ties to Santa Rosa and to Sonoma County. He and his first wife, Joyce, built a home in the city of Sebastopol in 1958.

The airport in Santa Rosa is officially titled the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and features bronze sculptures of the Peanuts characters. Its logo is Snoopy flying on top of his doghouse.

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