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.
Crew exhaustion, limited resources and turbulent winds complicated the battle against multiple wine country wildfires Wednesday, California fire officials said.
“There’s no doubt there’s extreme fatigue,” said Cal Fire’s deputy incident commander in Napa, Barry Biermann. "They are pushing it to the limits. Everyone is."
Napa County's Atlas fire has nearly doubled in size to 46,000 acres, whereas the devastating Tubbs fire reversed direction and now threatens Calistoga, also in Napa County. The fire has also caused widespread devastation in Sonoma County, where it ran rampant through Santa Rosa.
Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said Cal Fire commanders decided in the middle of the night to evacuate nearly half of Calistoga's homes.
By 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dillon and town officials along with police crews were walking house to house in the thick smoke, knocking on doors and telling occupants to leave.
“I was stunned to hear Cal Fire was recommending a massive, for Calistoga, evacuation,” Dillon said. “When we went out to talk, people were already leaving. People were alert to the situation.”
For more than two days, some 500 firefighters have been working extended shifts to rescue trapped residents, save homes, and get a start on containing the sprawling fires.
"We are stretching them shift after shift. We are trying to get them rest so they can reengage fresh," Biermann said. "They are being pushed to limits that have not normally been pushed due to all these life safety issues and rescues.”
Crews that had been dispatched to other fires in the state are due to arrive Wednesday, bringing the total personnel fighting the fires to 800, Biermann said.
“It wasn’t that people weren’t giving us stuff. It was just there were so many different incidents going on,” Biermann said. “Southern California had a very significant fire. They had wind events. There were their own issues to deal with. And as fires become more contained as resources become available off other incidents, they go to the next need, and that’s what we’re starting to see.”
The weather is another challenge. Low humidity and gusting winds are creating prime conditions for explosive fire growth. Humidity levels are falling to 15% or lower and 10 to 30 mph winds are expected to gust much higher. Woodland fuels are at near or historically low moisture levels.
“When the wind and weather changes like it is doing, it is extremely difficult. This fire is extremely dangerous. We had a very challenging time on our fires yesterday because of the wind and fire growth, getting our aircraft in, because it was so turbulent, visibility was so terrible,” Biermann said.
“All areas of all fires will be a concern today.”