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Fourth death confirmed as fires continue to torch Northern California

Orange flames cover a distant hillside at night
Flames are visible from the Zogg fire on Clear Creek Road near Igo, Calif.
(Ethan Swope / Associated Press)

Another person has died as a result of the fast-moving Zogg fire burning in Shasta County, officials announced Wednesday, raising the blaze’s death toll to four.

The latest victim, a man who was not identified, was taken to a hospital with significant burns Sunday, Sheriff Eric Magrini said.

“He was transported to a hospital, and we received word last night that he succumbed to his injuries,” Magrini said during a briefing. “So, again, our condolences go out to that family.”

Thirty people have now died in the unprecedented firestorms that have pummeled California this year. Half of those victims perished in the North Complex fire, which laid waste to small mountain communities in Butte County northeast of Oroville this month.

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The Zogg fire has burned more than 55,000 acres and destroyed 147 structures since igniting Sunday afternoon near the community of Igo, about nine miles southwest of Redding. The blaze is now 9% contained.

“We expect that containment to increase every day,” said Sean Kavanaugh, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “There may be slow increments as we move forward.”

Reinforcements have also arrived to buttress the battle against the blaze, he said during a briefing. As of Wednesday, 117 engines were on the scene, up from 81; and 23 hand crews, up from about 12.

The fire is still threatening more than 1,500 structures, and crews were challenged again Wednesday by hot, dry conditions in the burn area.

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“We’re feeling good about where we’re sitting, but we still have a lot of work that’s going to take place,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s really going to be weather-dependent, also.”

The forecast is also top of mind for those assigned to the Glass fire in Northern California’s wine country.

Though crews have made progress — reporting 2% containment as of Wednesday evening — officials warned that winds are expected to pick up again this week, posing a new challenge to those on the front lines. Since igniting early Sunday, the fire has grown to cover more than 51,200 acres.

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A red flag warning will be in effect for the North Bay mountains and other areas near where the fire is burning from 1 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Friday, with “critically dry and breezy conditions” expected, according to the National Weather Service’s San Francisco Bay Area office.

Fire officials said they are preparing for the potentially adverse weather and warned residents to stay alert about possible updates regarding evacuations.

“Now’s the time for our firefighters to buckle down,” said Billy See, Cal Fire incident commander.

During a Wednesday briefing, See said, “we’re looking at a very similar wind event” as when “this fire first started moving out three days ago.”

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“Mother Nature is something that we don’t try to guess, so we’re preparing for the worst-case scenario and we’re hoping for the best,” he said.

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner noted that “this wind event is going to be serious enough for everyone to pay attention.”

“It’s very important that we keep all new fire-starts to a minimum so we can concentrate on what we’ve got going on now,” he said.

The Glass fire has destroyed 36 and 107 homes in Sonoma and Napa counties, respectively. One commercial building in Sonoma and five in Napa have been razed.

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In Sonoma County, those numbers will almost certainly rise, said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who toured her community Tuesday afternoon. A firefighter told Gorin at least one neighborhood was “completely wiped out.”

The rapid spread of the 42,000-acre Glass fire has raised concerns about the fate of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties.

“There are some significant areas of total devastation up and down the hills and off Highway 12 and Calistoga Road and St. Helena Road,” she said. “You can clearly see where the homes have been burned. The ash is white. The debris of life — a washer, dryer, sometimes patio furniture — is still standing. For the most part, you know exactly where there was a home there and a family that loved living there.”

She took a deep breath, let out a sigh, then concluded: “It’s been a pretty exhausting morning for me emotionally…. Once again the 1st District was impacted by fire.”

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Gorin lost her home to the 2017 Tubbs fire, and her new home is still being rebuilt, she said.

In Sonoma County alone, the Glass fire has already caused damage to land and property totaling at least $8 million — without accounting for personnel costs, county Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley said Tuesday.

The blaze has also taken a toll on some of the region’s renowned wineries, which have already had to contend with several recent bad fire seasons as well as the coronavirus outbreak.

“I can’t begin to express my frustration with these continuing wildfires around here,” said Vince Tofanelli, owner of the Tofanelli Family Vineyard, a Calistoga winery devastated by the fire. “It’s very heartbreaking.”

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The fire was still threatening 26,290 structures as of Wednesday evening, according to Cal Fire.

Despite the threat, authorities have been able to lift or reduce some evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties, downgrading mandatory evacuations to warnings Tuesday for areas including Summerfield, Spring Lake and parts of the communities of Melita and Calistoga.

Evacuation orders remain in place for the hills on both sides of the northern Napa Valley, flanking Calistoga and St. Helena, and parts of the east side of the Silverado Trail.

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Such directives also remain elsewhere in Calistoga, and authorities ordered residents Tuesday evening to evacuate from an area west of Highway 29, extending to the Sonoma County line and bounded by Diamond Mountain Road and Petrified Forest Road.

On Wednesday morning, a new evacuation warning was issued for all areas between Silverado Trail and Highway 29, from Larkmead Lane to Zinfandel Lane, as well as all areas west of Highway 29 from Whitehall Lane to Madrona Avenue.

California has been under near-constant siege by wildfires for nearly two months as conflagrations of historic size, intensity and destruction have ignited and spread throughout the state.

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Five of the six largest fires recorded in California have started since August. Though crews have largely hemmed in three of those massive blazes, two — the Creek fire in the Sierra foothills northeast of Fresno, and the August Complex fire burning in and around the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests — remained just under 50% contained as of Wednesday.

At roughly 949,000 acres, the August Complex is more than twice as large as any fire in the state’s modern history. The Creek fire, at just over 307,000 acres, is the sixth-largest.

This year, more than 8,100 wildfires have burned in excess of 3.8 million acres statewide, according to Cal Fire. The fire season has “broken almost every record there is to break,” officials wrote on Twitter, and the state is likely to continue “to see increased wildfire activity.”

Though many of this year’s fires were sparked by a fierce lightning storm, officials are still investigating the causes of others, including the Glass and Zogg fires.

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KTVU-TV Channel 2, a Bay Area television station, reported that Cal Fire investigators have been canvassing and examining burn patterns at a hillside vineyard near the wine country town of St. Helena. A spokesman for Cal Fire would not comment on its investigation. A spokeswoman for the owner of the vineyard, Cakebread Cellars, told the television station that the winery was “cooperating with and providing information to Cal Fire.”

Authorities overseeing the response to the Zogg fire urged residents Wednesday not to jump to conclusions or share unverified gossip about how that blaze might have ignited.

“This is still an active fire and this is an active investigation, and these investigations take time,” Magrini said. “There’s been a lot of speculation, a lot of rumors. Our office has received several reports of a lot of misinformation that’s out there.

“Please,” he added later in the briefing, “do not go to your Facebook pages and listen to what has not been confirmed by any of the officials here today.”

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Times staff writers Sarah Parvini, Hayley Smith and Matthew Ormseth contributed to this report.


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