Shifting winds prompted a new set of evacuations Wednesday as the wildfires across Northern California continued to rage.
In Napa County, authorities issued evacuation orders for the entire towns of Calistoga and Geyserville as flame approached. Fire officials urged residents to flee, noting that the fires had already destroyed more than 2,000 structures and killed at least 21.
Not everyone was listening.
Among those who aimed to stay put was Calistoga resident Dennis DeVilbiss.
“I’m not leaving,” the former police officer and firefighter said.
Standing on the wooden front porch of his cul-de-sac home on the south end of the resort town as smoke wafted over nearby forests, the 60-year-old said, “Why should I? I’m in a good spot. I’m monitoring all the radio bands. I just put a sprinkler on my roof. Oh, and I’ve got goggles, heavy gloves and a respirator.”
His confidence befit the German translation of his last name: “Devil Biter.”
He paused, and added with a smile, “I’m not stupid. If it’s time to run, I’ll run like hell.”
His partner, DJ Marrs Smith, a former firefighter herself, was not so sure.
Wrapped in a bathrobe with bright leopard spots and wearing a face mask to filter out smoke, she said, “I’m not sure what I am going to do. My friends are begging me to leave.”
Officials said the threat was real.
“Winds have shifted out of the northeast,” Sgt. Scott Fleming of the St. Helena Police Department said. “Our goal is to have all 5,000 residents out by 5 p.m.”
Officials advised residents to leave the city via State Route 29 south, or head south on the Silverado Trail to Zinfandel Lane, then head west to the 29.
A shelter is open at American Canyon High School at 3000 Newell Drive in American Canyon.
There were also worries to the south.
The immense and growing Atlas fire, which began burning in Napa County, doubled in size overnight and the flames were moving south toward Fairfield, a North Bay Area city along Interstate 80.
Authorities began evacuating the Green Valley area just outside the city and issued an advisory evacuation order for another neighborhood, warning residents to be ready to evacuate as forecasts predicted “volatile and gusty” winds in the area, local police said in an alert.
Three school districts in the area -- with a total enrollment of about 81,000 students -- shut down classes for the rest of the week as thick smoke enveloped the area.
Many people in the city are anxious.
Jennifer Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Vacaville School District north of Fairfield, said students and district staffers had friends or family in the area who had lost homes or loved ones in the fire.
“This morning it felt like a war zone, yesterday evening you could stare straight at the sun, it was just this purple circle in the sky,” she said. “Ash was falling from the sky.”
“It is a heavy and ominous reminder of this tragedy that is going on just over the hill,” she said. “It is a just a very solemn day for sure.”
Sahagun reported from Calistoga, Calif; Panzar and Tchekmedyian from Los Angeles.