Toll from Northern California firestorms sharply rise: 2,000 structures destroyed, at least 17 dead
Penny Wright discusses the loss of her home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif.
The toll from Northern California’s ranging wildfires continued to grow Tuesday evening as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people.
The devastating losses establish firestorms among the most destructive in California history. The estimated losses of homes, businesses and other buildings jumped from 1,500 to 2,000, and officials fear the death toll will also continue to rise.
Sonoma County alone has received about 200 reports of missing people since Sunday night, and sheriff’s officials have located 45 of those people, said county spokeswoman Maggie Fleming.
The majority of the fatalities are from Sonoma County, where huge swaths of the city of Santa Rosa were leveled by the Tubbs fire. Eleven people have died in Sonoma County as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Two people have died in Napa County, three in Mendocino County and one in Yuba County, Cal Fire officials said.
An inmate firefighter monitors flames as a house burns in the Napa wine region.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
Flames ravage a home in the Napa wine region in California.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter walks near a pool as a neighboring home burns in the Napa wine region.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters douse flames as a home burns in the Napa wine region, as multiple wind-driven fires whip through the region.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
Louis Reavis views the burned remains of his classic Oldsmobile at his home in Napa.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
A tent structure built for the 2017 Safeway Open burns in Napa on Monday.(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)
The Estancia Apartment Homes on Old Redwood Hwy. were completely destroyed in Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A resident rushes to save his home as a wildfire moves through Glen Ellen, Calif. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A Fountaingrove Village man surveys the rubble of his home in Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Downed power poles and lines block a street in Hidden Valley.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )
A fcar burns in the driveway of a destroyed home in Fountaingrove Village.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A wheelchair left abandoned at the evacuated Villa Capri assisted living facility on Fountaingrove Parkway in Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )
A resident rushes to save his home as fire moves through the area in Glen Ellen, California.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A San Jose firefighter keep flames down at a home in Hidden Valley.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A Fountaingrove Village couple takes in the ruins of their home after fire ripped through the neighborhood.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A home destroyed in the fast moving wildfire that ripped through Glen Ellen.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A swimming pool reflects the damage caused by the wildfires that moved through neighborhoods near Glen Ellen.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Benicia Police Officer Alejandro Maravilla, left, offers resident Gwen Adkins, 84, a soda while patrolling in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Spencer Blackwell, left, and Danielle Tate find Tate’s father’s gun collection, melted and burned, inside a gun safe at her father’s home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )
An American flag is draped on a burned pickup truck on Camino del Prado in the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )
Scorched wine barrels at the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa after the wildfire burned through.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire lights up the night sky framed by a vineyard near Kenwood.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Oakland police officers knock on doors as residents of the Rancho de Calistoga mobile home park are told to evacuate in Calistoga.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
An aerial view of the Coffey Park neighborhood detroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )
Contra Costa paramedics help Bill Parras, 96, evacuate his home in Calistoga.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )
CHP officers study neighborhood maps before going door to door to tell Sonoma residents to voluntarily evacuate ahead of the wildfire.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A home perched on top of a hill sits in the foreground of a fire moving up on Shiloh Ridge near Santa Rosa.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )
Scorched grapes and vines along the edge of Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Calistoga.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
John and Jan Pascoe survived the firestorm by running out of their home and into their neighbors’ swimming pool in Santa Rosa.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of burned wine bottles at the destroyed Helena View Johnston Vineyards near Calistoga.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A Contra Costa County firefighter breaks a wall with an ax as his crew battles flames inside a home along Highway 29 north of Calistoga on Oct. 12.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Atascadero Firefighters try to control flames burning inside a home along Highway 29 in Calistoga on Oct. 12.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Contra Costa firefighters work to put out flames burning inside a home along Highway 29 north of Calistoga on Oct. 12.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Search teams sift through the debris of mobile homes at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )
A worker pulls out a firearm from the burned wreckage as search team members look through the debris at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Search team members sift through debris at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey surveys the damage to the Coffey Park neighborhood.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )
Melted metal is seen on a car in the shadow of a destroyed home in Napa.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Lola Cornish, 50, and her daughter Kat Corazza, 18, look over recovered family jewels that survived the fire at Cornish’s grandfather’s home in Napa.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Some residents were allowed to return to their properties Friday in a neighborhood in Napa that was ravaged by the Atlas fire.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter drops water on a fire that threatens the Ledson Winery and Historic Castle Vineyards in Kenwood on Friday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Manuel Mendoza sorts through donated clothing at the Bridge Church in Santa Rosa on Sunday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Jean Schettler hugs Father Moses Brown after Mass at St. Rose Church on Sunday. Schettler’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, after losing their house in the fires, have moved into the Santa Rosa home of Jean and Jim Schettler.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Gianna Gathman, 18, hugs her grandfather Jim Schettler during Mass at St. Rose Church in Santa Rosa on Sunday. Gathman’s family lost their home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood to the fire. They are now living with the Schettlers.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Kimberly Flinn holds onto the only item that wasn’t lost in a fire that destroyed her home in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa. Flynn recovered a ceramic white butterfly that she had made in memory of a boy she used to babysit and was killed in a hit and run accident.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Gerry Miller, 81, tells San Francisco Police Department Officer Gary Loo how grateful she is to find her home still standing. Residents were allowed to return to their homes in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa Sunday night.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Denise Finitz, 61, thanks Torrance Fire Department firefighters Keith Picket, right, and Capt. Mike Salcido on Oct. 16 after they helped her find her mother’s wedding ring in the ashes of her home, destroyed by wildfires on Carriage Lane in Wikiup.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A search and rescue crew member gives a cadaver dog some water during the hunt for a possible fire victim in the Mark West Springs area of Santa Rosa on Oct. 15.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Burned cars like this vintage Volkswagen litter the landscape in Coffey Park. The neighborhood was completely destroyed by the Tubbs fire 11 days ago, with many residents fleeing in haste as their homes were enveloped in flames.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A giraffe framed in the smoke filled air at the Safari West preserve.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A Watusi bull looks out through the haze of the recent Tubbs fire at the Safari West preserve.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Peter Lang, 77, owner of the Safari West preserve, stands between a pair of white rhinos against a backdrop of charred hillside in Santa Rosa.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Sharp, a resident of Coffey Park, sifts through the remains of his charred home in search of his wife’s wedding band.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Flowers were left on the mailbox of Roy Howard Bowman, 87, and his wife, Irma Elsie Bowman, 88 who died at their Fisher Lake Drive home from the Redwood Valley fire.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Dee Pallesen, left, and her daughter Emily Learn console each as they look over Pallesen’s home, destroyed by the Redwood Valley fire.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Jason Miller plants an American flag on the charred remains of his house as residents of Coffey Park return home.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Burned vehicles litter the landscape in Coffey Park. The neighborhood was completely destroyed by the Tubbs fire 11 days ago, with many residents fleeing in haste as their homes were enveloped in flames.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A pickup truck rests beside a row of charred trees in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
As firefighters continued to battle one of the worst firestorms in California history, federal officials vowed to help.
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. When he spoke, 13 people had been confirmed dead.
“Let me first say our hearts and the hearts of every American go out to the families of the 13 who’ve lost their lives. It’s heartbreaking to think that many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable; in some cases senior citizens who simply were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes,” he said. “They are in our prayers.”
As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, the two biggest blazes — the Tubbs fire and the Atlas Peak fire in Napa County — had burned 27,000 and 25,000 acres, respectively, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. Both fires were uncontained, he said. Firefighters are hoping that winds will lessen enough Tuesday to allow crews to get a handle on the fires.
“Though our containment numbers haven’t gone up just yet, we’ve at least been able to hold these fires and keep them at their current acreage,” Berlant said. The Tubbs fire grew about 2,000 acres since Monday night.
Some of the smaller fires had some containment as of Monday night, he said: The 2,500-acre Sulphur fire in Lake County was 10% contained, and the 2,000-acre 37 fire in Sonoma County was 15% contained.
About 20,000 people evacuated their homes Sunday night and Monday, and there were additional evacuations in the Tubbs fire area and in Yuba County overnight, Berlant said.
Residents of some areas were allowed to return Tuesday night, including in the Forestville area.
Red flag warnings in effect throughout much of Northern California had expired as of Tuesday morning, Berlant said. Winds of up to 50 mph Sunday night helped spread the flames.
“Overnight, the wind that had fanned these fires had really decreased, and that gave us an opportunity to really take a stand against these fires,” Berlant said early Tuesday. “We are again today hoping to see very little wind compared to Sunday.”
But the cool and quiet of night did not stymie the progress of the Atlas fire, which stretched across the hills east of Napa and sparked a chain of more fires to the west.
“They continue to move. They were moving all night,” burning more structures in their wake, Cal Fire incident commander Kevin Lawson said Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, the Atlas fire was moving down the east side of a ridge into Solano County and threatening residents of Green Valley. The Partrick fire southwest of Napa was pushing toward heavily populated areas, and emergency planners warned that the fire could grow.
A few miles north, the community of Glen Ellen continued to be threatened by the Nuns fire burning in the Mayacamas Mountains.
Fire behavior specialist Jon Heggie told crews heading out at dawn Tuesday to be prepared for the fires to turn north and east into dry brush “with 80% to 90% probability of ignition.”
As of late Tuesday, the 16 fires in Northern California had destroyed up to 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures, said Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox.
Several thousand firefighters from across the state are battling the blazes, and some strike teams from Southern California have been sent north, Berlant said. The California National Guard has deployed six additional helicopters to aid in firefighting efforts.
And evacuees will not be able to return to their homes for some time, he said.
“Many of these fires, it’s going to take several more days, even potentially more weeks, before we have full containment,” Berlant said.
Still, some tried to get back to their houses Tuesday.
It took Brady Harvell almost two hours to find what he was looking for in the rubble of his parents’ home on the northwest corner of Santa Rosa.
Using a small spade to move ashes aside, Harvell had been searching for the Army dog tags he gave his father in 2013 when he returned from deployment in Iraq. At 12:40 p.m. he reached down and pulled it out of a gray pile. Harvell held it up and shouted: “Got it! Oh, my God! Got it!”
Marveling over the discolored and misshapen treasure in the palm of his hand, he said: “I grew up here, all my memories are from this very spot. It’s where I played and learned right from wrong. But the fire destroyed every photograph my mother and father had of me. It took all our memories, except this one.”
Harvell reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellphone and dialed.
“Love you, Brady,” his father said at the other end of the line.
“Love you, Dad,” Harvell replied.
Lance Thomspon, 75, returned to his Hidden Valley neighborhood Tuesday to find streets filled with broken utility poles and huge tangles of smoldering power lines. Some streets were blocked by yellow police tape.
Once home to stately two-story brick homes fronting winding, narrow lanes gated by 100-foot pine trees, most of the neighborhood was reduced to ashes, twisted metal and broken water mains splashing onto heaps of blackened beams. The only things left standing were the skeletal trunks and limbs of charred pine trees and dozens of lonesome chimneys.
Thompson was one of the lucky ones. He didn’t lose his home.
Leaping from ridge top to ridge top in grass and oak woodlands, flames raced across the heart of the California wine country, claiming houses, hotels, at least one winery and a dairy.
In Santa Rosa, the Tubbs fire leveled an entire neighborhood, burned a Hilton hotel, turned big-box stores into smoking ruins and prompted the evacuation of two hospitals — Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Kaiser’s Santa Rosa Medical Center.
At the Fountaingrove Inn, the fire left behind only the steel frame, now crooked in many places, and parts of the stone walls. A mess of tangled rebar, broken piping and blackened tree limbs lay strewn above piles of rubble. Water pipes hung askew and broken glass littered the hedges.
Amazingly, at the far side of the inn, a dry fountain, two wooden tables and about a dozen wooden chairs sat intact.
Farther up the hill at the sprawling Hilton site, small fires still smoldered and occasional pieces of debris rained down. On the far end of the property the pool and sitting area around it were untouched.
Though the conditions that fed the blazes — high winds from the interior, dried-up vegetation and low humidity — are more typical of Southern California’s fall fire season, the north has seen its share of horrific autumn wildfires.
The state’s second-deadliest blaze is the October 1991 Tunnel fire in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, which erupted on a quiet Sunday and killed 25 people.
The Tunnel fire also ranks as the most destructive wildfire in California history, consuming 2,900 structures.
Two years ago the Valley fire roared across Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, killing four people and destroying 1,995 buildings.
Survivors’ accounts and sheriff’s dispatch recordings tell harrowing tales of the chaos that struck Sunday night.
Eric Anderson managed a narrow escape from his home on Mark West Springs Road, where the flames swooped down just before 10 p.m. and exploded into the town below, destroying hundreds of homes.
“It just came through there, like a blowtorch,” said Anderson, a contractor. “I saw fire trucks racing up Martin West and then, five minutes later, I saw them racing down. I said, time to get out of here.”
Anderson said residents in the wooded area, which is dotted with million-dollar homes, had little warning. As he loaded the last box of possessions into his car, a flurry of embers flew overhead, setting off spot fires throughout the hillside community.
Meanwhile in Napa County, terror that swept in with the wind-driven fire over those living on Atlas Peak was evident in the chaos that erupted in a span of less than 10 minutes over the Napa County sheriff’s dispatch radio late Sunday night.
The distress calls, crackling over the radio since 10 p.m., arrived in rapid fire by 10:42 p.m.
“Parents trapped in garage,” one officer radioed in to the central dispatcher, giving an Atlas Peak Road address, followed by another warning: “The fire is moving quickly through here.”
Two minutes later, the dispatcher sent help to a second house on the road: “Two people trapped.”
Barely a minute later, a call came in for another house on the road: “An elderly lady trapped.”
At the same time, an officer on scene radioed in the loss of a nearby house. “It is on fire now, it looks like they evacuated,” he said.
The dispatcher sent out an all-points request for “any units in the area.”
“Two people called, advising their house is on fire, and they need help evacuating.”
A minute later, she repeated the call.
“Is anybody able to go to 2232 for two people trapped in a house on fire?”
Two deaths have been confirmed from the fire that tore through the neighborhood. Charles and Sara Rippey, ages 100 and 99.
One woman died as she was trying to flee the Cascade fire in Yuba County, county spokesman Russ Brown said.
The woman was in a convoy of cars traveling on Lone Tree Way in the town of Loma Rica, Brown said, when her car veered off the road amid heavy smoke.
Staff reporters Javier Panzar, Joy Resmovits, Hailey Branson-Potts and Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this story.
11:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a new estimate on structures destroyed and acreage.
7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with more information about deaths.
2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with accounts from people who escaped the fire and officials’ statements.
11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information about deaths and missing person reports in Sonoma County.
11:30 a.m.: This article was updated with federal emergency order.
10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with details about where the fatalities occurred.
10:15 a.m.: This article was updated with additional fatality confirmations.
9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with details on reports of missing people in Sonoma County.
8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with reports on overnight activity of the Napa and Sonoma counties fires.
7:49 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the Northern California fires and evacuations.
7 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the Anaheim Hills fire.
This article was originally published at 5:55 a.m.
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