Wildfires Still Burn in Northern California; 11 Are Dead – New York Times

SONOMA, Calif. — Wine country was shrouded in a thick layer of smoky haze here on Tuesday as firefighters continued to battle wildfires that have left at least 11 people dead and have damaged or destroyed more than 1,500 structures, including wineries, homes and resorts.

Seventeen separate fires, the first set of which began Sunday night, were estimated by state fire officials to have burned about 94,000 acres over eight counties. More than 100 people had been taken to hospitals on Tuesday morning and officials said that the tallies of the dead and injured were likely to rise.

About 20,000 people were forced to evacuate, some of them fleeing on foot and by car as the fires quickly overtook their towns, the authorities said. Dozens of shelters opened across Northern California.

Gov. Jerry Brown was not planning to visit the area on Tuesday, a spokesman said, explaining that the governor did not want to interrupt firefighting efforts or “pull resources away for photo ops.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said early Tuesday that firefighters were expected to make some progress. Officials were encouraged by improved weather conditions. The winds, which had pushed the flames rapidly and in an unpredictable manner, had died down significantly, said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with the department.

But all 17 fires remained active, and several of the largest had not been contained as of Monday night.

Mr. Berlant said that those included the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa counties, which had burned at least 27,000 acres; the Atlas Peak fire, which had burned 25,000 acres; and the Redwood Complex fire in Mendocino county, which had burned 19,000 acres.

The fires raged through the hills that are home to some of the country’s most prized vineyards, and fire officials said that multiple wineries had been affected.

The main north-south highway that connects San Francisco to the northernmost parts of California was closed Monday as fire engulfed both sides of it. Santa Rosa is a hub for tours into wine country, and at least two large hotels that cater to wine tourism were destroyed by the fires.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, a fire in the Anaheim Hills that broke out Monday morning burned through thousands of acres, sending smoke pouring into Orange County and turning the sky a smoky shade of orange.

My sister is in Disneyland and just sent me these pictures from the fire. Is the world ending or something? Cause this is wack pic.twitter.com/uRut0up3Yr

David (@iheartnate)October 9, 2017

Hundreds of firefighters rushed to the area, as a freeway was closed and several neighborhoods were forced to evacuate. Crews had begun to contain that fire, which destroyed about a dozen homes in East Anaheim, by Tuesday night.

In Northern California on Tuesday, firefighters planned to continue containment strategies, using bulldozers to cut down trees, brush and other flammable materials in front of fires. Crews use shovels and chain saws to create clear lines, starving the fire of material to feed on and holding it back. Fighters working on the ground are assisted by air support; on Monday, Mr. Berlant said, dozens of helicopters flew until sundown, pouring water on hot spots.

The worst fires in Northern California tend to hit in October, when dry conditions prime them to spread fast and far as heavy winds, known as north winds or diablo winds, buffet the region.

Residents of the American West are already experiencing a particularly brutal wildfire season, one that has caused thousands to flee their homes, turned buildings to charred skeletons and spread a thick smoke across hundreds of miles — just as people in coastal areas of the country have battled the floods and winds of hurricanes.

As of Oct. 6, wildfires had raced through 8.5 million acres, well above the last decade’s average of 6 million per year.

While burned acres have not surpassed a 2015 record, experts say this year is concerning because so many of the fires have raged close to population centers, rather than in remote wild lands. Response crews have sometimes had to focus on saving homes over fighting fires, said Jessica Gardetto, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management, stretching emergency efforts thin.

She attributed this to a growing number of people living at the edge of nature, an area known to forest fire experts as the urban-wildland interface.

In recent decades, fire seasons have grown longer, more frequent and more destructive, something scientists attribute in part to increased dryness caused by climate change. (Scientists from the University of Idaho and Columbia University wrote in one study published last year that climate change had caused more than half of the dryness of Western forests since 1979.)

The confluence of expanding development and warming temperatures has intensified a discussion among policy makers about how the nation will protect people from fires going forward — and how it will find the money to do so. Already, 2017 has been the most expensive fire season on record for the U.S. Forest Service, with fire-suppression costs exceeding $2 billion.

President Trump has proposed a 21 percent cut to the budget of the Department of Agriculture, which includes the forest service, and a 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior, which runs some firefighting services.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., on Monday, the fire gutted a Hilton hotel and flattened the Journey’s End retirement community, a trailer park not far from the freeway that crosses the city. Most of the trailers were leveled, leaving a smoldering debris field of household appliances, filing cabinets and the charred personal effects of more than 100 residents. Pieces of ash fell like snowflakes, and a pall of white smoke across the city blotted out the sun.

North of Santa Rosa’s downtown, residents of the Overlook, a hilltop apartment complex, used fire extinguishers on Monday to put out flames engulfing cypress trees planted along a building. Minutes later, the flames returned. At least three engines and ladder trucks arrived but could not stop flames on one of the buildings from spreading to the roof.

“It looks like they’re giving up on that one,” said Derek Smith, a Santa Rosa resident watching the blaze whose house was several blocks away.

Even into early Monday afternoon — many hours after the homes were destroyed in the retirement community — flames shot from a large propane tank with a roar that resembled an aircraft engine.

Richard Snyder and Robert Sparks, both residents of the retirement community, said their neighboring trailers had been incinerated. They lost televisions, books, laptops — and copies of the insurance policies they had taken out.

“This is all I have,” Mr. Snyder said, pointing to his jeans and turquoise T-shirt. “And one pair of glasses.”

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