Last night was rough for North-Californian firefighters, as they fought a long battle against the wildfires that have taken over vast areas from the hills, leaving at least 23 people dead in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Yuba counties since. Unfortunately, they expect to keep finding dead people as they enter into the burned zones. Thousands of people had to leave their homes to find protection and shelter after the authorities recommended to do so.

The winds didn’t help at all, as they fanned the fire to make it reach long distances and burn not only the vegetation and trees but also part of the wildlife that lived there. Much of it  “depends on the wind,” as the Fire Chief Steve Campbell told Reuters early Thursday. In fact, the authorities estimated strong winds, but they “have not received them yet.”

Wildfire in California, California Fire news, Wildfires in California 2017
Wildfires in California keep on destructing dozens of houses. Image credit: AP

The fire only needed less than two miles (3km) to arrive at the city of Calistoga in Napa County last night, where 5,000 residents left their homes on Wednesday following evacuation warnings. In the hills, according to Napa County spokeswoman Nikki Lundeen, 170,000 acres (69,000 hectares) of land are completely burned, and more than 3,500 buildings are destroyed.

“The historic wind event that swept across PG&E’s service area late Sunday and early Monday packed hurricane-strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases,” said Ari Vanrenen, a PG&E spokeswoman. “These destructive winds, along with millions of trees weakened by years of drought and recent renewed vegetation growth from winter storms, all contributed to some trees, branches, and debris impacting our electric lines across the North Bay.”

The latest data provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection pointed to the existence of 22 centers of fire, all located in Sonoma and Napa counties – two areas widely known throughout the world for being a territory of vineyards and for producing wine. Sonoma County officials have received 600 reports of missing people. Of those, 315 have been found safe.

‘The biggest’ wildfire depends on the wind

Sonoma County is the zone where the flames did the most of the damage. On Wednesday, authorities also evacuated Geyserville community. Two hours later, Sonoma Valley residents evacuated, too.

It seems that even authorities are shocked after seeing all the damage the wildfire is causing. Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday at a briefing with state and federal officials that the people had seen big fires in the past, but this is one of “the biggest.”

Winds are key in wildfires, the firefighters say. These can reignite embers and send them hurtling through the air. If the embers reach land in areas that are not burned yet, it would be difficult to set them off. Stephen Warren, a Cal Fire apparatus engineer, believes that every glowing ember is a “ticking time bomb,” so firefighters have to be careful with them.

The Tubbs fire has not only made authorities to alert business and homes but also schools. Especially Rio Lindo Adventist Academy, which Sonoma County ordered Wednesday to prepare for an evacuation.

This boarding school sits on the outskirts of Healdsburg, near the zone where the fire edged last night. As the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Jones considers, it would be logistically a “nightmare” to evacuate the school because this is “up a very long, narrow, two-lane road.”

Although the wildfire seems unstoppable, officials keep sending help to the zone. Thirty air tankers, nearly 75 helicopters and 550 fire engines with several thousand firefighters assisted and presented their services. Additionally, more than 300 engines from other states and the federal government were requested by the State.

People agree and disagree with the evacuation

There are still some residents who do not want to leave their homes despite the fact that officials recommended them to evacuate the area. The former police officer and firefighter Dennis DeVilbiss, from Calistoga, said that he is “not leaving” because he believes he would be able to react in front of any deadly situation.

“Why should I?” said the 60-year-old policeman. “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.” Then, he smiled and added after the pause that he’s “not stupid. If it’s time to run, I’ll run like hell.”

However, there are others who agree with authorities about the evacuation. The director of fire and aviation management for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest region, Bob Baird, considers that North-Californians are facing a “wickedly dangerous fire situation” and that anytime a person needs help, “all of us come.”

He also said that when he was coordinating the firefighting efforts, he received a text from his wife saying that they were being asked to leave their home in Fairfield.

“The Atlas fire is three miles from the [Fairfield] city limits. The fire is about five miles away. Normally, that would be far away, but not with this fire,” he said.

Source: The Washington Post