Rapid wildfires fanned by gusty winds caused widespread destruction in Northern California’s wine country Monday as flames engulfed several counties and raged across tens of thousands of acres as residents evacuated and California’s governor declared a state of emergency.
Jonathan Cox, Battalion Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, called the fires “unprecedented” in how quickly they spread.
As of Monday afternoon, the fires had ravaged more than 70,000 acres. The flames, which first ignited late Sunday evening, have remained uncontained, and stand to continue spreading because of heat and low humidity, said Cox. So far some 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. At least ten fire-related deaths have been reported.
Much of the damage has been concentrated in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heart of wine country. The counties boast world-class vineyards and opulent wineries set against a backdrop of undulating hills and rolling fields. Now, the scenery is what one resident has described as “Armageddon.”
The several fires that broke out across multiple counties were fanned by gusty winds.
“Most of … California has been dry for the last five months or so. Most of the vegetation has dried out. October is always a tough month for fires in California,” Jan Null, adjunct professor of meteorology at San Jose State University, told the Los Angeles Times. “We get these dry, desiccating, downslope winds.”
The sun rises as flames from a wildfire burn on Monday east of Napa, Calif. The fire is one of several burning across Northern California’s wine country. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
In Santa Rosa, the Hilton hotel was among the many businesses that went up in flames. Just across the highway, a Kmart store was also scorched. All Santa Rosa City Schools will be closed on Tuesday, according to the Santa Rosa Fire Department. Numerous roads have also been closed.
Flames rise from the remains of a house that burned down in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Monday. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California, sending residents on a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
Thousands of firefighters are fighting the 14 wildfires across eight counties, a Cal Fire spokesman told Reuters. Despite the massive deployment, however, firefighters have “zero percent” containment, according to Cox.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a home as they battle a wildfire in Anaheim Hills, Calif. (Jeff Gritchen/Orange County Register/AP)
Among the more than 20,000 residents who have been forced to evacuate include patients in threatened hospitals. Kaiser Permanente evacuated 130 patients from its Santa Rosa Medical Center by bus and ambulance early Monday morning, according to Jenny Mack, the health system’s public relations director for Northern California. Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital also evacuated all of its patients.
As the infernos continued to rage on throughout Monday, witness accounts suggested that the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma could suffer significant damage, dealing a heavy blow to the region’s wine industry. Widespread damage across wine country could cause a severe shortage of grapes for years to come, as vineyards can take three to five years to bear fruit. And for vineyards that have not been completely scorched, there is the worry of “smoke taint,” when grapes take on a strong flavor after being exposed to smoke for extended periods of time.
Burned out wine bottles sit on a rack at the fire-damaged Signorello Estate winery after an out-of-control wildfire moved through the area in Napa, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
One witness described the scenes as something out of a war zone.
“It looks like a bombing run,” Joe Nielsen, the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma County, said in an interview with SFGate. “Just chimneys and burned-out cars and cooked trees.”
Burned cars sit idle after wildfires moved through the area in Glen Ellen, Calif. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in a widespread wildfire that is burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
In Napa and Sonoma counties, about 45,000 are without power and/or cell service, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told the Los Angeles Times.
A firefighter walks near a pool as a neighboring home burns in the Napa wine region in California on Monday, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
See more photos: