Firefighters battling the deadly blazes in Northern California faced a daunting challenge Wednesday: Winds picked back up, threatening to spread wildfires that already have killed 21 people, destroyed hundreds of buildings and forced thousands of evacuations.
Calmer winds and higher humidity aided fire-suppression efforts Tuesday, but the winds are expected to turn gusty and swing 180 degrees on Wednesday, blowing from the northwest and challenging the containment lines that have been secured along the long southern flanks of the fires, said Neil Lareau of San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.
With fires advancing from several sides in Sonoma Valley, law enforcement officers on loan from other areas of Northern California barred residents of evacuated communities from returning to see how the homes and businesses had fared.
After a day of cooler weather and calmer winds, officials say low moisture and unsafe gusty winds will return to the region Wednesday afternoon, complicating firefighters’ efforts. The death toll in the wildfire burning in Sonoma and Napa counties is now at 13. More than 1,500 structures have been destroyed.
Pacific Gas and Electric said it reported those events to the state utility regulator and Cal Fire.
Officials are asking anyone remaining to leave the area.
“There’s a lot more fuel out on a lot of forest rangelands because, especially on federal lands, we’re doing less timber harvesting and we’re doing less grazing, so there’s just more stuff to burn”.
“They don’t want to take any chances”, Lowenthal said.
As a result, a fire weather watch, which is only slightly less severe than a red flag warning, may need to be issued for portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, NWS forecasters said.
In the town of Napa on the first night of a blaze dubbed the Atlas fire, almost 50 people who were in danger of being overrun by flames were rescued by the crews of two California Highway Patrol helicopters.
“That’s very bad”, resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires toward the town where 11,000 people live. A local subdivision that housed 7,000 people was leveled by fire.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared an emergency in eight counties: Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange.
“Asked by a reporter about the impacts to the state’s wine industry, the governor said that California’s “$2.5 trillion economy grows even through disasters and tragedies.
McCallister tells NPR’s Morning Edition that she posted the images in part because it has been hard to find details about damage in specific neighborhoods. Larson said he wished he had grabbed the gun as he left.