SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — Firefighters battling the deadliest wildfires outbreak in California history struggled Friday to gain footholds on several major blazes that have claimed at least 35 lives and turned once-picturesque wine country vistas into piles of ash and debris.
Friday afternoon the Napa County Sheriff’s Office announced two more bodies had been found, victims of the Atlas Fire. The death toll rose to 35, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history. The deaths were briefly tallied at 36, but authorities said one was double-counted.
Speaking to reporters on Friday evening, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano emphasized how rapidly the wildfires moved from wildland to urban areas on Sunday night and Monday morning. He showed a lengthy excerpt of body cam footage from sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Brandon Cutting conducting door-to-door evacuations and rescues in the Mark West Road area of Santa Rosa.
Fire official said 5,700 homes and buildings have been destroyed and a total of 90,000 people displaced by the fires in Northern California.
New mandatory evacuations were ordered Friday afternoon in an unincorporated portion of Sonoma County east of Healdsburg, north of Highway 128 at the southern edge of the Pocket Fire.
The return of gusty winds in the region prompted another red flag warning Friday afternoon through Saturday.
The warning, running until 11 p.m. Saturday, predicted winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of 40 mph. Humidity levels of 20-30 percent were also expected. The areas at most risk, the weather service said, were the Napa County hills, around Mount Saint Helena and the hills of eastern Sonoma County.
Major Northern California Wildfires (Source: Cal Fire)
As of Friday 3:45 p.m. PT
Cherokee Fire – 8,417 acres, 70% contained – Off Cherokee Road and Zonalea Lane, Oroville
La Porte Fire – 6,139 acres, 25% contained – La Porte Rd. and Oro Bangor Hwy, Bangor
Sulphur Fire – 2,500 acres, 55% contained – Off Hwy 20, Sulphur Bank Road, Clearlake Oaks
Redwood/Potter Fires – 34,000 acres, 10% contained – N of Hwy 20, W of Mendocino Nat’l Forest
Partrick Fire – 12,379 acres, 18% contained – Off Partrick Road, W of Napa
Tubbs Fire – 34,770 acres, 25% contained – Off Hwy 128 and Bennett Ln, Calistoga
Atlas Fire – 48,228 acres, 27% contained – Off Atlas Peak Rd, south of Lake Berryessa
37 Fire – 1,660 acres, 100% contained – Hwy 37 & Lakeville Highway
Adobe / Nuns / Norrbom Fires – 44,381 acres, 5% contained – Hwy 12, N of Glen Ellen, Kenwood
Pocket Fire – 9,996 acres, 5% contained – Off Pocket Ranch Rd and Ridge Ranch Rd, Geyserville
Pressley Fire – 473 acres, 10% contained – East of Rohnert Park
Cascade Fire – 10,120 acres, 55% contained – Cascade Wy & Marysville Rd, N of Collins Lake
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said of 1,308 missing persons reported, 1,052 have been found safe while 256 people were still outstanding.
Giordano said 45 search-and-rescue crews were in the field Friday looking for those still missing. Many of the crews were at a mobile home park searching for resident who did make it out before fire swept through.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Thompson said officers recovered bone fragments from one person Friday morning. He says there’s a “high probability” they’ll find more.
Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Friday it would be weeks before investigators determine the causes of all the wildfires sweeping the state.
Pimlott said investigators were not yet ready to say whether any were caused by downed or sparking power lines from the strong, gusty winds that have plagued the state, and that part of the problem is that much of the evidence was consumed in the fires.
The state Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E to preserve any documents related to a possible cause of the fires.
Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are scheduled to visit Sonoma County on Saturday.
Brown has remained in Sacramento this week, where he has issued emergency declarations and secured federal disaster relief.
His office said in a statement that with some conditions improving and firefighters making progress on a number of wildfires, he will visit the fire zone and provide additional details when he gets the
Two other cities were the focal point of firefighter efforts Friday. Flames continued to advance toward the small wine country communities of Geyserville in Sonoma County and Calistoga in Napa County.
Next to Geyserville, a mandatory evacuation was in effect for an unincorporated area of Sonoma County east of Healdsburg north of Highway 128 from Geysers Road to Chalk Hill Road.
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said fire crews have kept the advancing flames at bay even though the fire jumped Highway 29. No damage has been reported within the city limits.
He also warned any residents trying to return to mandatory evacuation areas that they will be distracting from the firefighting effort.
“If you are not a first responder, you are not welcome,” he said.
In Sonoma County, the Nuns/Norrbom Fires merged with the Adobe fire overnight and was advancing along Dry Creek Road midway between Napa and Yountville. Firefighters raced to halt the fire’s advance.
In Mendocino County, where the Redwood Fire has claimed at least 9 lives, firefighters were battling shifting winds as they fought to gain control of the flames.
The Napa County Sheriff-Coroner says a forensic team found two more dead at a home there. They say one of the men killed was 89-year-old George Chaney, a retired doctor. The second man is believed to be 79-year-old Edward Stone.
While firefighters battled the blazes, search crews assisted by cadaver dogs were poised to return to burned out neighborhoods in Santa Rosa and elsewhere in Sonoma County to find any sign of the hundreds still missing.
While the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 killed 25 people by itself and the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933 killed 29, never in recorded state history have so many people been killed by a simultaneous series of fires, said Daniel Berlant, a deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Giordano said Thursday recovery teams were conducting “targeted searches” for specific residents at their last known addresses.
“We have found bodies almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” said the sheriff, whose office released the names of 10 of the dead, all age 57 or older, on Thursday.
There was some good news in Napa County late Thursday night — mandatory evacuation orders were lifted include: the area around Silverado Country Club, Monticello Park, and The Avenues, in addition to the area west of Silverado Trail between Harman Avenue and state Highway 128.
Several roads in the area, however, remain closed. Closed roads include the intersection of Atlas Peak Road and Westgate Drive and the intersection of Monticello Road and Vichy Avenue.
Like many area residents, Lisa Ledson, is dealing with loss. While her home was an under advisory evacuation, the neighborhood where she grew up has been laid to waste by the Peak fire.
“My family has lived in Kenwood since the mid-1800s, so my entire childhood is burned to a crisp right now,” she said. “It’s hard.”
Ledson was fine, she said, until she drove past Annadel State Park. It’s a place she went often growing up, now largely consumed in the 7,555-acre Adobe Fire.
“It’s weird,” Ledson said. “Like someone almost taking an eraser and erasing your history.”
Among the homes destroyed by the blaze were those of former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan and of ‘Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz.
Schulz’s son, Monte Schulz, said a fire on Monday torched the Santa Rosa homes of his stepmother, 78-year-old Jean Schulz, and his brother, Craig Schulz.
They were able to escape and were with other relatives.
Schulz says he’s been told the home where his famous cartoonist father died and all the memorabilia in it are gone.
Smoke from the blazes also continued to choke Bay Area skies early Friday. Across the region, dozens of schools and colleges remained closed because of health concerns from the polluted skies.
The University of California-Berkeley said it planned to host a Friday night college football game as scheduled Friday night, but several prep gridiron games had been cancelled.
The Oakland Raiders confirmed the team would play Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers at the Oakland Coliseum.