SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — Thousands of weary firefighters made progress early Tuesday, taming a series of wildfires that have brought historic levels of death and destruction to Northern California’s picturesque wine country.
The death toll stood at 41 early Tuesday with 88 people still listing in Sonoma County. Search teams were combing through the rubble and using cadaver dogs at the homes of the missing.
Authorities were still looking for 53 people who remained missing in Sonoma County. Napa County reported eight people on its unaccounted list.
It was unclear how many people are actually missing because reports have included duplicate names or names of people who were safe but unable to call relatives. Some people reported as missing also never knew someone had been looking for them.
Major Northern California Wildfires (Source: Cal Fire)
As of Tuesday 6:00 p.m. PT
Fallon Fire – 116 acres, 75% contained – off Fallon Road 3 miles East of Dublin
Cherokee Fire – 8,417 acres, 100% contained – Off Cherokee Road and Zonalea Lane, Oroville
La Porte Fire – 6,151 acres, 98% contained – La Porte Rd. and Oro Bangor Hwy, Bangor
Sulphur Fire – 2,207 acres, 92% contained – Off Hwy 20, Sulphur Bank Road, Clearlake Oaks
Redwood Valley Fire – 35,800 acres, 60% contained – N of Hwy 20, W of Mendocino National Forest, S of Black Bart
Tubbs Fire – 36,432 acres, 82% contained – Off Hwy 128 and Bennett Ln, Calistoga
Lobo Fire – 821 acres, 97% contained – near Lone Lobo Trail, Rough and Ready
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
Bear Fire – 200 acres, 5% contained – Bear Canyon Road and Deer Creek Road in Boulder Creek
Nuns/Norrbom/Pressley/Adobe/Partrick Fires – 52,894 acres, 68% contained – Highway 12, N of Glen Ellen
Oakmont Fire – 1,029 acres, 27% contained – east side of Highway 12 near the Oakmont community
Pocket Fire – 12,430 acres, 58% contained – Off Pocket Ranch Rd and Ridge Ranch Rd, Geyserville
Cascade Fire – 9,989 acres, 98% contained – Cascade Wy & Marysville Rd, N of Collins Lake
Pacific Gas and Electric reported some 14,000 outages still ongoing due to wildfires, with the majority being in Sonoma and Napa counties.
Containment on the three largest fires — the Atlas, Tubbs and Nuns — increased overnight.
But Cal Fire officials insisted Tuesday that the battle with the deadliest wildfire outbreak in California history was not over. A fact that Gays Lubb can attest to.
She lives in Oakville and said the Nuns Fire is still a threat.
“You feel comfortable, go to bed but then wake up, look out my bedroom window and see flames again,” she told KPIX 5.
Cal Fire has been attacking the advancing blaze from the air and on the ground. Still the flames occasionally make a run down a steep canyon and jump the containment line.
“There are a lot of fingers and canyons in there, so if it’s too steep and the vegetation is too dense to put people in there, then we’ll just slow that spread of the fire with aircraft,” said Cal Fire chief Chris Anthony. “And then we’ll use containment lines to begin stopping the fire at that point.”
Elsewhere, the evacuation orders for several neighborhoods in Sonoma and Napa counties have been lifted. In many of those areas, California Highway Patrol officers are escorting evacuees back to their homes.
“I grabbed things I’ve been thinking about for a week,” said evacuee Carmen Salazar, who lives in Glen Ellen, a neighborhood hit hard by the Tubbs Fire. “It’s sad. We’re Ok but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Neighbor Henry Beaumont’s home also survived, but the flames destroyed his barn, hen house and guest cottage.
“You can see, down in here, just how close this came,” he said pointing to a line of scorched earth. “It really is charred to the ground in some places. I’m hoping as a community we can pull together and help those that are less fortunate.”
Authorities said roughly 34,000 people remained evacuated – the number dramatically lower than a high of nearly 100,000 on Saturday in Sonoma, Napa and other counties.
Still Mendocino County Supervisor Rob Brown said Monday that “it’s never going to be the same” for the 8,000 evacuees from his county who have been allowed to return home.
Brown said they’ll have to seek a new normal after the destruction, displacement and devastation of the fires.
Meanwhile, the thousands of calls coming from concerned residents in neighboring Sonoma County “have shifted from questions about evacuation to questions about coping,” Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.
“Many people who call are sad and worried. The shock has worn off,” and depression is setting in.
As a former grief therapist, she advised people with a family member or loved one who has lost everything to understand they can’t fix this but they can offer support.
“Provide a compassionate listening ear right now, and let them feel whatever they’re feeling,” Zane said.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Thompson said the searches take time because the homes have been turned into just piles of ash.
“Very little is being left behind due to the heat (of the fire),” he said. “We’re starting in high probability areas within the home. That’s been bedrooms, bathrooms, entryways, vehicles that may be still in the garage.”
Criticism was also growing Tuesday when it came to the way the emergency alert system worked as the deadly flames approached. Sebastopol’s Stuart Mitchell was among the hundreds of thousands of people who did not receive the warning.
“I think a lot of lives could have been saved if people were given the information,” Mitchell told KPIX 5.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said sending out alerts to people not threatened by the fires would have triggered a panic, clogging local roadways.
“This county is heavily populated along that 101 corridor had we had more people trying to evacuate, I’m concerned we would’ve had more deaths,” he said. “Panic is what gets people killed if you have everyone panicked out on the roads.”
Despite widespread concern of looting over the past week due to the wildfires in the North Bay, there have been minimal reports of looting in Napa County, according to the district attorney’s office.
On Monday, Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley said in a statement that there have been less than five arrests for looting in the county since the the fires started on Oct. 8.
A strong law enforcement presence has likely deterred criminals from taking advantage of the tragedy, prosecutors said.