SONOMA (CBS/AP) — Five more deaths were confirmed Saturday in the wildfires burning in Northern California, bringing the total to 40.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Office announced two more deaths there on Saturday, taking their total to six. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said three bodies had been found by crews searching the wreckage left behind the Tubbs Fires in the city of Santa Rosa.
Sonoma County now has recovered 22 bodies while eight people have died in Mendocino County, six in Napa County and four in Yuba County. The new deaths take the toll to 40 with more than 200 still missing for what was already the deadliest series of fires in California history.
No details were released on the dead, but it is likely the people were killed soon after the fires broke out nearly a week ago and their bodies were just discovered.
Howling winds fanned North Bay wildfires again early Saturday, forcing hundreds more people to flee from their homes, testing the efforts of crews who have spent days trying to corral the flames behind firebreaks.
Just a day after firefighters reported making significant progress, winds kicked up several hours before dawn and pushed flames into the hills on the edge of Sonoma, a town of 11,000. About 400 homes were evacuated as the fires threatened Sonoma and a portion of Santa Rosa, including a retirement community that evacuated earlier this week, authorities said.
Dean Vincent Bordigioni, winemaker and proprietor at the Annadel Estate Winery awoke at 3 a.m. with flames erupting on the ridge above his property. “Things went to hell last night,” he said. “They’ve got a good fight going on.”
Nearly a week after the blazes began, the fire zone had swollen to an area as long as 100 miles on a side. The flames have left at least 35 people dead and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, making them the deadliest and most destructive group of wildfires California has ever seen.
Deputy state fire director Dave Teter said Saturday that a minimal number of structures were burned, but that no further damage was expected after firefighters stopped the advancing blaze.
Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. said firefighters who had been taking a well-earned break from the fire lines had been sent into the battle.
“It’s an all-hands-on situation,” he said.
The renewed strength of the winds was “testing the work that we accomplished,” Berlant said. The greatest risk was that winds would blow embers across the firebreaks and ignite new blazes.
By early afternoon, state fire officials said they had halted the fire’s advance into the city of Sonoma. But winds gusting up to 40 mph were expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening.
The latest estimates showed that about 100,000 people were under evacuation orders as the fires burned for a sixth day. Some people who have been evacuated all week demanded to get back into their homes.
Douglas and Marian Taylor stood outside their apartment complex Saturday in Santa Rosa with their two dogs and a sign that said “End evacuation now.”
Their building was unharmed at the edge of the evacuation zone with a police barricade set up across the street. The couple said they are spending about $300 per day to rent a motel and eat out, and they want to return home because the fire does not appear to threaten their home.
At an evacuation center at the fairgrounds in the Sonoma County city of Petaluma, volunteers sifted through mounds of donated baby wipes, diapers, pillows, shoes and clothing.
Randy Chiado and his wife, Barbara, evacuated Monday from the Oakmont section of Santa Rosa. They stayed for several days with a friend in Santa Rosa but left Saturday when flames approached again and sought refuge at the fairgrounds.
“After so many times of ‘It’s coming, get ready, it’s coming, get ready,’ it just gets nerve-wracking,” Barbara Chiado said. Life away from home has been difficult and dangerous.
Randy Chiado said a man who may have suspected he was a looter tried to punch him through his car window and yelled for a friend to get a gun when the Chiados turned onto a residential street after they evacuated their home. He said he was able to push the man off and drive away.
The couple would be spending the night with other evacuees in a room set up with cots. “It’s like jail,” he said.
The neighborhoods covered by the new order were:
- 7th St East from E Napa St to Denmark St.
- North side of Denmark St from 7th St E to Napa Rd.
- 8th St E north of Denmark St.
- E MacArthur St east of 7th St E
- Quail Run Way, Hamblin Rd
Evacuations were also ordered in fire-ravaged Santa Rosa early Saturday for all areas and roads north and south of Highway 12 between Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Road.
Included in the order were all of Skyhawk, Mountain Hawk and much of Rincon Valley. Oakmont also remained a mandatory evacuation area.
The reinvigorated fires wiped out some of the gains made by the hundreds of firefighters on Friday.
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.
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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.
Over the past 24 hours, fire crews have arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from as far away as Canada and Australia.
The influx of outside help offered critical relief to firefighters who have been working with little rest since the blazes started.
“It’s like pulling teeth to get firefighters and law enforcement to disengage from what they are doing out there,” said Barry Biermann, Napa chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “They are truly passionate about what they are doing to help the public, but resources are coming in. That’s why you are seeing the progress we’re making.”
Major Northern California Wildfires (Source: Cal Fire)
As of Saturday 9:00 p.m. PT
Nuns/Norrbom/Pressley/Adobe/Partrick Fires – 46,104 acres, 10% contained – Hwy 12, N of Glen Ellen, Kenwood
Pocket Fire – 10,996 acres, 5% contained – Off Pocket Ranch Rd and Ridge Ranch Rd, Geyserville
Sulphur Fire – 2,500 acres, 65% contained – Off Hwy 20, Sulphur Bank Road, Clearlake Oaks
Redwood/Potter Fires – 34,000 acres, 20% contained – N of Hwy 20, W of Mendocino Nat’l Forest
Cherokee Fire – 8,417 acres, 75% contained – Off Cherokee Road and Zonalea Lane, Oroville
La Porte Fire – 6,144 acres, 77% contained – La Porte Rd. and Oro Bangor Hwy, Bangor
Cascade Fire – 9,961 acres, 81% contained – Cascade Wy & Marysville Rd, N of Collins Lake
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