A deadly and unprecedented swarm of wildfires that broke out Sunday night and Monday morning two in heavily populated areas of Sonoma and Napa counties that have not been touched by wildfires in modern memory continues to burn in Northern California, and the combined events are sure to go down as among the most deadly and destructive in state history. And while the national news media has grown weary of the endless stories of California on fire during our annual fire season, especially after this intense hurricane season ravaged the south, the New York Times and others have begun to report on the immensity of this particular set of fires and their unusual proximity to large numbers of homes, wineries, and hotels.
Cooler temperatures and calmer winds made for a much less chaotic night for firefighters in the North Bay, but nonetheless Cal Fire is considering all four of the fires still burning in Napa and Sonoma counties to be "uncontained" and still actively threatening the communities of homes and vineyards around them. And as of Monday night, reports began coming in of at least 100 people reported missing in and around Santa Rosa, and that number has risen to 150 as of Tuesday morning, as the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office reported on Facebook. Some of those people have likely been reported missing due to the lack of cell phone service and power in the area, but the number still suggests that the current death toll 15 confirmed dead, with 9 of those in Santa Rosa is very likely to rise as authorities begin to sift through the decimated remains of neighborhoods like this one.*
The Tubbs Fire, which began as Monday's biggest in the region, now stands at 27,000 acres, and the current evacuation map for Santa Rosa can be seen below. The Nuns Fire in the hills above Glen Ellen stands at 5,000 acres, the same as Monday night, and the nearby Patrick Fire in Sonoma County stands at 1,000 acres Cal Fire is now combining these latter two with the Atlas Fire as a the "Southern LNU Complex Fire."
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant spoke to the LA Times Tuesday morning, saying, "Though our containment numbers haven’t gone up just yet we’ve at least been able to hold these fires and keep them at their current acreage." He added that wind speeds were expected to stay much lower than they were Sunday, and "Overnight the wind that had fanned these fires had really decreased, and that gave us an opportunity to really take a stand against these fires."
Firefighters do not expect to see containment for days or weeks on some of these blazes, and so far, including the Canyon Fire burning next to Disneyland in Anaheim, the fires have burned more than 115,000 acres and destroyed at least 1,500 homes.
The death toll for the combined swarm of Northern California wildfires which currently stands at 17, all still burning rose with reports of a death in Yuba County and two more in Mendocino. As the SF Chronicle reports, that person became trapped in a vehicle as they tried to flee the Cascade Fire, north of Collins Lake, which currently stands at 11,500 acres and is 15 percent contained. Two additional deaths were reported as a result of the Redwood Complex Fire in Mendocino County, where the town of Redwood Valley saw at least 50 homes burn.
Two of those reported dead in the Atlas Fire were an elderly couple who were too frail to evacuate quickly. As KTVU reports, they were Charles and Sara Rippey, aged 100 and 99, respectively, and they had recently celebrated 75 years of marriage. They lived in the Silverado Resort community on Atlas Peak Road, and their home was reportedly ravaged by the quickly moving fire.
The Atlas Fire in Napa County, which has burned 25,000 acres, jumped over the county line into Solano Monday night, prompting evacuations in Fairfield, as NBC Bay Area reports.
Well over 20,000 people have evacuated from various parts of Northern California, and new evacuation orders will be announced throughout the day. The latest evacuation details for each fire can be found here, via Cal Fire.
Not since the Valley Fire of 2015 which ranks third among the most destructive fires in CA history in terms of property damage (2,000 structures), and which is certain to be outpaced by this group of fires has California witnessed so many people displaced at once by a wildfire, as our fire season tends to focus on wildland areas that are harder to defend when fires break out. And we can only hope that the death count does not rise above that of the Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991, which was the deadliest fire event in state history and killed 25 people.
Winds were expected to pick up Tuesday, potentially igniting hot spots and spreading flames from active gas lines, which continue to burn in the remains of burned out homes across Sonoma and Napa.
Further updates on the other dozen smaller fires burning in the region will be forthcoming.
* This post has been updated as of 1:45 p.m. PT to show that the death toll is now at 15.