ALAMEDA, Calif. – Further evacuations were ordered in Northern California Thursday as wildfire residents braced for the return of high winds that could start a burning fire in the region’s wine country.
The Napa Valley evacuations came when forecasters in much of northern, central and southern California issued a red flag warning, the highest fire hazard warning. The warning went into effect on Thursday afternoon and is expected to last through Friday.
24,000 buildings in Counties Napa and Sonoma, north of San Francisco, continued to be threatened by the glass fire, which ignited overnight in Napa Valley on Sunday and burned nearly 57,000 acres on Thursday afternoon, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox told reporters.
According to NBC Bay Area, around 70,000 people were under evacuation orders. There were no reports of deaths or injuries, although two firefighters were forced to hide in fire containment rooms while battling the inferno on Sunday.
Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters Thursday from a burned-out Napa County elementary school that the scene was a familiar one. Many in the region north of San Francisco have evacuated their homes multiple times since 2017, when the deadly Tubbs fire ripped through counties of Sonoma and Napa, killing 22 people and destroying thousands of buildings.
They “seem to have been torn apart by forest fires every year,” he said, adding that the flames are like “a drum beat, making people exhausted, worried and concerned about their fate and future, not just about their safety. “
“Of course we cut out our work for ourselves,” he added.
He asked residents to heed evacuation orders, saying that red flag weather conditions would likely turn the vast majority of the embers raised by high winds into likely sources of ignition.
Meanwhile, air quality in much of the San Francisco Bay Area deteriorated as hazy, smoky conditions settled in much of the area due to the fires. On Thursday, officials extended a dangerous air warning to Tuesday, increasing the number of “spare the air” warnings issued that year to 41, a record.
Across California, over 17,000 firefighters are fighting more than 20 major forest fires. Since mid-August, when thousands of lightning strikes ignited several of the largest forest fires in state history, 3.6 million acres have burned across the state, much of it in Northern California, which has one of the driest winters ever.
The length of the containment lines dug around forest fires in the state is so great that they could stretch from San Diego to New York City, Cal Fire director Thom Porter said Thursday.
“It’s likely we’ll hit the 4 million acre mark in the next day or two,” he said.
Some state officials, including Governor Gavin Newsom, have linked this year’s unprecedented forest fire season to climate change.
“Climate change is not an issue in the distant future. The climate crisis is here,” the governor tweeted on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Newsom said that since 1980 the average temperature in the state had increased from about 71 degrees to about 74 degrees from June to September.
Other experts have pointed to an accumulation of parched vegetation in California’s vast forests, more than half of which are federally owned and which provide ample fuel for runaway megafires.
The infernos killed 30 people this year. The most recent death was a man who was badly burned by the Zogg Fire in Shasta County.
Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said Wednesday that the man was rushed to hospital but later died of his injuries.
Four people, including the man, were killed in the Zogg Fire, which has set more than 55,000 acres on fire and destroyed nearly 150 buildings since the beginning of Sunday. As of Thursday afternoon, it was 26 percent.
Magrini’s office identified one of the victims Thursday as Karin King, 79, of Igo, a small town 130 miles south of the Oregon state line. Her body was found on Zogg Mine Road, the street Cal Fire lists as the location of the fire.
Tim Stelloh reported from California. Minyvonne Burke reported from New York.