ALAMEDA, Calif. — More evacuations were ordered Thursday in Northern California as wildfire-weary residents braced for a return of powerful winds that could stoke a blaze burning in the region’s wine country.
The evacuations in the Napa Valley came as forecasters issued a red flag warning, the highest alert for wildfire danger, across large swaths of Northern, Central and Southern California. The alert went into effect Thursday afternoon and is expected to remain in place through Saturday morning, with gusty northwest winds and dry, hot conditions.
Twenty-four thousand buildings in Napa and Sonoma counties, north of San Francisco, remained threatened by the Glass Fire, which ignited overnight Sunday in the Napa Valley and burned through vineyards, resorts and homes, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox told reporters.
Nearly 250 buildings have been destroyed and 144 more more have been damaged, according to an incident report released Thursday night. The fire had grown to 58,880 acres.
About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, NBC Bay Area reported. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, though two firefighters were forced to take cover in fire shelters while battling the inferno Sunday.
Speaking Thursday from a burned-out elementary school in Napa County, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters 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 tore through Sonoma and Napa counties, killing 22 and destroying thousands of buildings.
They’ve “been torn asunder by wildfires seemingly every single year,” he said, adding that the blazes are like a “drum beat where people are exhausted, concerned and anxious about their fate and their future, not just their safety.”
“Clearly, we have our work cut out for us,” he added.
He pleaded with residents to heed evacuation orders, saying that the red flag weather conditions could turn the vast majority of embers whipped up by powerful winds into likely sources of ignition.
The Glass Fire was five percent contained, but officials said heavy smoke had made it difficult to use the fire fighting aircraft often relied upon to dump retardant on burning forest and brush.
One fear is that the fire could make a run toward Sonoma Valley by way of a state park just east of Santa Rosa, a city of roughly 176,000, Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin said Thursday.
She called the possibility remote, but the fire blazed a similar path toward Santa Rosa late Sunday night, racing toward the city’s Oakmont section in a matter of hours.
Santa Rose Police Chief Ray Navarro said Thursday that nearly 13,000 people within the city remained under mandatory evacuation orders. Another 22,000 were under evacuation warnings.
Air quality around much of the San Francisco Bay Area deteriorated as hazy, smoky conditions from the fires settled over the region. On Thursday, officials extended a hazardous air warning through Tuesday, pushing the number of “spare the air” alerts issued this year to 41, a record.
There are over 17,000 firefighters battling more than 20 major wildfires across California. Since mid-August, when thousands of lightning strikes ignited several of the largest wildfires in state history, 3.6 million acres have burned across the state, much of it Northern California, which recorded one of its driest winters on record.
The length of containment lines dug around wildfires in the state is so massive they could stretch from San Diego to New York City, Cal Fire director Thom Porter said Thursday.
“It’s likely that in the next day or two we’ll crest the 4 million acre mark,” he said.
Some officials in the state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have linked this year’s unprecedented wildfire season to climate change.
“Climate change isn’t something to address in the distant future. The climate crisis is here,” the governor tweeted Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Newsom said that since 1980, the average temperature in the state from June to September rose from around 71 degrees to about 74.
Other experts have pointed to a build-up of dried out vegetation across California’s vast forestland — more than half of which is owned by the federal government — that has provided ample fuel for out-of-control megafires.
The infernos have claimed the lives of 30 people this year, with the most recent death being a man who was badly burned from the Zogg Fire in Shasta County.
Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said Wednesday that the man was transported to a hospital but later died of his injuries.
Four people, including the man, have been killed in the Zogg Fire, which has burned more than 55,000 acres and destroyed nearly 150 structures since it started Sunday. It was 26 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.
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 that Cal Fire lists as the location of the blaze.
Tim Stelloh reported from California. Minyvonne Burke reported from New York.