USA

'Significant areas of total devastation' as California fires torch wine country

After days of explosive growth, crews are beginning to get a handle on two significant wildfires chewing through parts of Northern California, the latest blazes in what has already been a punishing and unprecedented fire year.

The bigger of the infernos is the deadly Zogg fire, which has burned nearly 52,000 acres since starting Sunday afternoon near the community of Igo, about nine miles southwest of Redding.

That fire is responsible for three deaths and had destroyed 146 structures as of Wednesday. Both of those figures were unchanged from Tuesday, and crews are now reporting 7% containment of the blaze.

Officials said Tuesday that reinforcements were being deployed to assist in the firefight.

“We’re starting to get a foothold, though. We’re starting to get the resources in,” Sean Kavanaugh, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said during a briefing. “That’s important, and we’ll see how we do the rest of the week.”

The fire is still threatening more than 1,500 structures, and officials said they will be challenged again Wednesday by hot, dry conditions in the burn area.

The latest breakout of blazes includes the Glass fire in California’s wine country. That fire had charred 48,440 acres as of Wednesday morning and has destroyed at least 80 homes — 52 in Napa County and 28 in Sonoma County.

Crews have also reported progress in that firefight. The blaze nearly quadrupled in size between Monday and Tuesday morning but grew by a comparatively low 5,880 acres over the next 24 hours. Officials are reporting 2% containment.

Though more than two dozen residences have been confirmed lost to the fire in Sonoma County, that number will almost certainly rise, according to 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who toured her community Tuesday afternoon.

A firefighter told Gorin at least one neighborhood was “completely wiped out.”

“There are some significant areas of total devastation up and down the hills and off Highway 12 and Calistoga Road and St. Helena Road,” she said. “You can clearly see where the homes have been burned. The ash is white. The debris of life — a washer, dryer, sometimes patio furniture — is still standing. For the most part, you know exactly where there was a home there and a family that loved living there.”

She took a deep breath, let out a sigh, then concluded: “It’s been a pretty exhausting morning for me emotionally. … Once again the 1st District was impacted by fire.”

Gorin lost her home to the 2017 Tubbs fire and her new home is still being rebuilt, she said.

In Sonoma County alone, the Glass fire has already caused damage to land and property totaling at least $8 million — without accounting for personnel costs, county Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley said Tuesday.

The blaze has also taken a toll on some of the region’s renowned wineries, which have already had to contend with several recent bad fire seasons as well as the coronavirus outbreak.

“I can’t begin to express my frustration with these continuing wildfires around here,” said Vince Tofanelli, owner of the Tofanelli Family Vineyard, a Calistoga winery devastated by the fire. “It’s very heartbreaking.”

The fire was still threatening 22,553 structures as of Wednesday morning, according to Cal Fire.

However, officials have been able to lift or reduce some evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties — downgrading mandatory evacuations to warnings Tuesday for areas including Summerfield, Spring Lake and parts of the communities of Melita and Calistoga.

Evacuation orders remain in place for the hills on both sides of the northern Napa Valley, flanking Calistoga and St. Helena, and parts of the east side of the Silverado Trail.

Such directives also remain elsewhere in Calistoga and, on Tuesday evening, authorities ordered residents to evacuate from an area west of Highway 29, extending to the Sonoma County line and bounded by Diamond Mountain Road and Petrified Forest Road.

On Wednesday morning, a new evacuation warning was issued for all areas between Silverado Trail and Highway 29, from Larkmead Lane to Zinfandel Lane, as well as all areas west of Highway 29 from Whitehall Lane to Madrona Avenue.

California has been under near-constant siege by wildfires for nearly two months as conflagrations of historic size, intensity and destruction have ignited throughout the state.

Five of the six largest fires recorded have started since August. While crews have largely hemmed in three of those massive blazes, two — the Creek fire in the Sierra foothills northeast of Fresno, and the August Complex fire burning in and around the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests — remained just under 50% contained as of Wednesday.

At roughly 949,000 acres, the August Complex is more than twice as large as any fire in the state’s modern history. The Creek fire, at just over 305,000 acres, is the sixth-largest ever.

This year, more than 8,100 wildfires have burned in excess of 3.8 million acres statewide, according to Cal Fire. The firestorm has “broken almost every record there is to break,” officials wrote on Twitter, and the state continues “to see increased wildfire activity” as fire season is not yet over.

Times staff writers Sarah Parvini, Hayley Smith and Matthew Ormseth contributed to this report.

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