<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Local News - North Bay]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/localen-usSat, 16 Dec 2017 07:34:06 -0800Sat, 16 Dec 2017 07:34:06 -0800NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Low Humidity, Gusty Winds Trigger Bay Area Red Flag Warning ]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 23:59:52 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-482553290.jpg

Bay Area communities are on alert as low humidity and dry conditions increase fire danger.

Temperatures are low in the week leading up to Christmas, but, unfortunately, conditions are ripe for wildfires – in an area that was devastated by multiple wind-whipped blazes just two months ago.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect from 10 p.m. Friday through 10 a.m. Sunday in the Santa Cruz Mountains, East Bay and North Bay hills, and Diablo range. Gusty north to northeast winds are expected, especially at elevations above 1000 feet.

The National Weather Service recommends that people don’t burn anything outside.

The so-called Bear fire sparked in the Santa Cruz Mountains and was doused in mid-October. A few nights ago, however, it flared back up. Flames burned less than one acre before Cal Fire put it out. The flare up demonstrates how dry the weather conditions are.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Interactive Satellite Map Shows Aftermath of Santa Rosa Fire]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:41:17 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/188*120/2017-10-13-satellite-image.jpg

This interactive map, created by Robin Kraft with information from Digital Globe and help from Mapbox, shows satellite images taken on Oct. 14, 2017 of Santa Rosa neighborhoods and surrounding areas destroyed by the North Bay fires. 

Use the search box in the upper right corner to go to a specific street address.

You can view the map below, or click here for a wider view

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Second Benefit Concert For Fire Victims Raises $5 Million]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 23:39:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/chili_peppers_1214_1094741.JPG

A second benefit concert for North Bay wildfire survivors, headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, raised $5 million Thursday night in San Francisco.

The show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was sold out and included families who lost nearly everything in the fires. One family from Mendocino County lost their home and some pets. But they haven’t lost hope, and the concert was a big boost.

When the Chili Peppers took the stage, it was a special treat for Maria Frei.

"I think it’s so magical," she said. "I love that they’re doing that; they’re like one of my favorite bands."

Frei was at the show with some of her family. At the moment, they’re staying with extended family because their home in Red Valley, just north of Ukiah, is gone.

People at this concert weren't just sharing a love for music, they also were sharing a need to help their families, friends and neighbors who are still struggling.

"I hadn’t seen what happened, but I went up there over Thanksgiving, and she showed me all the devastation that happened up there," said Gato Gourley, a San Francisco resident whose sister was evacuated from Santa Rosa and lost her home.

Thursday night's concert is the second in what’s now become a series of benefits since the fires.

"Music is amazing how it gets people involved," said Greg Perloff, CEO of Another Planet Entertainment. "It’s the universal language."

The artists, which also included Lukas Nelson, son of country music legend Willie Nelson, performed for free.

A third benefit concert is already in the works.

So far Tipping Point, the organization spearheading the benefit shows, has raised about $30 million. It says 100 percent of ticket sales goes to help organizations that are helping North Bay communities rebuild.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Alleged Victim of Racist Graffiti Stands by Story]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:02:53 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Racist_Graffiti_Scrawled_on_Man_s_Car_in_Fairfield__Police.jpg

A North Bay man was defending himself Thursday after questions were raised about him being the victim of a vandal who spray-painted racist graffiti on his vehicle.

Steven Wilson, of Suisun City, told Fairfield police Monday the vandalism occurred in a parking lot after he and another man had an argument.

Police opened a hate crime investigation.

On Thursday, Wilson was answering questions about another photograph of the graffiti that spurred accusations he did it himself to raise money.

"All of those posts you see on Facebook; I didn't put them there," Wilson said. "Other people did. I have people very upset with me right now."

Wilson stood by his story, saying someone scrawled racist remarks across the both sides of his SUV as well as the rear.

"It said (N-word) go home, or whatever it said," Wilson said.

However, one photo shared by Wilson and posted on social media shows the slur ending with the word "go." Then a newer photo shows the graffiti ending with "go home."

"And this is what happened. That night, it just said 'go,'" and then he was tagged a second time while visiting a friend in Richmond, he said.

Wilson said someone finished the sentence, adding the word "home."

When asked if he thought it was the same person, Wilson shook his head and said, "No, uh uh. No uh uh, not the same person, because it was different paint."

Wilson's Lincoln SUV had been buffed clean by Thursday.

Wilson said his only GoFundMe site is one he set up two weeks ago to raise money for colon cancer surgery. He said a second GoFundMe asking for money to clean up his SUV was organized by a neighbor without his approval.

"I didn't ask for none of this, for none of this!" he said.

Fairfield police said they have no new updates on the case but are looking into all the accusations. For now, they said, it is still being investigated as a hate crime.

<![CDATA[New 2018 Law Requires More Time Off for Some New Parents]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 07:14:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/BabyFile.JPG

Starting in 2018, moms and dads working at small companies will be able to spend more time with their new children thanks to a new bill.

Senate Bill 63, which focuses on parental leave, will allow for those parents working at companies with 20 to 49 employees to receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave while they bond with their new baby, adopted or fostered child. Parents working at companies with more than 50 employees are already protected under federal law.

The new bill will impact about 2.7 million California parents, but it only protects parents from losing their jobs. They will have to figure out if they can go 12 weeks without receiving a paycheck.

Some people still call the bill a win for families with new additions.

"As a mom that would mean so much," Gena Payne said. "The first six weeks isn't enough at all for any mom so 12 weeks, that would be really great.”

Pam Mathews of San Jose echoed that sentiment, applauding a rule that allows families with new members to stick together for a bit longer.

"I think that anything that can be done that makes it easier for a family to live a normal, good life, I think that’s great," she said.

The Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, calling it a burden on employees.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Woman Dies After Car Crash]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:54:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Santa_Rosa_Woman_Dies_After_Car_Crash.jpg

A Santa Rosa woman has died following a car crash. Police say the driver initially left the scene but then came back about 20 minutes later. It happened on Wednesday near Wright Road and Highway 12. Police say 56-year-old Barbara Jones was walking when the minivan hit her. The driver says he did not see her in the crosswalk.]]>
<![CDATA[Transient Arrested in Petaluma For Attacking 7-Eleven Clerk]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:23:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/petaluma_7_eleven_1213_1081118.JPG

A transient man was arrested in Petaluma on Tuesday morning after assaulting a 7-Eleven clerk and robbing the store, according to Petaluma police.

Dale Ostrand was booked into Sonoma County jail on suspicion of battery and robbery, police said.

At around 6 a.m., officers were dispatched to the 7-Eleven for a reported battery. Upon arrival, they found a clerk suffering from head injuries and having no recollection of what happened, police said.

Officers reviewed the store’s surveillance footage and confirmed that a violent battery and subsequent robbery took place. The footage showed the clerk was punched in the side of the head by man who officers recognized as Ostrand, who had a history of contacts with law enforcement.

After the attack, Ostrand left the store, taking merchandise without paying, police said. He was located nearby after a search of the area and taken into custody without incident.

Ostrand has been arrested seven times prior since 2015 for charges including narcotics, domestic violence and theft, police said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area/Petaluma PD]]>
<![CDATA[Marin County's Mission San Rafael Turns 200]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:08:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mission+and+church1.jpg

Marin County’s Mission San Rafael Arcangel on Thursday will mark the 200th year since its founding — by recalling a long mixed legacy that includes the mistreatment of Native Americans, wild west-type shootouts and even a financial intervention by William Randolph Hearst.

"It is here where the community grew up," said Father Romulo Vergara who runs the mission, which was founded on Dec. 14, 1817 and became California’s 20th mission.

The congregation of Mission San Rafael Arcangel will plant a pear tree on Thursday at noon to remember the pear trees that were planted by Native Americans. It will hold a procession and a mass at 3:30 on Saturday to mark the anniversary. 

The mission site, nestled amid downtown San Rafael, predates pretty much everything in Marin County, save for Native American villages that once dotted the region.

The area’s Coast Miwok Indians were initially sent to Mission Dolores for salvation, but were so ravaged by European diseases that Mission San Rafael was founded as a hospital to care for them. It was given full mission status in 1822.

The original adobe mission building was knocked down not long before President Abraham Lincoln signed an order calling for California’s missions to be preserved. The small white stucco chapel currently on the site is a replica built in 1949 with an $85,000 gift from newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.

"It was used as an outpost during the time of the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846 by kit Carson and General Fremont," said Theresa Brunner, who has worked at the mission for many years. 

Brunner also noted that the mission’s temporary occupiers mistakenly gunned down one of the area’s prominent families who showed up for an unannounced visit.

Author Betty Goerke, who has written extensively about the local Native American tribes, said while canings and beatings were common at Mission Dolores, the padres in charge of Mission San Rafael were more compassionate — even putting the Native Americans in charge of the mission.

"It was a much more relaxed environment here," Goerke said. "The priests were compassionate."

The missionaries chose a rebellious Native American — who they called Chief Marin — to lead to the mission’s Native American population. He became such a force that the county was named for him.

It was during another anniversary celebration 10 years ago that the mission became the site of one of the most unusual instances in recent Catholic-Native American relations.

Visiting Bishop Francis Quinn used the occasion to deliver a surprise apology to Native Americans for their treatment by the Catholic missionaries.

"When he did that, the church was absolutely stunned, we couldn’t believe it because it hadn’t happened before," Goerke said. "He said we apologize for taking the Indian out of Indian — in other words taking their culture away, taking their spirituality."

For this week’s anniversary, Coast Miwok Indians will participate in the festivities, marking a thawing in relations and an acknowledgment of intertwined histories.

Vergara said the mission now reflects the area’s changing cultures with masses held in Spanish, Brazilian and even Vietnamese. At its core, the celebration is about beginnings.

"First is the legacy that we have inherited for 200 years, where practically Marin County started," Vergara said.

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
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<![CDATA[Woman Found Dead in North Bay Hotel ID'd as SFSU Student]]>Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:36:32 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/herda-1212.jpg

A 24-year-old woman found dead inside a guest room at a North Bay resort Monday morning was identified Tuesday as a San Francisco State University student, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

The county coroner's office identified the woman as Courtney Alexis Herda, a student in SFSU's class of 2017, sheriff's officials said.

At about 10:15 a.m. Monday, the Windsor Fire Department and Windsor deputies responded to the WorldMark Resort at 1251 Shiloh Road on reports of an unresponsive subject inside a guest room. When deputies arrived, they found Herda unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Herda was staying in the room with her boyfriend and at least four other people, police said. The group of young adults said they were staying at the resort this weekend while they attended the Emerald Cup Cannabis event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, authorities said.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether Herda suffered from a medical issue, but there was nothing suspicious about her death nor were there any signs of foul play, according to the Sonoma County Coroners' Office.

Anyone with information about the case should contact the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Coroner’s office at 707-565-5070.

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Bringing Lights, Holiday Cheer Back to Fire-Ravaged Zone]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 23:51:46 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sr_lights_1211_1057989.JPG

One man in Sonoma County has taken it upon himself to bring holiday cheer back to a fire-ravaged Santa Rosa neighborhood one light at a time.

The pictures of the flattened Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa are all too familiar, but there is something new about the most recent snapshots: lights hanging on trees where homes have been burned to the ground.

It’s a dream come true for Ronnie Duvall, whose one wish is to bring hope where hope seems lost.

"You already know what happened to the neighborhood," Duvall said. "There's not a lot of people coming through. Before all this happened, everybody use to decorate their houses with lights."

Duvall had made it his mission to raise this fire ravaged neighborhood from the ashes with holiday lights.

"I was afraid of the residents being turned off by the lights being here," he said. "That’s why I do it at night. Not like they would see me."

But Duvall found it difficult to continue to be invisible. He started out with 30 strings of lights, and that grew to 60. Now, there are too many to count.

"It’s been evolving magically," he said.

Coffey Park resident Travis Garrison, whose home was destroyed during the fire, said the lights are a welcome sight.

"It kind of gives people a positive reason to come back," he said. "There’s been so many negative reasons, coming back digging through the ashes."

Garrison recalled what his home looked like during the holidays before the fire. It brings him hope, the very hope Duvall wants to bring back to Coffey Park.

"This is a new life for me, to enjoy Christmas in a different way," Duvall said. "Now I have a lot of neighbors that I didn’t know before. We are all going to celebrate this Christmas together."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[SF Woman Found Dead Inside Hotel Room in Windsor]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:43:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/police-tape-day-shutterstock_81281839.jpg

A 24-year-old San Francisco woman was found dead inside a guest room at a North Bay resort Monday morning, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

At about 10:15 a.m., the Windsor Fire Department and Windsor deputies responded to the WorldMark Resort at 1251 Shiloh Road on reports of an unresponsive subject inside a guest room. When deputies arrived, they found the woman unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

The woman was staying in the room with her boyfriend and at least four other people, police said. The group of young adults said they were staying at the resort this weekend while they attended the Emerald Cup Cannabis event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, authorities said.

It was unclear whether the female suffered from a medical issue, but there was nothing suspicious about her death nor were there any signs of foul play, according to the Sonoma County Coroners' Office.

The woman's name was not released pending notification of her family.

Anyone with information about the case should contact the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Coroner’s office at 707-565-5070.

<![CDATA[Bay Area Transit Agencies Monitor Explosion in New York City]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 12:32:11 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/FDNY2.JPG

An explosion rocked an underground passageway in New York City Monday morning, prompting mass evacuations but appearing to only seriously injure the man who detonated the apparent improvised explosive device.

Bay Area transit agencies are monitoring the situation, but most are not making any significant security changes.

BART has instructed its officers to "maintain a high level of visibility and awareness," according to the transit agency.

There is no threat to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, but the agency indicated it has beefed up patrols, which it notes is a "standard protocol in these circumstances." The move is "purely precautionary," according to a spokesperson. 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, which operates MUNI, is coordinating with the city's police department to "determine appropriate deployment strategies," according to a spokesperson. 

The San Francisco Police Department later indicated that there are no known threats to the city, but increased patrols will take place at tourist destinations across the city and across transit systems.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District indicated it will not be implementing any elevated security measures.

"Our security level is always high and is not being changed this morning," according to a spokesperson's statement.

Caltrain, which does not typically share security plans with the public, does not appear to be implementing any changes, according to a spokesperson.

AC Transit in the East Bay will also keep its same level of security, according to the agency.

Photo Credit: FDNY]]>
<![CDATA[FEMA Deadline Looms For North Bay Wildfire Survivors]]>Sun, 10 Dec 2017 22:19:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathMonday2.jpg

North Bay wildfire survivors have one more day to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster assistance.

The federal funds can help survivors with costs for short-term housing, basic home repairs and personal expenses. Small business owners may also qualify for low-interest, long-term loans.

Survivors can call FEMA's disaster assistance hotline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or register online.

So far, 24,500 people have registered, and 4,200 have been approved.

Monday is the final day to register.

Photo Credit: Getty Images file]]>
<![CDATA[Fourth Consecutive Spare the Air Day Called for Monday]]>Sun, 10 Dec 2017 23:59:20 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/184*120/GettyImages-81708079.jpg

A Spare the Air alert is in effect for Monday, the fourth day in a row when wood-burning activities are banned, Bay Area Air Quality Management District officials said.

Air quality is expected to be unhealthy in the Bay Area Monday because of a high-pressure ridge clamping down on the area, trapping wood smoke pollution close to the ground, air district officials said.

"One burning fireplace can impact an entire neighborhood as well as pollute air inside the home," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the air district, in a statement.

Broadbent added, "During the recent Northern California wildfires, Bay Area residents experienced firsthand how quickly smoke can saturate the region."

However, air quality officials said in a news release that smoke from the wildfires raging in Southern California will remain aloft and will not impact air quality in the region Monday.

The Winter Spare the Air season's first three alerts were announced on Thursday. At that time, the air district issued alerts for Friday through Sunday.

During Spare the Air alerts, it is illegal for residents to use their fireplaces, wood stoves, outdoor fire pits or other wood-burning devices.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[6 Landlords Accused of Price Gouging Amid North Bay Fires]]>Sat, 09 Dec 2017 23:35:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861090436.jpg

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office has filed three misdemeanor price gouging complaints against six landlords who allegedly raised home rental prices more than 10 percent after a declaration of emergency during the North Bay wildfires in October.

Two of the cases will be in Sonoma County Superior Court Tuesday and the third in early January, Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Jamar said.

It is illegal to raise the price of a host of items and services including lodging, food, gas and medical supplies more than 10 percent for 30 days after the declaration of an emergency in California, but Gov. Jerry Brown extended that prohibition on price gouging in the fire-devastated counties to April 18, 2018.

Jamar said the District Attorney's Office received about 120 price gouging complaints and found 80 cases that did not apply to the price gouging statute. The other 40 cases are still under investigation, he said.

The greatest disparity in prices alleges Marianne Laruffa and Robert Gardner Howard held a "bidding war" on their Santa Rosa rental property after the emergency declaration was declared, according to Jamar.

The starting rental price was $3,500 a month and the "winning" bid was $10,000 a month, Jamar said. Laruffa and Howard are scheduled to be arraigned in court Jan. 4.

Marjie and Fourouzan Moulana allegedly raised the rent of a Rohnert Park home from $2,650 a month to $3,500, or 32 percent, after the emergency declaration fires, according to the complaint. They are scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

Details on the third case involving two landlords were not immediately available.

The penalty for price gouging during a declared state of emergency is up to a year in the county jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Statewide Minimum Wage to Rise New Year's Day]]>Sun, 10 Dec 2017 08:50:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/172*120/10DollarGeneric.jpg

The minimum wage for workers in California is going up on New Year's Day, though wages in at least some cities in the San Francisco Bay Area are already above the new mandate, state officials said.

The minimum wage statewide will rise Jan. 1 to $11 per hour for businesses with 26 employees or more and $10.50 for businesses with 25 employees or less.

Workers that are not paid the minimum wage are urged to get in touch with the Labor Commissioner's Office in their area to file a claim.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2016 making California the first state in the country to commit to a $15 per hour minimum wage.

As long as the economy is good and the budget allows, the minimum wage will be $15 an hour in 2022 at large businesses and in 2023 at small businesses.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Truck Strikes, Kills Pedestrian on NB I-680 in Solano County]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:44:18 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cordeliaax_1025854.JPEG

A Sig-alert was issued Friday morning after a big rig hit and killed a pedestrian on northbound Interstate 680 in Fairfield in Solano County, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A CHP traffic log indicates that a witness told officers that a driver of a silver Ford stopped the car and then darted into the path of a white truck with a 50-foot trailer near the Cordelia Junction. The CHP has not confirmed that information and it's unclear why the person ran onto the road.

The deadly crash around 8:15 a.m. prompted the CHP to shut down the No. 2 lane at the Gold Hill Road on-ramp. The Sig-alert was canceled around 9:45 a.m. and the lane reopened.

Further details were not immediately available.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Car Crashes Jump 43% From 2010 to 2016: Report]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 06:39:43 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-77356472.jpg

The number of car accidents in the Bay Area is on the rise.

The uptick began in 2010 and data shows that the 43 percent growth seen in 2016 is because there are more drivers on the road as the region is in the throes of economic prosperity, according to a Vital Signs report.

The North Bay counties of Napa, Sonoma and Solano have the highest fatality rates, Vital Signs found.

By contrast, San Francisco has the lowest fatality rate in the Bay Area, but, per mile driven, is also one of the most dangerous regions in the area. That explains why bicyclists and motorists account for a majority of the deaths in the city by the bay.

The six-year period investigated in this report marks the first sustained surge in road fatalities since the 1970s, which experienced similar conditions due to economic growth.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Emergency Alert Absent in North Bay Fires is Sent For SoCal Blazes]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 23:51:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/Emergency_Alert_Absent_in_North_Bay_Fires_is_Sent_For_SoCal.jpgAs the fires rage in Southern California, emergency officials sent out a massive emergency alert, the largest since the text alerts system started in 2012. That system was not used during the North Bay fires and some victims are asking why as lawmakers propose a new idea. Cheryl Hurd reports.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain Lion Mother, Kitten Seen Once After North Bay Fires]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:22:14 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Mountain_Lions_Survived_from_North_Bay_Wildfires.jpg

Usually, a mountain lion sighting would come with a warning, but the one on Tuesday was a cause for celebration.

A mountain lion mom and her 8-month-old kitten were spotted near Bennett Valley in Sonoma County. For weeks, it was unknown whether the pair had survived the wildfires that ravaged the North Bay in October because the trail cameras tracking them had been destroyed.

The mother is known to the Audubon Canyon Ranch as P1. She gave birth to a litter of kittens in April, but the cub seen this week is the only one that survived.

“This is the first time we've seen P1 since the #NunsFire kept her dodging hotspots,” ranch officials wrote on Facebook. “Mom and her 8-month-old big baby look as sweet as ever. They were feasting on a big buck that P1 had killed a few days prior.”

Following the fires, donations helped the project’s lead researcher Quinton Martins to install a new camera that captured the precious footage.

Photo Credit: Audubon Canyon Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[Vallejo Man Called a Hero For Saving Woman From Burning Home]]>Wed, 06 Dec 2017 12:04:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vallejo_fire2_1205_997624.JPG

Fire officials and neighbors are calling a Vallejo man a hero after he rushed into a burning home Tuesday morning to rescue a 94-year-old woman.

Shortly after 9 a.m., firefighters responded to a detached garage fire in the 400 block of Valle Vista, according to the Vallejo Fire Department. The garage was fully involved and spreading to the living area of the home, they said.

But before the first fire crews arrived, a good Samaritan, 25-year-old William MacKenzie, stopped his vehicle in the street, rushed up to the home, forced open the front door and helped the elderly woman escape the flames, fire officials said.

"I pulled up, and there were a couple of people standing in the middle of the street, kind of watching," MacKenzie said, describing the scene. "First thing I asked was.'Is there anyone in there?' A neighbor said, 'Yeah, she lives there by herself, she's older and she's just not coming to the front door.'"

MacKenzie said he knocked on the door himself and peeked in through a window before he jumped into action. He said it took three kicks and two good shoves with his shoulder to get the door open.

He called out and found the woman on the second level of the home, then escorted her to safety.

The woman suffered minor injuries after she opened a side door to the garage, and flames singed her hair, fire officials said. She refused medical treatment.

Mackenzie likely saved the woman’s life with his efforts, fire officials said.

Fire crews eventually knocked down the fire within about 10 minutes of arrival. They had to deal with a downed power line nearby as well. While the garage was a total loss, the home suffered only minor damage, fire officials said.

MacKenzie stayed at the scene and directed traffic until firefighters arrived and then went on his way to work, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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<![CDATA[First Three Spare the Air Alerts of Winter Issued]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:28:44 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/12-24-2013-spare-the-air.jpg

The first three Spare the Air alerts of the winter season were announced Thursday for Friday through Sunday, Bay Area Air Quality Management District officials said.

The alert means residents are prohibited by law from burning wood, manufactured fire logs or other solid fuel either indoors or outdoors through midnight Sunday.

Air district officials said air quality is expected to be unhealthy because of weather conditions, which are expected to trap pollution close to the ground.

The pollution is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions. Exposure to wood smoke, like cigarette smoke, has been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, according to the air district.

During the alert, residents and visitors are prohibited from using fireplaces, woodstoves, pellet stoves, outdoor fire pits and any other wood-burning devices.

Exemptions exist for people whose only source of heat is a woodstove or fireplace, but people must use a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified or pellet-fueled device that is registered with the air district.

No longer does an open-hearth fireplace qualify for an exemption.

Violators have an option of taking a wood smoke awareness class or pay a $100 ticket the first time they violate the rule.

A second violation results in a $500 fine and fines are higher for subsequent violations.

Air district officials said Bay Area residents and visitors must check to see whether a Spare the Air alert has been issued during the Winter Spare the Air Season, which runs from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28.

Several ways are available to check including text alerts, websites, a toll-free phone number and phone alerts.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Search for Missing Antioch Hiker at Muir Beach Suspended]]>Wed, 06 Dec 2017 11:47:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Hiking-generic-pic-san-diego.jpg

A ground search and rescue operation for a missing hiker in the area of Muir Beach in Marin County ended Tuesday afternoon, a Golden Gate National Recreation Area spokeswoman said.

Tyler Silva, 21, of Antioch, was hiking with his girlfriend near Pirate's Cove Trail at Muir Beach when the two separated, according to GGNRA spokeswoman Dana Polk.

Silva was last seen on a cliff and he was reported missing Sunday, Polk said.

Crews with the Marin County Fire Department, Southern Marin Fire Protection District, Marin County Search and Rescue, National Park Service and Marin County Sheriff's Office searched trails in the area on the ground and by air Sunday and Monday and concentrated the search in the cliff area until 4 p.m. Tuesday, Polk said.

It's possible Silva fell from the cliff and was swept out to sea, she said.

The National Park Service is investigating Silva's disappearance, Polk said.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Costs Outpacing Coverage in Rebuilding Homes Lost in Fires]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 06:42:14 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/north_bay_homes_1204_983501.JPG

First they lost their homes to a raging wildfire. Now many in the North Bay could be forced to sell their charred land. At issue is insurance coverage.

Many residents in Sonoma and Napa counties are discovering they were underinsured because already high rebuilding costs in the Bay Area have been climbing.

In Santa Rosa’s hard-hit Coffey Park neighborhood homeowners are hearing the cost to rebuild could be $600 to $800 per square foot.

Some residents are simply selling out because the fire was too much for them; they have no desire to return. Others are finding out their insurance coverage is coming up short.

Leo Schwab and his wife Mira want to rebuild their three-bedroom home. They had enough insurance when the fire hit, but since then, the price per square foot has jumped.

"Nobody right now has a definite price on how much it costs per square foot to rebuild," Schwab said.

Insurance broker Jay Zemansky said $800 a square foot is double what it was just a year or two ago, and folks who haven’t upped their insurance in decades may be unable to afford to replace what they lost.

"They’re talking about $800 a square foot, where six weeks ago they were talking $500 a square foot," Zemansky said.

Another broker, Cheryl Fessenden, said: "People get a policy and then they stick it in a drawer, and it renews every year, and nobody’s taken the time to review it."

Schwab has heard such stories from his neighbors.

"A lot of neighbors who lived here for 40 years might not have enough insurance," he said.

The Schwabs bought their home four years ago, and even they aren’t sure their coverage is enough.

"With the prices going up double and triple and who knows how far into heaven, it’s not going to be enough," Schwab said.

The underlying message from the North Bay community to the rest of the Bay Area is to check their fire insurance policy and understand that insurance companies may not realize their clients are underinsured.

"Sometimes when you’re working with a company that’s out of state they don’t have a real good sense of what that would take," Fessenden said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Traffic Fatalities Sharply Up Across Bay Area Since 2010]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 10:00:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/CarCrashGeneric.JPG

Since 2010 the number of traffic fatalities each year has gone up in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Last year 455 people died on Bay Area roadways, up from 318 in 2010 and 422 in 2013.

Officials with the commission said the number of fatalities has grown faster than vehicle miles traveled and population growth.

The officials also said that pedestrians and bicyclists are a growing share of the traffic fatalities.

In 2016, 154 or 34 percent of all collisions ended in the death of a pedestrian or bicyclist, up from 95 or 30 percent in 2010.

According to commission officials, improved vehicle safety has reduced fatalities among occupants of vehicles while deaths among non-motorized travelers have gone up.

San Francisco is taking steps to reduce bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.

City officials have launched the Vision Zero project to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.

Injuries from crashes and collisions have also risen since 2010 in the Bay Area. Last year 2,089 injuries occurred on Bay Area roads, up 25 percent from 2010.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kings Tides Prompt Coastal Flood Warnings]]>Sun, 03 Dec 2017 16:16:15 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/KingTides.PNG

Coastal flood warnings went into effect in four Bay Area counties Sunday as the so-called King Tides made a return to the region.

The warnings, which are in effect for Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma counties, are set to expire Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

King Tides could lead to water flowing onto low-lying roadways, underpasses, coastal trails, sidewalks and parking lots, according to the NWS.

Extreme high tides are likely to occur during the mid- to late-morning hours of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Extreme low tide is slated to take place during the late afternoon and evening hours.

The exact timing of high and low tides depends on specific locations. Those living in or near coastal areas can track tide measurements on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Pedestrian Struck, Killed in Sonoma County: CHP]]>Sun, 03 Dec 2017 08:44:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/SonomaHitRun.PNG

A pedestrian was struck and killed in Sonoma County early Sunday, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The deadly collision occurred around midnight along Highway 12 near Warm Springs Road, according to the CHP.

It is not clear what type of vehicle was involved in the crash, but officers found broken glass and windshield wipers in the roadway, according to the CHP. That debris could suggest that the vehicle involved in the collision could have significant damage to its front windshield.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to contact the CHP at 707-551-4100 or 707-588-1400.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[California Revises Fire Relief Request From $7.4B to $4.4B]]>Sun, 03 Dec 2017 17:29:09 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathSunday3.jpg

California's 53 U.S. House members requested $4.4 billion in federal aid Friday to help the state recover from its deadliest wildfires ever.

That's down sharply from the $7.4 billion originally sought by Gov. Jerry Brown and California Democrats last month. The state lowered its request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture from $3.1 billion to $150 million after a better evaluation of what damage is actually eligible for federal programs, said Kelly Huston, deputy director of the state's Office of Emergency Services.

"When the original estimates were made, it was essentially our best approximation of the overall impact," Huston said. "But now, 40 days into the disaster, we know what is covered and where we're at."

The 21 wildfires that ripped through Northern California last month were the deadliest in state history.

The Congressional letter, meanwhile, represents rare bipartisan agreement among California's delegation. California Republicans initially didn't specify an amount when they asked President Donald Trump for federal relief last month. The new letter with all 53 signatures was sent to the House Appropriations Committee as it crafts supplemental disaster relief legislation.

The wildfires destroyed 8,800 structures and 245,000 acres and required 11,000 firefighters to battle the blazes that burned across eight counties.

"We are united as a delegation to help our neighbors recover and rebuild from these tragic fires," U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said in a statement.

"These were the worst fires in California's history and, as a result, they left unprecedented damage in their wake," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat who represents some of the worst-ravaged areas. "This funding is a vital first step in our long-term recovery."

The congressional delegation also asked for targeted tax relief for Californians dealing with fire losses, including penalty-free access to retirement funds, disaster-related employment relief and allowing non-itemized deductions for casualty losses.

The agricultural relief money requested by the state would go toward rehabilitating destroyed farm land and watersheds. The original $3 billion estimate took into account future economic and other long-term losses as well as the cost of mitigation measures, Huston said. It's now estimated federal programs can only provide $150 million in the upcoming fiscal year, but the state could ask for more money in the future, he said.

Some of the losses may be covered by state programs as well as private and non-profit programs, Huston said.

"The federal programs are a major part of the recovery, but it's not all of the recovery," he said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Youth Who May Have Been Abducted Found Safe; Officials]]>Sat, 02 Dec 2017 20:29:47 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/RohnertPark-Child-abduction.jpg

A youth who may have been abducted Friday by her biological father was located and is safe today, Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety officials said.

Family members believed that Heather McClelland was picked up Friday from a Rohnert Park school by her father Josiah McClelland in violation of a court order.

Public safety officials thought Josiah might have been trying to take the girl out of state.

As of 6:23 p.m., the girl has been located and was back with her custodian.

No arrest has been made but public safety officers are still investigating the case, Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Sgt. Brandon Davidge said.

Photo Credit: Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety ]]>
<![CDATA[Free Gov’t Program to Remove Debris May Cost Fire Victims]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 23:53:54 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Santa+Rosa+Debris+Removal.png

This winter, crews with the Army Corps of Engineers will be working to clear debris from more than 4,500 Sonoma County homes devastated by the North Bay wildfires. The clean-up effort is part of a state run program designed to quickly clear out rubble and hazardous materials from an entire neighborhood at no cost to homeowners beyond what’s covered by their insurance for debris clean up. But as the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit learned, critics of the program fear that the state’s policy to remove all foundations as part of the clean-up will end up costing residents extra time and money during the rebuilding process.

CalRecycle environmental engineer Todd Thalhamer designed the state’s debris removal plan after the 2007 Angora fire destroyed 256 homes in Lake Tahoe. Thalhamer believes that his one-size fits all policy to remove foundations is the safest and most efficient way to prepare a community to rebuild. He said in his experience testing hundreds of foundations damaged in wildfires from Lake Tahoe to San Diego to Lake County, the concrete is too structurally unsound to save.

“We’ve done it enough to the point we know the concrete slabs that we're facing are not viable,” Thalhamer told NBC Bay Area. “It comes down to the contaminants that are present. It comes down to the damage that the heat causes to the concrete.”

The voluntary program is only available to survivors of a large scale disaster. Residents who sign up, must agree to pass along their insurance proceeds for the clean-up to the government. Any costs not covered by insurance will be paid for by taxpayers.


Rob Goodman signed up for the program in 2015 after his Lake County home was levelled in the Valley fire.

“We thought why wouldn’t we trust local government. The county should be looking out for our best interest,” Goodman said. Contractors working for CalRecycle removed his foundation, adding to the cost for him to rebuild. Goodman says he had to fight with his insurance company to pay for the additional costs, which delayed the rebuild.

“Our cost for our foundation went from $54,000 to $78,000. Keep in mind we had to replace the driveway, we had to replace pretty much everything that’s being done now because of [the foundation removal].” More than two years after the fire, Goodman’s lot remains empty.

Meanwhile across the street, Goodman’s neighbor Orson Armstrong just moved into his newly rebuilt house.

“I'm glad to be back home and I love it,” Armstrong told NBC Bay Area.

Armstrong declined the government’s clean-up offer and hired private contractors to remove the debris from his foundation and test for contamination. Armstrong says his home passed all safety inspections.

Former Sonoma County Planning Commissioner and construction consultant Tom Lynch helped Armstrong and other Valley fire survivors rebuild while keeping their foundations. Lynch believes homeowners should hire an engineer to test their foundation before agreeing to have it removed or they will risk paying a lot more when they rebuild.

“The one size fits all [approach] is not necessarily the right solution,” Lynch said.


The Investigative Unit found that residents aren’t the only ones paying extra to rebuild. Armstrong’s bill for debris removal and testing totalled close to $18,000. Records from Lake County show that’s much lower than what government contractors charged to clean up home sites, averaging $63,507.48 per property. Goodman’s bill was even higher at $83,273.64. His insurance will pay $55,000, while the rest will be covered state and federal tax dollars.


Thalhamer acknowledges that the government’s removal costs will be higher, but says that’s because of the community clean-up and testing efforts rolled into the debris removal bills.

“We're doing air sampling in elementary schools, middle schools daycares, we're running street sweepers, we're doing things for the community at the same time as cleaning up homes.” Thalhamer says those tests are critical due to the high levels of lead, arsenic, and heavy metals that his studies have found in fire ash.

“My question that I ask people is, ‘Look you're going to spend $300,000 to build yourself a brand new home, why is it that you're willing to look at twenty or thirty thousand dollars of possible expense in questionable concrete to put a brand new house on it,’” Thalhamer said, adding that building codes now also require foundations to withstand shearing forces from earthquakes. “If you leave your foundation, you have to work with the county to figure out what's acceptable.”

“Yes there's going to be costs. It's going to cost you more, but I always tell people I want you to move into a house that you feel safe in and that is going to last.”

Roughly two thirds of the 5,500 Sonoma County homeowners affected by the fires have opted-in to the government clean-up program and county officials are still accepting applications on a case by case basis.

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<![CDATA[Man Arrested in Crash That Killed 4 Charged With Murder]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 23:30:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/4_Dead_Following_Multivehicle_Crash_on_I-80_in_San_Pablo.jpg

The man investigators say caused a fatal crash that shattered a North Bay family last weekend was charged with four counts of murder Thursday in Contra Costa County court.

Fred Lowe, 47, of Sacramento, made his first court appearance, and the prosecutor said he’s determined to get justice for the family of the four victims.

Lowe also was charged with driving under the influence causing injury, with two priors. Prosecutors said he caused a multivehicle crash on Interstate 80 in San Pablo last Saturday night that also injured six other people.

Prosecutor Derek Butts said Lowe should have known getting behind the wheel drunk could lead to tragedy. Lowe had two DUI convictions within the last six years and had his license suspended or revoked five times for DUI.

"This entire case is jarring and shocking," Butts said.

Daryl Horn, 50, of Napa, and his 14-year-old son Joe were killed in the crash, s were Horn's brother-in-law Troy Biddle and 13-year-old nephew Baden. Jared Horn, 19, a pitcher on the Cal baseball team, was the only one in the car to survive.

The victims' family did not attend the hearing but issued a statement saying, "The families have complete faith that the legal system will run its course, and justice will be served."

Natasha Thomas, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she’s glad Lowe has been charged with murder. She said more needs to be done to keep repeat offenders off the roads.

"Unfortunately, we see this too often," she said. "While we can do our best to stop this, we have to do better."

Meanwhile, the victims’ family said they’re focused on healing and on the wonderful memories of their loved ones.

Lowe did not enter a plea Thursday but is expected to be back in court next month. His bail has been set at $4.2 million.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Unusual Salmon Show Up in West Marin Creeks]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:48:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PinkSalmon.JPG

The annual return of endangered coho salmon to West Marin’s Lagunitas Watershed to spawn is an annual dance of nature — only this year it seems some unusual visitors have cut in on that dance.

Biologists working among the West Marin watersheds that compose one of California’s last spawning grounds for coho have spotted two other types of salmon rarely — if ever — seen in the area.

The observers witnessed and photographed pairs of chum and pink salmon — also known as humpback salmon for their bowed backs — frolicking in the streams. Both types of fish are common in areas farther north from Oregon to Alaska but are foreigners in West Marin.

"We started getting species we really haven’t seen here before," Todd Steiner, the director of Turtle Island Restoration Network who has worked on fish issues in the area for more than two decades, said.

Steiner said he has spotted only one chum salmon in the creeks in his 25 years in West Marin. He pointed out a female chum salmon swimming beneath the Shafter Bridge near the Leo Cronin Fish Viewing Area. The male of the pair had already left and the female was guarding her nest of eggs — her tail rubbed white from sweeping sand from the nest.

"This is pretty far outside their range," Steiner observed, pressing his eyes to a pair of binoculars. "It is very unusual."

A week ago, wildlife managers with the Marin Municipal Water District spotted a pink salmon in one of the creeks. Steiner said it was the first time he’d ever heard of one visiting the watershed.

"Who knows what else could be in play," Steiner theorized of the unusual appearances, "climate change, temperatures changing, food sources moving around and these animals following their food sources."

Steiner said chum salmon have a much different life pattern than the coho salmon, whose diminishing numbers return to the watershed each winter. Once hatched, juvenile coho will spend the entire year in the creeks before making their way to the ocean. Chum salmon, on the other hand, will begin their trek to the sea soon after hatching.

The appearance of the foreign fish added a note of excitement to the beginning of the spawning season, which draws legions of visitors to the creeks scouring for any sign of the nesting fish.

"It’s probably one of the most incredible things is to see the fish when they’re jumping, and climbing up," said Liz Baylis, a San Rafael resident who stopped by the area to look for fish. "And to think how far they’ve come, coming all the way from the sea."

Steiner said the unpredictability of nature is ultimately a gift — the chance to see something new and unexpected, he said, is what makes forays outside interesting.

"Whenever I take people out into nature, it’s like we don’t know what we’re going to see," Steiner said. "And if we did know for sure, that would be boring."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marin Municipal Water District
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<![CDATA[Colorful Hues Light Up Bay Area Sky Throughout November]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 10:32:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SunriseSunsetThumb.JPG

Photo Credit: Deborah Shapero]]>
<![CDATA[Man Dies of Injuries, Raising Wildfires Death Toll to 44]]>Wed, 29 Nov 2017 12:39:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/SantaRosaFireDamage.jpg

A man who was badly burned in deadly wildfires in Northern California died of his injuries, raising the death toll to 44.

San Francisco radio station KQED reports 41-year-old Michel Azarian died Sunday at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where he was being treated for extensive burns.

Azarian's friend, Khachik Papanyan, tells the radio station that Azarian was an engineer who loved photography and hiking and had moved to Santa Rosa two years ago for a new job.

Papanyan says it appears Azarian tried to take shelter in a small clearing near his home. That's where he was discovered the next day, with severe burns on more than half his body.

A series of blazes that started the night of Oct. 8 destroyed about 8,900 homes and other buildings.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Swells as High as 14 Feet to Pound Bay Area Coastline: NWS]]>Wed, 29 Nov 2017 10:13:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/WaveGeneric.jpg

The National Weather Service is warning people along the coast about large swells that are expected to pound the California shoreline on Wednesday.

Waves are slated to peak anywhere from 10 to 14 feet in some spots throughout the day, according to the NWS.

Aside from the swells, the NWS is also warning the public about sneaker waves and rip currents.

Beaches along the Sonoma County coast all the way south to Monterey County are in the crosshairs for the large swells.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fairfield Police Arrest Man For Possessing Child Pornography]]>Wed, 29 Nov 2017 08:19:27 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/JeremyMarney.jpg

After a months-long investigation, Fairfield police Tuesday arrested a man for allegedly possessing child pornography.

Several months ago, police were alerted to the possible uploading and sharing of child pornography by 34-year-old Jeremy Marney, and they opened an investigation, police said.

Tuesday morning, officers searched Marney's home in the 100 block of Bel Air Circle. Police seized several electronic items and large quantities of explicit pictures and files of children, police said.

Marney was arrested and booked into the Solano County Jail on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography, police said.

The case remains under investigation, police said.

Photo Credit: Fairfield Police Department]]>
<![CDATA[Fairfield Transient Arrested on Suspicion of Animal Cruelty]]>Tue, 28 Nov 2017 19:30:31 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cat+killer-1128.jpg

A Fairfield-area transient was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony animal cruelty that led to the death of a kitten, a police sergeant said.

Keith Hebert, 22, was arrested near a convenience store in the 200 block of East Tabor Avenue around 1 p.m. Monday shortly after police learned the 4- to 5-week-old kitten died at an emergency animal hospital, Fairfield police Sgt. Matt Bloesch said.

A good Samaritan dropped off the kitten at the animal hospital around 11:30 a.m. Monday. Witness statements and prior contacts with Hebert helped identify him as the suspect, Bloesch said.

Bloesch would not disclose the kitten's "traumatic" injuries. He said the case has been sent to the Solano County District Attorney's Office.

Photo Credit: Fairfield PD]]>
<![CDATA[Fatal Crashes Snarl Traffic Across the Bay Area]]>Sun, 26 Nov 2017 22:57:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/berkeleyfatal_895341.JPG

Three fatal crashes in the North Bay, East Bay and South Bay snarled traffic Sunday morning, according to the California Highway Patrol.

All lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 at the Berkeley Curve were temporarily shut down around 9:40 a.m. following a multivehicle wreck that killed a girl, according to the CHP. 

A pickup truck was traveling along the stretch of roadway when the driver lost control, spun out and slammed into the center divider before ending up in the middle of traffic, according to the CHP.

A sedan traveling in the same direction also spun out of control moments later and crashed into the truck, the CHP said. 

One person in the sedan was killed in the collision and was identified later Sunday as a 10-year-old San Francisco girl,  according to the Alameda County Coroner's Office. Three other people inside the sedan were taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, the CHP said. 

All eastbound lanes of Interstate 80 reopened hours after the crashes occurred.

Over in Marin County, another fatal crash blocked multiple lanes of southbound Highway 101 just north of Spencer Avenue, fire officials announced around 9:30 a.m.

All southbound lanes of the highway were reopened about two hours later, but the CHP warned about residual delays heading in the direction of San Francisco.

It is not clear what caused the crash.

In the South Bay, a Sunnyvale man died in a solo-vehicle crash about 8:05 a.m. on Highway 101 in Mountain View, CHP officials said.

The crash occurred just off the Ellis Street off-ramp from southbound 101.

A preliminary investigation indicates that a black 1995 Honda was traveling south on Highway 101 approaching the Ellis Street off-ramp when a white 2014 Honda cut in front of the other vehicle to exit at Ellis Street.

CHP officials said the driver of the black Honda tried to avoid hitting the white Honda and lost control of the vehicle.

The black Honda crashed into a perimeter fence and overturned. The Sunnyvale man, who was 29, was taken to Stanford Hospital where he died.

CHP officials said neither alcohol nor drugs appear to have played a role in the crash.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Restaurants Provide Free Thanksgiving Meals for Fire Victims]]>Thu, 23 Nov 2017 17:20:11 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/11232017NBayThanksgiving_868823.JPG

Thanksgiving in Wine Country has taken on a special meaning this year after the devastating wildfires destroyed thousands of homes.

Businesses and community groups in response are stepping up, offering free meals and places for families to gather.

At Franchett's Wood Fire Kitchen in Santa Rosa, staff helped quickly after the fires and believed it was important to offer a special Thanksgiving meal.

"Now it seemed like it was needed even more," owner John Franchetti said. "This is what the whole premise was: Give people a space to be able to do it."

The restaurant is providing hundreds of free meals to North Bay fire survivors and first responders. They bought food and donations from businesses and neighbors rounded out the menu.

The Singletree Cafe in Healdsburg, which is usually closed for the holiday, opened up its doors on Thanksgiving to serve free meals and give people a place to be.

"I'm just thankful for a community that sticks together, that's strong, that wants to bounce back, and they want to make this a great place for everyone to be," said Naci Van Praag of Singletree Cafe.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Storm: Rain and Gusty Winds Return]]>Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:04:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/RainBayArea.PNG

Winter-like conditions returned to the Bay Area on Sunday as another storm system packing moderate downpours and gusty winds made its way across the region.

The latest storm brought rain primarily to the North Bay during the morning hours, scattered showers for the rest of the Bay Area by the afternoon, and widespread downpours late in the day and around midnight. The wet and blustery conditions are slated to clear by Monday morning.

By the time the storm passes, Oakland is forecasted to have picked up 0.77 of an inch of rain. San Francisco is expected to net 0.44 of an inch, and San Jose will receive only about 0.21 of an inch.

The sub-tropical nature of the storm will wring out higher rainfall totals over coastal and inland hills with some spots receiving anywhere from one to 2 inches of rain, forecasters said.

To the east, windy conditions could make traveling through the Sierra Nevada a challenge. Winds are forecasted to reach anywhere from 30 to 40 mph, with gusts in excess of 50 mph, forecasters said.

Snowplows and chain teams were also kept busy early Monday as snow fell across Interstate 80.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Man Arrested for Cocaine Possession]]>Sat, 25 Nov 2017 18:27:07 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/cocaine-bust-santa-rosa.JPG

Officers arrested a man on suspicion of possession of about 20 grams of cocaine and a firearm in Santa Rosa early Saturday morning, police said.

The suspect, 21-year-old Christian Kekoa Bazzano, was arrested about a half-hour after midnight in the vicinity of Glenn Street and College Avenue after he was stopped for a minor traffic violation, according to Santa Rosa police Sgt. Christopher Mahurin.

There were two teenagers in the car, Mahurin said.

In addition to the approximately 20 grams of cocaine, officers found more than $3,500 in cash, items associated with narcotic sales and a .40 caliber handgun with a large capacity magazine in the car.

Bazzano was booked into Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of possession of narcotics for sale, possession of a loaded firearm in public, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and other drug- and firearm-related crimes, police said.

Police are continuing to investigate this case. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Santa Rosa Police Department at (707) 543-3600.

Photo Credit: Santa Rosa Police Department
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<![CDATA[Free Tipsy Tow Service From AAA Available on Thanksgiving ]]>Thu, 23 Nov 2017 09:56:46 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-467650191%282%29.jpg

A free towing service is available Thursday evening through early Friday morning in the Bay Area to get people home safely if they have been drinking, AAA officials said.

AAA's Tipsy Tow service begins at 6 p.m. today and continues until 6 a.m. Friday and is available to anyone, regardless of membership, Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Northern California, said.

"If you are planning on getting tipsy this Thanksgiving, be sure you have a plan to get home safe," Blasky said in a statement. "If that plan falls through, give AAA a call and we'll get you home safely."

Drivers, passengers, bartenders, restaurant managers and party hosts interested in getting or helping someone get home safely should call (800) 222-4357 and say they need a Tipsy Tow to arrange for a tow.

They should also provide the driver's name, home address, phone number and vehicle or driver location.

AAA will provide a free tow of up to 10 miles for a vehicle and a driver and one passenger, according to AAA officials.

AAA does not take reservations for the service and the service does not include roadside assistance.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Family Affected By North Bay Fires Count Their Blessings]]>Thu, 23 Nov 2017 22:18:25 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Northbayfirefamilyvictims_870367.JPEG

Like so many in the Fountain Grove neighborhood in Santa Rosa, the Keys family lost their house and all of their belongings in the fire. Despite not being able to celebrate the holidays in their own home the Keys family says they’ve never felt more grateful.

“Our life has been completely changed forever,” said Chris Keys. “Going back to gratitude, bringing it to a whole other level is kind of where we're at right now.”

The past six weeks for the Keys family has been tough, but they say that after experiencing the Tubbs Fire, it’s given them a whole new perspective.

“When you’re stripped of everything you own, the only thing you have to hold onto is love and each other,” said Chris Keys.

Together they searched through the rubble and ashes in hopes of finding something they could salvage. One of the few things they did find intact was a glass angel ornament buried in the ashes.

“It was like a confirmation from God that he’s got us,” said Sara Keys.

This is not the first time Chris Keys has found himself without anything, in fa, t the shelter and recovery director for the Santa Rosa Gospel Mission was one homeless as a teenager.

Fortunately for the family, they’re now staying in a rental furnished with donations.

Chris Keys prepared the family’s meal while his wife Sara Keys worked as a nurse in the emergency room at a Kaiser Hospital.

The Keys family says they’re determined to rebuild and return to their home hopefully by next Thanksgiving.

“I know it sounds crazy but the level of gratitude I have on this Thanksgiving day far exceed any other experience I’ve ever had on Thanksgiving,” said Chris Keys.

<![CDATA[Trump Increases Federal Funding for North Bay Fire Victims]]>Wed, 22 Nov 2017 20:50:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Rebuilding_Begins_in_North_Bay_After_Fires.jpg

North Bay fire victims will have more federal funding available to them after President Donald Trump on Wednesday increased the amount for disaster assistance from 75 percent to 100 percent.

Federal funding was previously made available for public assistance, hazard mitigation and other needs assistance at 75 percent of total eligible costs under the president's initial major declaration issued for California on Oct. 10.

Trump on Wednesday authorized a 100 percent federal cost share for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance for a period of 30 days.

Photo Credit: NBC]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Administration Turns Back on NorCal Fire Victims]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:03:31 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Trump_Administration_Turns_Back_on_NorCal_Fire_Victims.jpg

The Trump Administration is turning its back on a request to help Northern California fire victims. The White House's supplemental disaster funding request to Congress does not include a dime for California's wildfires. NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthews reports from the devastated Santa Rosa community of Coffey Park, where the news is going down hard.]]>
<![CDATA[Report Names Bay Area Traffic Hotspots During Thanksgiving]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 10:14:55 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dc+traffic+thx.jpg

Hitting the road for Thanksgiving? Expect delays across the Bay Area.

At the height of the Thanksgiving travel period, drivers across the region could see delays of roughly 250 percent compared to ideal driving times, according to AAA and INRIX.

AAA and INRIX —an analytics company — pinpointed 10 spots across the Bay Area where traffic headaches are likely:

1. Eastbound Interstate 80 at Pinole Valley Road in Pinole

2. Eastbound Interstate 580 at Santa Rita Road/Tassajara Road in Pleasanton

3. Westbound Interstate 80 at the San Francisco Bay Bridge

4. Northbound Interstate 680 at Calaveras Road in Milpitas

5. Eastbound Highway 37 at Wilson Avenue in Vallejo

6. Northbound Interstate 880 at 23rd Avenue in Oakland

7. Eastbound Highway 24 at Interstate 680 in Walnut Creek

8. Northbound Highway 101 at Petaluma Boulevard in Petaluma

9. Northbound Highway 1 at Highway 101 in San Francisco

10. Eastbound Interstate 80 at Interstate 80/Interstate 580 in Oakland

Photo Credit: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Marin County Marijuana Rules]]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:50:44 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/Business_Hopefuls_Battle_for_San_Diego_Marijuana_Permit.jpg

When it comes to recreational marijuana sales, cannabis supporters say Marin County is moving too slowly. According to the Marin Independent Journal, when marijuana becomes legal starting on the first of January, it won't be sold anywhere in the county. That's because local jurisdictions are either saying no entirely or saying New Year's Day is not a realistic deadline for new rules. Leaders in cities including Novato and Mill Valley plan to take their time and gather community input.]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Thanksgiving Day Restaurant Guide]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:36:48 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/2015-11-23_16-18-13.jpg

Not in the mood to cook up a Thanksgiving feast this year? Would you rather dine out and have the meal prepared and served to you? You're in luck. There are plenty of restaurants all around the Bay Area open on everyone's favorite gluttonous holiday.

We ran a search over at OpenTable.com and found over 100 open eateries on turkey day. We compiled that list into an interactive Google Map (above) so that you can easily find the restaurant nearest you. 

Restaurants on the map with a knife and fork symbol have advertised special Thanksgiving options. All others will be open on Nov. 23 and are taking reservations.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Inmate Walks Away From Corrections Facility in Solano County]]>Sun, 19 Nov 2017 10:18:13 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SolanoCountyInmate.jpg

Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are seeking the public's help in locating an inmate who walked away from a corrections camp in Solano County on Saturday.

According to CDCR officials, 27-year-old Rashad Vaca was last seen during the 9 p.m. inmate count at the Delta Conservation Camp, which houses about 120 minimum-security inmates.

During the 11:15 p.m. inmate count, camp staff discovered that Vaca was not in his assigned bunk. Officials immediately searched the camp buildings and grounds, but were unable to locate Vaca.

Vaca is described as a black man, 6 feet tall, 191 pounds with brown eyes, black hair, a mustache and a goatee, CDCR officials said.

Vaca was committed to the CDCR in 2010 to serve a 12-year sentence for second-degree robbery with a firearm and was scheduled to parole in 2020.

He was assigned as a firefighter at a camp in Shasta County, CDCR officials said.

Anyone who sees Vaca is asked to call 911 or law enforcement authorities immediately, or call the California Correctional Center watch commander at (530) 257-2181 ext. 4173.

Photo Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation]]>
<![CDATA[Unemployment Rates Below 4 Percent in Most Bay Area Counties]]>Sun, 19 Nov 2017 09:02:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/172*120/GettyImages-147883234.jpg

The unemployment rate was below 4 percent in October in eight of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, officials with the California Employment Development Department said.

San Mateo County had the lowest rate at 2.5 percent followed by Marin County at 2.6 percent and San Francisco County at 2.7 percent.

The rates were between 3 and 3.5 percent in Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Solano County had the highest unemployment rate in the Bay Area at 4.3 percent.

The unemployment rate was 4.9 percent statewide compared with 4.1 percent nationwide in October.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Man, 101, Killed in NorCal Wildfires Told Wife to 'Just Go']]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:58:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathWednesday9.jpg

A 101-year-old man who told his wife to flee deadly wildfires in Northern California without him last month is the latest victim to be identified by coroner's officials.

The Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa reported Friday that authorities identified the man as longtime Santa Rosa resident Tak-Fu Hung. He was one of at least 43 people killed by the fires that raged across a huge swath of wine country.

Hung's granddaughter told the newspaper that her grandfather, who had fought the Communists in China's 1949 revolution, got as far as the front door of his burning home when he told his 76-year-old wife, Helen, he could not make it through the flames.

"He told her, 'Just go,'" Rosanne O'Hara said by phone from San Francisco. "He would not make it. He couldn't make it."

Helen Hung sought shelter behind a wall in the family's front yard and later by lying on a neighbor's driveway for hours as the flames passed over her, O'Hara said. She suffered multiple burns but is recovering.

"The flames went over her repeatedly, but she was far away from brush, so that the fire wasn't constantly on her," O'Hara said.

Hung was the second centenarian identified as a victim of the fast-moving fires. Charles Rippey, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, also perished in his home. He was believed to be trying to help his 98-year-old wife, Sara, when the couple were overcome by smoke and flames. His wife also died.

The couple, who had met in elementary school, had been married 75 years.

O'Hara described her grandfather as a friendly, outgoing man who enjoyed conversation and was remarkably healthy for his age, only recently having begun to use a cane. Often the center of attention, she said, he was "really good at commanding a room."

Born in China's Anhui province in 1915, Hung was a general in the Chinese army before he fled to Hong Kong and later Taiwan after Mao Zedong's Communist Party came to power following the country's 1949 revolution.

He worked as a civil engineer in Taiwan, where he and his first wife raised six children before her death. After he retired, he moved to San Francisco and later Santa Rosa.

His children and grandchildren followed him to the United States, O'Hara said, and his tri-level Santa Rosa home became the gathering place for holidays and other celebrations.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano identified Hung and two other victims of the fire in a video posted Thursday on the agency's Facebook page. The others were Michael Charles Grabow, 40, of Santa Rosa, and Marjorie Lenore Schwartz, 68, of Santa Rosa.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Visiting Muir Woods Will Require a Reservation in 2018]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:17:22 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/Muir-Woods-National-Monument.jpg

Visiting Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley is about to get a little harder.

Large crowds and overwhelming traffic have led officials to start capping visitors in January. Anyone hoping to visit the popular destination will now be required to have a reservation to park a vehicle or ride a shuttle bus into the park.

The only way to avoid having to make a reservation in advance is by hiking your way in.

The new system, managed by Ace Parking Management Inc, expects the daily parking reservations to vary based on the season – approximately 500 spaces in the low season and 900 in the peak. The reservation system will be open year-round on a website and a call center starting Jan. 1.

Parking and shuttle reservations will be required starting Jan. 16. 

Reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance and visitors can reserve a parking space for $8 per car or a seat on the shuttle for $3 per adult 16 and older. According to National Park Service officials, the vehicle parking reservation will increase 50 cents every two years and the shuttle reservation will increase 25 cents every two years. 

In addition to a parking space fee, visitors 16 and older will also have to pay a $10 park admission. 

Under the new system, National Park Service officials are hoping the expected visitation numbers to drop from 1.2 million to 1 million visitors. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area and Safeway's Feed the Need Holiday Food Drive]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 18:46:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/DO8GU1BUQAAkto5.jpg

NBC Bay Area and Safeway are joining forces for the annual Feed the Need food drive on Saturday, November 18, kicking off a month-long effort to fight hunger in the Bay Area. This year's food drive will take place at 167 Safeway stores throughout the Bay Area to benefit local food banks through December 26.
It is easy to help families in need this holiday season, visit one of the 167 participating Safeway stores and look for the bag display, grab a flyer from the tear pads and take it to the register for just $10. Your donations to your local food bank will include sustainable food items like: pasta and sauce, canned vegetables, soup, and important proteins like peanut butter, beans and canned chicken breast.
Last year, the food drive collected more than 360,000 bags across the Bay Area, nearly tripling the amount from the previous year and amounting to more than 2,880,000 pounds of food for those in need.
NBC Bay Area news reporters will volunteer at their neighborhood Safeway stores on Saturday, November 18, please see the list below.  
NBC Bay Area volunteer locations: 
Laura Garcia and Marcus Washington - 840 E Dunne Ave, Morgan Hill at 7 to 9:30 a.m. 
Robert Handa and Ian Cull - 235 Tennant St, Morgan Hill at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
Janelle Wang and Chris Chmura - 160 First St, Los Altos at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
Terry McSweeney, Sam Brock, and Mark Matthews - 110 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley at 2 to 4 p.m.  
Scott McGrew, Kari Hall, and Vianey Arana - 3970 Rivermark Plaza, Santa Clara at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  
Mike Inouye and  Bob Redell - 4495 First St, Livermore at 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. 
Damian Trujillo - 2980 East Capitol Expressway, San Jose at 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. 
Kris Sanchez and Garvin Thomas -  1530 Hamilton Ave, San Jose at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Rob Mayeda - 3496 Camino Tassajara, Danville at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.  
Jodi Hernandez and Cheryl Hurd - 5051 Business Center Dr, Fairfield at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
A special thanks to our volunteers:
Junior League of San Jose
Girl Scouts of the Bay Area
Kiwanis Clubs
Alameda County 4-H
Second Harvest Food Banks
Contra Costa and Solano Food Banks

NBC Bay Area and Safeway are joining forces for the annual Feed the Need food drive on Saturday, November 18, kicking off a month-long effort to fight hunger in the Bay Area. This year's food drive will take place at 167 Safeway stores throughout the Bay Area to benefit local food banks through December 26.

It is easy to help families in need this holiday season, visit one of the 167 participating Safeway stores and look for the bag display, grab a flyer from the tear pads and take it to the register for just $10. Your donations to your local food bank will include sustainable food items like: pasta and sauce, canned vegetables, soup, and important proteins like peanut butter, beans and canned chicken breast.

Last year, the food drive collected more than 360,000 bags across the Bay Area, nearly tripling the amount from the previous year and amounting to more than 2,880,000 pounds of food for those in need.NBC Bay Area news reporters will volunteer at their neighborhood Safeway stores on Saturday, November 18, please see the list below.  

NBC Bay Area volunteer locations:

  • Laura Garcia and Marcus Washington - 840 E Dunne Ave, Morgan Hill at 7 to 9:30 a.m.
  • Robert Handa and Ian Cull - 235 Tennant St, Morgan Hill at 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Janelle Wang and Chris Chmura - 160 First St, Los Altos at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Terry McSweeney - 1 Camino Alto, Mill Valley at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
  • Sam Brock, and Mark Matthews - 110 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley at 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Scott McGrew, Kari Hall, and Vianey Arana - 3970 Rivermark Plaza, Santa Clara at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Mike Inouye and  Bob Redell - 4495 First St, Livermore at 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
  • Damian Trujillo - 2980 East Capitol Expressway, San Jose at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Kris Sanchez and Garvin Thomas -  1530 Hamilton Ave, San Jose at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Rob Mayeda - 3496 Camino Tassajara, Danville at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Jodi Hernandez and Cheryl Hurd - 5051 Business Center Dr, Fairfield at 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

A special thanks to our volunteers:

  • Junior League of San Jose
  • Girl Scouts of the Bay Area
  • Kiwanis Clubs
  • Alameda County 4-H
  • Second Harvest Food Banks
  • Contra Costa and Solano Food Banks

Photo Credit: Terry McSweeney/NBC Bay Area
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<![CDATA[Small Sinkhole Temporarily Closes Santa Rosa Street]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:10:56 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sr_sinkhole_1116_790010.JPG

Heavy rain overnight caused a small sinkhole Thursday morning on a street in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, city officials said.

Dafford Place is one of 31 areas identified in Fountaingrove that have sections of underground storm drain pipe that were burned in the Tubbs Fire last month.

The compromised storm drain travels under Dafford Place, and city work crews temporarily closed the street to mitigate further issues, city officials said.

"We caught it quickly, got crews out here to open it up and stop the flow," said Paul Lowenthal, of the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

Fortunately, last night’s storm didn’t bring as much rain as expected, and the city’s storm preps held up. But everyone realizes the next round of rain could be different.

"That’s why we put such an effort and focus on providing erosion control measures, hydro-mulching, putting gravel bags in front of storm drains," Lowenthal said.

Emergency repairs are now underway to replace the melted pipes with new ones.

There were no other major issues caused by the rain overnight, according to the city.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Chickens Killed in Big Rig Crash on Slick Sonoma County Road]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:32:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/11172017CHICKENCRASH_786621.JPEG

Dozens of chickens were killed, while a few got loose in a big rig crash on a soggy Thursday morning on northbound Highway 121 in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Video from the scene showed an overturned truck on the shoulder of the road alongside a vineyard in Schellville, Calif. The driver was stuck inside the vehicle and unable to get out, a Californa Highway Patrol log said around 5:35 a.m. 

Some fowls that survived the collision ran amok on the freeway's shoulder and a nearby field.

The crash blocked northbound lanes and prompted the CHP to issue a Sig-alert and close Highway 121 just south of Ramal Road. Cars are being diverted off to Rama and Napa roads.

It's unclear when the road will reopen. 

Check back for updates.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[DOJ Warns 8 Bay Area Jurisdictions About Sanctuary Status]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 10:31:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/jeff+sessions+salvatrucha.jpg

The cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Fremont and Watsonville and Contra Costa, Monterey, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties on Wednesday were among 29 jurisdictions nationwide to receive sanctuary warning letters from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The letters say the department is concerned that the cities' and counties' policies may violate a federal law that bars local governments from preventing their employees from communicating with federal immigration agents.

Compliance with the law, known as Section 1373, is a condition of Justice Department grants to local governments under a program known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program.

The letters signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson ask the cities and counties to submit a response by Dec. 8 explaining whether they have "laws, policies or practices" that violate the law.

The letters also ask the recipients to state whether they would comply with the law if they receive a Byrne grant in the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.

"Jurisdictions that adopt so-called 'sanctuary policies' also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

He continued: "I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents."

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera strongly disagreed with the Justice Department's analysis.

"San Francisco is in full compliance with federal immigration law," he said in a statement.

Herrera said the administration of President Donald Trump is making "novel and shifting interpretations" of the Section 1373 law, "going far beyond its text."

"The law means what it says, and we follow it," he said.

Herrera said San Francisco restricts other cooperation with immigration officials, but maintained that such local restrictions don't violate federal laws.

"This letter is the latest salvo in the barrage of Trump administration threats to sanctuary cities," he said. "The law is on our side, and we intend to beat back this threat, just like all the others before it."

In the South Bay, Santa Clara County said there is one problem with the threat.

"The big joke on them is we never took any money from them in 2016," Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said.

NBC Bay Area's Damian Trujillo contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area, File image]]>
<![CDATA[Slow-Moving Storm Pelts Bay Area With Rain]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:36:20 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/bus43.jpg

Heavy rain soaked the North Bay late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning and pushed south into the greater Bay Area in time for the morning commute, weather forecasters said.

After pelting Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties overnight, prompting a flash flood warning for those areas until 3 a.m. and a flood advisory in Solano County until 2:45 p.m., the storm slowly began making its way toward the Peninsula, East Bay and South Bay early Thursday. 

Temperatures will be in the 50s to start the morning, and by the afternoon, there's a chance the rain could linger over the South Bay, forecasters said.

Rain totals on average for lower elevations will be 0.50 to 1.25 inches and 1-3 inches above 1,000 feet. The heaviest rain will spread across the Santa Cruz Mountains and into the South Bay around sunrise, the National Weather Service said.

The South Bay, which usually misses out on the heavy rain, got hit hard with this storm as many places saw up to an inch of rain. In the Rock Springs neighborhood of San Jose, which was flooded earlier this year when Coyote Creek overflowed its banks during storms, residents were not ready for more rain. 

Flood victim Hao Nguyen and her visiting granddaughter, Trang Lieng, were back home, just in time.

"The owner fixed the house, and she's very glad we can move back in before the rain," Lieng said.

The storm also made life even more miserable for the homeless in San Jose, where CHAM Ministries handed out blankets, tents and water at a Felipe Road encampment.

"There are a lot of people, right here, struggling," pastor Scott Wagers said. "You know, the guys are desperate for tarps right now because they're trying to keep their stuff dry."

In the North Bay, rainfall rates over coastal Sonoma and Marin counties were up to half an inch per hour Wednesday evening, posing the possibility of mudslides, downed trees and flooding in the areas burned out by wildfires last month.

Twenty-four rainfall totals as of 4 a.m. Thursday had already exceeded two inches in Petaluma and Guerneville. Lafayette recorded 1.79 inches during that time frame, Santa Rosa registered 1.39 inches of rain, Pacifica recorded 1.31 inches and Oakland logged 1.26 inches. Those numbers will increase as the storm makes its way out of the region.

Deluges of rain also prompted the closures of some roadways in San Francisco.

The connector ramp to northbound Highway 101 was shut down due to flooding, according to the California Highway Patrol. Southbound lanes of the Great Highway were also forced to close as a result of flooding. 

On the road to the Sierra Nevada, about 1-2 feet of snow was expected above 7,000 feet, the weather service said. Chains were required on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit on the way to the Reno-Tahoe region. 

Drying weather returns Friday and Saturday, forecasters said.

NBC Bay Area's Robert Handa contributed to this report.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Car Crashes Snarl Traffic as Rain Pounds Bay Area]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:33:38 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/111617HWY85CARS_786055.JPEG

A number of car crashes snarled traffic across the Bay Area during the Thursday morning commute as another round of rain soaked the region.

A big-rig around 5 a.m. slammed into a power pole in Fremont, knocking out power for roughly 3,000 customers in the area near Auto Mall Parkway and Boscell Road, according to police. The crash temporarily shut down both directions of Auto Mall Parkway.

The power pole was thrown across several lanes of traffic, but no one was hurt.

Full power in the area immediately surrounding the crash scene is expected to be restored by 5 p.m., according to PG&E.

In the South Bay, overturned vehicles briefly blocked all northbound lanes of Highway 85 near Winchester Boulevard in Los Gatos around 5 a.m., but only minor injuries were reported, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Despite the proximity, the crashes happened independently of each other. CHP officials said speed played a role in the wrecks.

Around the same time along the Peninsula, a collision blocked four lanes of southbound Highway 101 at Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View, according to the CHP.

Drivers are encouraged to slow down and keep a safe distance between the cars in front of them when rain is falling. 

Track the latest road conditions using NBC Bay Area's traffic map

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Mudslides, Felled Trees a Concern as Rain Soaks Burned Out Napa Area]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:59:48 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/276*120/11-15-2017-napa-fires.JPG

Steady rain was falling in the burned out Silverado area of Napa on Wednesday night, saturating the ground as well as large dead trees that were in danger of losing branches or toppling over altogether. Mudslides also were a concern. Cheryl Hurd reports.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Flash Flood Watch in Effect for North Bay Counties]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:56:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/srrain21115_782593.JPG

As another storm system walloped the Bay Area with rain on Wednesday, crews were keeping a close eye on the areas recently scorched by the devastating wildfires in the North Bay.

Teams spent the overnight hours trying to haul off as much of the charred debris as possible and block storm drains with straw waddles to prevent potentially toxic materials from flowing into creeks and streams.

"Can you imagine having to go into the entire city of San Francisco times three-and-a-half and make sure it was secure for a rainfall event?" Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt said. "That's what we're dealing with."

Even as rain arrived Wednesday, workers continued storm preparations, including ongoing drain pipe assessments using remote control video cameras. 

The latest round of rain, which will be heaviest in the North Bay, has prompted flash flood watches in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties, according to the National Weather Service. Those watches went into effect 4 p.m. Wednesday and were set to expire at 3 a.m. Thursday.

Roughly 1 to 3 inches of rain in the region could cause debris flows and mudslides, especially in the burned out areas. About 300 Cal Fire firefighters on Wednesday were in the burn areas working on erosion control.

Rain returned by the evening, with the heaviest downpours pelting the North Bay. The slow-moving storm eventually made its way south and was expected to bring deluges to the South Bay overnight. 

In San Francisco, workers installed flood barriers along Folsom Street, near 17th Street, for a third straight year. But officials with the Public Utilities Commission said this year will be different, with a $2 million grant program allowing homes and businesses to retrofit.

In the East Bay, crews cleared storm drains and stocked up on sandbags as the rain approached. 

The rain is expected to clear out of the Bay Area by late Thursday morning.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Burn Areas Bracing For Rain]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 23:51:15 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/North_Bay_Burn_Areas_Bracing_For_Rain.jpg

Rain was making its way to the North Bay on Tuesday night, and people were doing their best to prepare. Construction workers raced to dump toxic ash in safe areas before the rain washes it into storm drains. And about 300 firefighters with Cal Fire were in elevated burn areas, working on erosion control. Cheryl Hurd reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfire Lawsuit Incorporates NBC Bay Area Findings]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 19:25:28 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/california-wildfires-ap.jpg

The latest in a series of lawsuits blaming Pacific Gas and Electric for the North Bay firestorm incorporates many of the findings reported by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

“There has been an organizational failure,”said Frank Pitre, who joined a team of well-known attorneys in announcing a new round of legal suits over the firestorm that destroyed some 8,000 structures and left 43 dead.

The team’s nearly 50-page complaint details aging equipment and PG&E’s vegetation management practices as factors in the disaster – both problems first revealed by NBC Bay Area.

They also point to reclosers, the automated devices that send bursts of electricity out to test problem lines. NBC Bay Area reported that while the devices can help prevent outages, they have been blamed for fires in San Diego in 2007 and Australia in 2009. That’s because when winds cause lines to go down, the bursts of energy they send to clear faults can cause arcing and spark wildfires.

While Southern California utilities now unplugs those devices during fire season, PG&E won’t say what it did in the high winds of Oct. 8.

But Pitre appeared certain the utility left them on.

“Inconvenience, cost -- at the expense of life and property – this was their choice, not ours,” he said. “And certainly not those who were the victims of this calamity.”

The lawyers also cited a risk analysis we first reported, which shows the utility accepted that for every 1,000 miles of its system, 17 trees would hit power lines each year, sparking a “small number” of fires.

The analysis cited the need for tradeoffs amid the company’s “limited resources,” a notion that attorney Steve Campora scoffed at, given the company’s annual profits often exceed $1 billion.

Campora said that while PG&E may be willing to accept that wildfire risk, no one has asked the victims of the firestorm.

“Those are risks that are not acceptable when this is the result. Because every wildfire is a potential catastrophe.”

PG&E issued a statement that did not respond to the claims in the suit, but stressed it is “fully cooperating” with investigations by Cal Fire and the state Public Utilities Commission.

“Our primary focus has been—and continues to be—the safety and well-being of the customers and communities that have been affected,” the company said.

Photo Credit: NBC Sports Bay Area staff]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Fire Victims File Lawsuits Against PG&E]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 18:03:56 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/napa-fire-ap.jpg

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was blamed in three lawsuits filed Tuesday for negligence in the wildfires that killed more than 40 people and destroyed over 8,000 homes in Northern California last month.

The lawsuits allege the San Francisco-based utility and its parent PG&E Corp. put profits over safety by failing to trim trees and vegetation around power lines and didn't maintain aging equipment that contributed to the deadly series of wind-driven fires that broke out Oct. 8 and raged across several counties, including the heart of wine country.

The suits were filed on behalf of three couples who lost their homes in the fires, including former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan, and a couple hospitalized after surviving the fire by floating in their swimming pool for hours and dunking underwater repeatedly to escape the extreme heat as flames blew around them and destroyed everything they owned.

"This calamity was preventable,'' attorney Frank Pitre said.

PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler said the lawsuit was based on assumptions because the investigation into the cause of the fires isn't complete. He also said the company's brush clearance meets or exceeds federal and state requirements and the company inspects power lines at least once a year.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention has not determined the cause of the fires yet, but said electrical equipment is one potential source. PG&E has said the state is investigating whether its power lines and equipment were a possible cause.

In response to previous suits from the fire, PG&E said in a court filing that a private power line may have sparked the fire that killed 21 people and destroyed more than 4,400 homes in Sonoma County. Another 22 people were killed and at least 4,500 more structures were destroyed in other fires in the region.

Pitre said PG&E had provided no support for its claims that a third-party may have been involved and he criticized the legal filing that garnered a front-page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"We are outraged at the most recent PG&E submission, which captured a headline where PG&E seeks to shift and deflect blame to an unknown person based on unknown facts,'' Pitre said. ``That's not transparency in our view. That's secrecy. And, frankly, we're tired of it."

Pitre said the lawsuits were aimed at getting the utility and state investigators to turn over materials that will pinpoint the cause of the fires.

One of the plaintiff's, Gregory Wilson, who rode out the fire in his Santa Rosa swimming pool, spoke in a whisper as he discussed the frightening ordeal that put him and his wife, Christina, in an intensive care unit for 10 days with smoke inhalation and burns.

"We watched everything burn around us,'' said Wilson, who hasn't been able to speak in a normal voice since the fire. ``It's a nightmare you can't even imagine. ... We're hoping they can shed light on this so no one will ever have to go through this and, hopefully, no one else will have to die."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Monte Poole]]>
<![CDATA[Dentist Fatally Shoots Himself in Gutted, Burned NorCal Home]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 18:15:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathSunday2.jpg

Authorities say a 70-year-old man apparently shot and killed himself amid the remains of his home that burned in last month's Northern California firestorms.

The Press-Democrat reported Monday that Greg Mlynarczyk was a well-known dentist in Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum says Mlynarczyk's wife and an insurance adjuster found him dead Saturday at the house in the hard-hit Fountaingrove neighborhood.

His family and his office declined comment.

Mlynarczyk was a Nevada native who went to college at the University of Oregon and dental school at the University of Southern California.

He was a member of a group of horse riders called the Sonoma County Trailblazers. His website says he enjoyed the "camaraderie of this group on the trail ride or at the hog feed."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wineries Eager to Make Up Losses After North Bay Wildfires]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 09:18:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/177*120/GettyImages-866403166.jpg

A month after deadly wildfires swept through California's famed wine country, hot-air balloons are floating again over Napa Valley vineyards splashed with fall colors. On the heels of the disaster, a new winery is opening, keeping the name it chose some time ago: Ashes and Diamonds.

The fires had only a minimal effect on the area's wineries, according to the Wine Institute, an advocacy and policy group. Of the 1,200 wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, about 10 were destroyed or heavily damaged, and 90 percent of this year's harvest already was complete, the institute said.

Most vineyards were spared due to their high moisture content, and some even helped save surrounding structures by acting as fire breaks.

But many operators are now grappling with other long-term effects from the fires that killed 43 people and wiped out 8,900 buildings: making up for losses from being closed at the busiest time of year, assessing the impact of smoke and other environmental damage on this year's vintage, and persuading tourists to return after weeks of devastating news coverage.

One of the most graphic scenes of destruction to emerge during the fires was that of the Signorello Estate winery engulfed in flames. Lost in the fire was the Napa winery's signature stone hospitality building. A kitchen, corporate offices, a wine lab and the home of owner Ray Signorello Jr. also were destroyed.

"We lost all our servers, systems, computers, the things we used to do business," Signorello said. But he plans to rebuild and is "trying to get people back to work."

At Cardinale Winery in Oakville, where just one Cabernet Sauvignon vintage is made from prized mountain appellations each year, winemaker Chris Carpenter is eyeing the grapes cautiously. He was a rare winemaker willing to say the fires' effects would be felt for years, noting there also will be environmental issues to contend with.

Only 50 percent of Cardinale's harvest was finished when the fires erupted, and he's worried about smoke tainting what remains.

"All the questions are unknown right now, and we hope to have a handle on that after fermentation," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he had a chance to try some smoke-tainted wines in 2008, and they were not very pleasant — like a bacon-flavored wine.

"If we sense any of that, we won't bottle," he said.

Things already appeared to be returning to normal for guests at Sonoma's Gundlach Bundschu winery, where dozens of tourists soaked up the sun outside the tasting room a few weeks after the fires. Nearby blackened hills were the only visible reminder of what recently occurred.

The winery celebrated its reopening with a community party that raised $16,000 for a fund to help fire victims, said sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundschu, who oversees marketing and sales.

"It was a place to come and give each other hugs," said Bundschu, whose own family has been dealing with the loss of her parents' home.

Now the push is on to lure visitors back to the three counties, which together saw more than $3.7 billion in tourism spending in 2016.

Wineries are filling the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle with ads. "We are open and welcome you back to Napa!" read one. Some are donating their tasting room fees to wildfire relief charities.

The state's tourism commission, Visit California, is spending $2 million on an advertising campaign to encourage visitors to return.

"Tourism is the wine country's lifeblood," said president and CEO Caroline Beteta. If the groups hosting fundraisers spread their goodwill across the region, she said, "I think they will be back and running and be able to host the world as they were before."

Once people understand everything is not burned down, tourism will return within a few months, said Eric Luse, the winemaker and owner of Eric Ross Winery in Glen Ellen.

Standing outside his empty tasting room and looking at passing cars, he mused, "If you're not optimistic, you are in the wrong business."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CA Wildfires Expected to Cause Record Insurance Loss: Report]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 23:57:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/north-bay-fire-000001.jpg

The major wildfire outbreak in Northern California is now considered the costliest insured wildfire event ever recorded, according to a new report by Aon Catastrophe.

The report, which analyzes natural hazard activity worldwide, found that the wildfires that damaged Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Solano, Butte and Yuba counties left a record bill of $3.32 billion for U.S. insurers.

The California Department of Insurance said at least 19,000 residential, commercial and auto claims have been filed and the payout is expected to rise to $8 billion as more claims are processed.

According to data from CalFire, nearly 9,300 structures were damaged and more than 8,560 were destroyed by the fires.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Homeowners Apply for Government Removal of Wildfire Debris]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 19:28:05 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Rebuilding_Begins_in_North_Bay_After_Fires.jpg

Monday marked the last day North Bay homeowners could sign up to have the Army Corp. and FEMA clear ash and debris from the wildfires' destruction off their property.

On Monday, more than 4,000 permissions were signed. Last week, 1,800 permission had been signed by homeowners. The Army Corp cannot send in the cleanup contractors unless homeowners give their permission.

Christine Sosko, director of Sonoma County's environmental health department, said the goal is to have 85 to 90 percent of the right of entry forms signed.

Don and Debbie Johnson of Santa Rosa's Coffey Park are among those who waited until the last day.

"A lot of inadequate answers to the questions that were asked like regarding trees and other things that weren't really addressed," Don Johnson said. "And it's still kind of confusing."

The Johnsons have live din their house for 22 years, but unlike many of their neighbors they regularly upped their insurance coverage.

Don Johnson works in construction and figures it will be $300 per square-foot to replace burned out homes. Those taking in the right of entry forms said insurance is the No. 1 concern of those homeowners coming in to sign up.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to monitor a new risk following the deadly wildfires.

Officials on Sunday announced that a number of underground plastic pipes were damaged by the destructive wildfires, resulting in the potential for sinkholes, landslides and flooding amid ongoing storm systems.

More and potentially heavier rain is forecasted to arrive on Wednesday.

<![CDATA[New Capitol Corridor Station Opens in the North Bay]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 08:28:07 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/New_Capitol_Corridor_Station.jpg

Amtrak's Capitol Corridor service on Monday is launching a new schedule and opening a new station called Fairfield-Vacaville. It's located on Vanden Road right outside Travis Air Force Base. As of Monday, some departure times will be adjusted with trains also making shorter stops at most stations.]]>
<![CDATA[Fairfield Man Allegedly Found to Have Sawed-Off Shotgun]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 08:38:09 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/generic+police+lights1.jpg

A man was arrested Tuesday in Fairfield on suspicion of four offenses including illegally possessing a sawed-off shotgun, police said.

Ryan Albertsen, 34, was arrested after police went to his home in a trailer park in the 1400 block of West Texas Street because someone reported a disturbance that involved Albertsen.

Albertsen's home is not far from Fairview Elementary School.

According to police, Albertsen had a warrant out for a misdemeanor offense. He was arrested, but before going to jail he allegedly asked officers to get his cellphone from his trailer.

When officers went inside the trailer, they allegedly found drug paraphernalia strewn around and a sawed-off shotgun resting against a wall, police said.

Albertsen was prohibited from having or owning a gun because he had a restraining order against him, police said.

Officers obtained a search warrant for Albertsen's home. During a search they allegedly found ammunition and drugs, police said.

Albertsen was taken to the county jail on suspicion of possessing the gun, drugs, drugs while armed and for the warrant.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Family Photos Stolen From NorCal Fire Victims at SF Concert]]>Sun, 12 Nov 2017 16:09:48 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AP_17287774005806.jpg

A Santa Rosa family whose home was reduced to ashes by the Tubbs Fire went to a concert benefiting North Bay fire victims like themselves, only to suffer yet another heartbreaking loss. 

Jason Kracht lived in Coffey Park with his wife and 3-year-old daughter until California's deadliest wildfire laid waste to thousands of homes across wine country.

Coincidentally, the trio had transferred digital copies of their family pictures to a new laptop — which was among the few items they were able to save — before the wind-whipped flames gutted their house. The original photographs were lost in the fire.

On Thursday, the Krachts went to AT&T Park in San Francisco for the Band Together Bay Area concert, where Metallica, Dead and Company, Dave Matthews, Raphael Saadiq, Rancid and G-Eazy performed to raise money for people who suffered losses due to the wildfires.

However, they left the show and made an alarming discovery, Kracht said.

Someone had broken the rear passenger window of their vehicle, flipped a lever to drop a car seat and taken off with a suitcase and three briefcases that had been stored at the back of the family's car, according to Kracht. 

Among the stolen items was a 13-inch Acer laptop that stored all their precious memories, Kracht said.

"That computer had the only copy of many of the pictures and videos of our daughter as she conquered her liver transplant and has continued to grow into a thriving 3-year-old," he said.

A Dell Precision laptop, an Apple Macbook and Samsung Galaxy tablet were also robbed.

The family is working with the San Francico Police Department and Kracht said that investigators are trying to get surveillance video from an armored car company across the street from they were parked. He also asked for the public's assistance.

"After losing nearly everything in the Tubbs fire on October 9, having these photos (on the computer) stolen from us has felt like having a knife twisted into the wounds of our previous loss," Kracht said. 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Wildfire Damage Contaminates Water for 13 Homes]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 10:37:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861090436.jpg

Officials have warned a small number of people to refrain from drinking or cooking with tap water because the water system was damaged by the recent Northern California wildfires.

The City of Santa Rosa issued the warning Friday to 13 homes in the Fountain Grove neighborhood, which was hit hard by last month's fires.

The city says contaminants were found in the water in the areas of the 13 homes. The city did not say when the warning may be lifted.

Also Friday, the suspension of burn permits that has been in effect since the fires was finally lifted in most areas.

A statement from state fire officials says people with residential or agricultural burn permits can now resume burning in six counties: Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Solano, Yolo and Colusa.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Honors Veterans]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 19:00:47 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-132335266.jpg

People across the Bay Area offered thanks to all who have served, honoring their service and sacrifice in a number of ways.


San Jose Veterans Day Parade

10 a.m. Saturday: A ceremony will be held at Plaza de Cesar Chavez

11 a.m. Parade will start at West Santa Clara Street and Highway 87. Attendees will travel east to Market Street, where they will turn south toward the reviewing stand in front of the park. 

Honor on the Row in San Jose

2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday: Santana Row will celebrate veterans with a gold star memorial to honor the fallen, a display of military vehicles and classic cars, and a collection booth for care packages.


We Are All Americans! Tribute to Nikkei Veterans

10 a.m. Saturday: A free public ceremony hosted by the National Japanese American Historical Society at 640 Old Mason Street.

11 a.m. Saturday: GO FOR BROKE! Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra

12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday: Luncheon reception

Veterans Day Service + Art at the Presidio

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday: Veterans and civilians can view service members' artwork on display at the Presidio Officers' Club and participate in community service for victims of the North Bay wildfires.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday: Family-friendly arts and crafts

Commemoration of 75th Anniversary of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday: The Naval History and Heritage Command, in partnership with the USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation and San Francisco Fleet Week Association, will commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal at the USS San Francisco Memorial at 2400 El Camino Del Mar. The ceremony will honor the sailors and marines who were killed in action during the battle on Nov. 12 and 13.

Veterans Day Parade

11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday: An estimated 20,000 people are expected to attend the annual Veterans Day parade that traditionally starts with motorcycle riders leading the way. It starts on the Embarcadero at North Point Street and heads to Fisherman's Wharf along Jefferson Street.


Veterans Day Celebration in Alameda

10 a.m. Saturday: The USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum at 707 West Hornet Avenue will offer a station for people who want to make thank-you cards for veterans.

11 a.m. Saturday: The USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum will hosts its annual ceremony on the ship’s hanger deck. Afterward, a wreath will be cast into San Francisco Bay in honor of U.S. veterans of all wars and branches of service.

Veterans Memorial Dedication in Union City

10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday: Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle will dedicate a new monument at Veterans Memorial Park at 4525 Dyer Street. The memorial will feature a hexahedra granite monument — with each of the six sides representing a different branch of the military — and memorial bricks that can be individually dedicated to service members. The event will include the presentation and retiring of colors by the United States Army’s 91st Division, two ceremonial firings from a Howitzer cannon, a flyover and landing of Vietnam helicopters, and a BBQ Lunch served by local firefighters.

Sixth Annual Veterans Day Services in Castro Valley

11 a.m. Saturday: Sue Alverson of the Veterans of Foreign Wars' National Home for Children will address the crowd at Castro Valley Community Park at 3683 Quail Avenue, followed by a raffle of a Henry Salute to the Military Rifle with all the proceeds going to the VFW.


Veterans Day Parade in Petaluma

12 p.m. Saturday: Music will begin at Walnut Park

1 p.m. Saturday: The parade will begin and end at Walnut Park

2:45 p.m. Saturday: A prayer, pledge of allegiance and follow-up program will follow the parade in the gazebo.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Burn Permit Suspension in North Bay Fire Zone to Be Lifted]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 14:04:41 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/174*120/10-10-17-NAPA-FIRE-IMAGE41.jpg

The burn permit suspension in counties immediately affected by the North Bay wildfires will be lifted Tuesday, Cal Fire said Saturday.

Effective Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 8 a.m., the burn permit suspension in Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Solano, Yolo and Colusa counties will be lifted, Cal Fire announced.

According to Cal Fire, those who possess current, valid agriculture and residential burn permits can now resume burning on permissible burn days starting Tuesday. However, they must verify it is a permissive burn day prior to burning, the agency noted.

Also, Cal Fire must inspect any burns larger than 4-foot-by-4-foot piles prior to burning until the end of the fire season, according to the agency.

To verify whether it is a permissive burn day, and for any other questions regarding burning vegetation, residents of the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District may call 707-433-5911.

Those who live in the Lake County Air Quality Management District may call 707-263-7000. Residents of the Napa County Air Pollution District may call 415-749-5000, according to Cal Fire.

Residents of the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District may call 530-757-3650, and those who live in the Colusa County Air Pollution Control District may call 530-458-0590, Cal Fire said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Vallejo Families Face Eviction Before the Holidays]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 19:27:52 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/11102017Eviction_725931.JPG

Tenants of a triplex in Vallejo all received either 60 or 90 days eviction notices just before the holidays.

Two of the families said they have been unable to find anywhere else they can afford to rent.

"I really don't have a plan," evicted tenant Anita Span said. "I just put it in God's hands."

Bay Area housing experts said situations like this are becoming all too common as the region deals with an unprecedented housing crisis where tenants have little power.

"We are in the midst of an unparalleled level of housing and affordability," said Matt Regan with the Bay Area Council. "They're at the mercy of people who do the wrong thing in many instances and they have no alternatives."

NBC Bay Area attempted to reach the property owner of the triplex, located on Georgia Street, but their attorney was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, tenants have no idea where they and their children will go.

"I don't even know if I will have a roof over my head when Christmas comes," Span said.

The families hope the property owner has a change of heart and at least gives them more time to find new homes.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[For Vallejo, Presence of Paramount Pictures Is Give and Take]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 11:29:58 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/13reasons_.jpg

The Vallejo Police Department spent close to 2,000 hours protecting Paramount Pictures film sets during the production of "13 Reasons Why" and the latest Transformers spinoff "Bumblebee," according to public records.

The city billed the Hollywood-based production company about $155,000 for more than 1,845 hours of police labor over the course of 2016, records show. Police officers diverted traffic away from the film sets and provided security services, according to Joanna Altman, assistant to the city manager. 

Altman said the invoices are direct reimbursements for resources the city expended during filming. The benefits of having film crews in the area come from the added economic activity caused by production, Altman said.

“It wasn’t an increase in revenue to us by any means,” Altman said, noting that the studio had their debts. “As for the ancillary support to the community, they are here shopping, purchasing locally and staying in hotels.” 

The film crews have primarily been stationed downtown, where several buildings received a facelift to accommodate production. The facade of the fictional Monet’s coffee shop and Baker’s Pharmacy from “13 Reasons Why” is still up on Georgia street, drawing in young fans who like to take selfies in front of the building. 

“There are people there all day looking through the windows,” said Ray Prather, who has been renting his parking lot to the film crews. “Just a stream of little girls, mostly, taking pictures.” 

The Transformer’s spinoff “Bumblebee” also filmed scenes in the downtown area and Mare Island. 

For the most part, nearby residents and business owners who spoke to NBC Bay Area say they have been pleased with the production company’s presence. When film crews are in the area, staffers often shop at local retailers and drive tourism to the small city, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012. 

Kent Fortner, owner of Mare Island Brewing Co., lives and works two blocks away from production. He said any inconveniences have been mitigated by the boon film crews have brought to his business. 

“There is no doubt that it was disruptive, but I found it very entertaining,” Fortner said. “Economic activity is always a little disruptive, but the crews love to drink beer and it brought some good notoriety to the city.” 

But the experience hasn’t been universally positive. Some residents, including Fortner’s neighbor and some small business owners, have grown frustrated with street closures. 

Paramount Pictures also caused controversy over the summer when a production crew painted over a beloved city mural that featured community members who died tragically.

The muralist, Alvaro Garcia, said Paramount Pictures' response to the controversy felt "superficial." Although top producers apologized to people depicted in the mural and vowed to pay for a new one, they never reached out to him directly. 

"I feel like my mural was hijacked," he said. "People have been focusing on one aspect of it, without looking at the broader picture of what that mural represents in our city's history." 

Netflix has not yet confirmed whether "13 Reasons Why" will be back for a third season. If it is renewed, Fortner is hoping Paramount will return to Vallejo. 

“For a city that was once in bankruptcy and kind of took one on the chin, I think traffic and all of that stuff are good problems to have,” he said.

Photo Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix]]>
<![CDATA[NorCal Wildfires Spared Vineyards But Not Workers]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 11:16:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/estancia-859618056.jpg

A 34-year-old vineyard worker left behind everything when he fled the flames that consumed his apartment in Santa Rosa, California, last month.

With no warning of the approaching blaze, the man — who has picked grapes for 15 years and who asked that his full name not be used — only had time to grab his wallet before driving his wife, her son and her granddaughter to safety at 1 a.m.

Afterward, a friend offered the family a room short-term, but now the man worries about where they will go and how they will pay for it. 

Vineyards across California’s wine country mostly were spared when the fires raced through at the beginning of October, but that's not the case with many of the agricultural workers. They have lost homes and what possessions they had and in some cases, because they are undocumented, they are ineligible for federal assistance.

About 10 of the more than 1,200 wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties were devastated, but the majority reopened quickly once the fires passed through. Now, they are appealing to people to help the recovery by visiting, said Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for the Wine Institute of California. The organization is donating money from its tastings and sales to fire victims, and has created funds targeted directly to workers displaced by the fires.

“The main concern for the industry is trying to get these people some place to live,” Horiuchi said.

The fires that broke out Oct. 8 killed 42 people, damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes and 4,000 commercial buildings, and caused more than $3.3 billion in covered losses, the state Department of Insurance reported at the end of the month.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has warned that it could be months before there was a final tally of losses and Moody’s Investors Service says it could be more than $4.6 billion.

Sonoma County suffered among the worst damage. In the county’s largest city, Santa Rosa, the Coffey Park and Fountaingrove neighborhoods and the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park were reduced to charred rubble.

A housing recovery fund established by the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau hopes to find temporary quarters for all of the displaced agricultural workers. It has raised $445,000 so far and has identified 21 agricultural workers and their families who lost their homes, said Karissa Kruse, the foundation's president.

“However, we believe that there are still more families who we have not connected with, so we are updating our information and putting together a flyer in both English and Spanish that our (agricultural) employers can distribute,” she said.

The foundation’s board will meet in the last week of November to approve the first phase of the distribution of funds. The plan is to provide rent, utilities and basic household items for families displaced by the fires, and gift cards to agricultural employees who were evacuated and lost food and wages for a few days during the fires, according to Kruse.

The group is trying to be innovative, and had investigated whether it could buy trailers, park them on vineyards and connect them to sewers and water. But in the meantime, it has found some apartments through Burbank Housing, a local non-profit dedicated to affordable housing, Kruse said.

Sonoma County’s wine industry employs 5,186 full-time workers and 2,644 seasonal workers, according to a survey done this year by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, which Kruse also heads. The hourly wage for vineyard employees is $16.34 and more than 29 percent of the grape growers offer housing to their employees, providing more than 950 beds.

In Napa County, the Napa Valley Community Foundation activated a disaster relief fund that was established in 2014 in response to the South Napa Earthquake. Since the fires it has raised $7 million and is making cash available to low-to-moderate-income workers who need help paying rent or security deposits, utility and phone bills, auto loans, childcare or healthcare expenditures.

The emergency financial assistance is being allocated through three family resource centers, non-profit organizations in the community that agriculture workers already turn to. The centers are well connected with the mostly Mexican immigrant population that works in agriculture and in the restaurants, kitchens and hotels in Napa County, said the foundation’s president, Terence Mulligan.

“Because let’s face it, even before the fires these are folks who are typically struggling to cover the astronomical cost of housing and to build a brighter future for their kids,” Mulligan said.

By the end of October, the foundation had approved distributions totaling $3 million to help workers facing hardship because of the economic slowdown resulting from the fires. Since then, the family resource centers report that about 500 people have sought the emergency funds, up to 75 percent of them agricultural workers and the remainder from the hospitality industry. Some 40 to 60 people were renting homes that were among those that burned.

Napa has 7,000 to 8,000 people working in agriculture, only about 800 to 1,000 of whom leave to pick crops elsewhere. The vast majority now live in the area year round, on a vineyard’s payroll or working in construction or other industries during the winter months.

Napa had already set up farmworker housing centers that offer lodging, meals and laundry, and are financed through an assessment on growers, according to the Napa Vintners.

Even before the fires, the North Bay had a severe housing crunch, with the rental vacant rate at only 1 percent in Santa Rosa and 3 percent in Sonoma County as a whole. Since then, Santa Rosa lost 3,000 homes or 5 percent of its housing.

With thousands of families needing a place to live, median monthly rents jumped in mid-October compared to the month before — by 36 percent to $3,224 in Sonoma County and by 23 percent to $3,094 in Napa, according to an analysis by Zillow, the online real estate website. New listings appearing on Zillow may have formerly been vacation homes being offered for rent because of the sudden demand, but Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist with Zillow, cautioned that it was premature to draw any final conclusions about the size of the increase.

The housing market is in flux, and California law prohibits price increases on rental market during a state emergency by more than 10 percent.

“It’s a very expensive part of the world to live in anyway and so I think the people at the low end, whether they’re hired farm workers or construction workers or retail workers, it will be tough for them,” said Dan Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis, and its Agricultural Issues Center. “It already is.”

Sumner said even farm workers whose homes did not burn will end up paying higher rents because supply is so tight that prices will be pushed up. Construction will be focused on rebuilding neighborhoods that were damaged and destroyed, not adding new housing.

“If you lost your house, that’s an absolute tragedy, but even the hired farm worker that didn’t necessarily get burned out will have to pay higher rents probably and that will really be a burden on them,” Sumner said.

Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties are responsible for 12 percent of the wine produced in the state, according to the Wine Institute. Ninety percent of grapes in Napa and Sonoma and 75 percent in Mendocino had already been harvested before the fires started and the grapes that remained were mostly the tougher skinned Cabernet Sauvignon that are given the longest time on the vines.

“Those are the most valuable grapes in the United States,” Sumner said. “Per ton, they’re off the scale relative to other ones.”

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Fresno County bring $400 a ton compared to $8,000 ton for these grapes. “It’s the difference between the wine you drink and the wine you wish you could afford to drink,” he said.

Many farm workers are undocumented or have relatives who are and are distrustful of government agencies, Sumner said. They might know that assistance is available but be reluctant to seek it despite assurances that there are no ties to U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, given stepped up enforcement of immigration.

“In their personal experience, they haven’t made much use of government services and so the idea that the government is providing a lot of services, they may well think it’s not for them,” he said.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for disaster unemployment assistance or cash assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but they may be eligible for programs run by state and local agencies, and can apply for federal assistance on behalf of children under 18 who were born in the United States. They do not have to provide information on their own immigration status, according to FEMA, which urges them to call to be referred to other programs that can assist them.

A majority of the vineyard workers now in the area have been in the country for several years, Sumner said, unlike 10 to 20 years ago, when this might have been their first or second season in California. The economy of northern Mexico has done reasonably well over the last decade compared to the United States and there has been little migration, he said.

In fact, before the fires, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat had written of vineyard owners who were worried about a dearth of labor and hiring foreign workers through the federal H-2A visa program. Agricultural employers are permitted to hire full-time seasonal workers for an annual growing cycle, normally lasting up to 10 months, a program that President Donald Trump’s son, Eric, has taken advantage of for the Trump Vineyard Estates in Virginia.

The vineyard worker who lost his apartment in Santa Rosa was with his family and four acquaintances who lived with them when the fires began. At first, he did not realize what was happening, he said. There was a lot of noise outside, and when he looked out the window of the second-floor apartment, he saw what he thought was fog, but what was actually smoke and ashes.

By the time they left, the fire was closing in. 

"It’s very difficult. We’re starting over from scratch," the man said.

-- Estefania Hernandez and Maria Chamberlain contributed to this article.

Photo Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Third Party Equipment May Have Started Tubbs Fire: PG&E]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:07:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Rebuilding_Begins_in_North_Bay_After_Fires.jpg

In new court filings PG&E argues a “third party” tapping into the utility’s electrical lines in Calistoga may have been the cause of the Tubbs fire.

The claim comes in documents arguing against combing 15 separate lawsuits filed over the North Bay firestorm.

“Although Plaintiffs have rushed to file complaints often while the fires were still burning, the reality is that no one currently knows what caused any of these fires,” the company argues.

But in the Tubbs fire that began in Calistoga, PG&E says, “preliminary investigations suggest that this fire might have been caused by electrical equipment that was owned, installed and maintained by a third party not named in these actions.”

That suggestion is apparently based on the report PG&E filed Oct. 27 with state regulators. It recounts how Cal Fire investigators had seized several fused wires, near Calistoga, as well as “a secondary service line that had detached from the fire-damaged home.”

Investigators also took “multiple sections of customer-owned overhead conductor that served multiple pieces of customer-owned equipment on the property. No damage to PG&E equipment was readily apparent.”

In its regulatory report on this incident, the utility goes on to say, “This information is preliminary and PG&E is fully cooperating with Cal Fire.”

As for its latest court filing, company officials had no further comment late Thursday.

<![CDATA[G Eazy Calls Out Trump at Benefit Concert for Fire Relief]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:39:02 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/GettyImages-827459824.jpg

Oakland rapper G Eazy had some choice words about President Donald Trump during his performance Thursday night at a benefit concert for North Bay fire relief.

The concert, which was headlined by Metallica and the Dave Matthews Band, was held at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

G Eazy took a moment in between songs to call out the president.

"I just have to say one thing while I'm on stage that's really important to me. These fires were completely devastating. A lot of people lost everything and the President of the United States never said anything about it," G Eazy said in between songs before playing a song aimed at the president.

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<![CDATA[PHOTOS: Benefit Concert for North Bay Fire Relief]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 19:52:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/20171109-BandTogether-Benefit-Concert-53.jpg
"San Francisco and the Bay Area will not forget, we will support the North Bay as they rebuild:" Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Metallica capped off a stadium-shaking set Thursday night with these words, summing up what 40,000 people in the crowd were feeling.

"Band Together Bay Area" — a five-hour benefit concert geared to help recovery efforts in the North Bay wildfires — took place at AT&T Park from 6 to 11 p.m., raising $15 million. Organizers said it's just a start.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Gonzalez/ NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfires Point to Usefulness of Old Technology: Sheriff]]>Thu, 09 Nov 2017 14:25:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861820314.jpg

Wildfires that killed nine people in a remote Northern California county last month also crippled land lines, cell phones and internet service, the local sheriff said Thursday, saying the disaster shows old-fashioned sirens and ham radios have a place in emergencies.

Failures of modern technology can cost "all connectivity to the world," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said at a news conference. When lives are at stake, "we need to notify people immediately that this is a real disaster, we need to get out of here."

Nine of the 43 people who died in the devastating Northern California wildfires that began Oct. 8 were in Mendocino County, in an area called Redwood Valley, although other valleys and areas also burned in the county at the same time.

The Los Angeles Times, citing interviews and a review of dispatch calls, reported Monday that the county appears to have waited more than an hour after fire was first reported in Redwood Valley to order evacuations there. The report said numerous residents called 911 to report that they were trapped.

Allman did not specifically address the report Thursday or whether the communications failures slowed evacuation efforts.

However, he described the hectic first hours of the wildfires, when dispatchers struggled to field countless emergency calls and law enforcement officers struggled to grasp the scale of fires surging around the area, as dry gusts drove embers and flames for miles.

"They've never taken this many calls before," Allman said of local dispatchers. It was "the largest fire situation ... in California history," he said referring to the fires that encompassed several counties.

At the request of authorities, the area's utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut power in the first hours of the fires, out of concern that sparks would ignite still more blazes, Allman said.

Cell phones and internet service failed for many and CalFire lost "a good portion of its phone lines" in Mendocino County, the sheriff said.

Instead, emergency workers drove through neighborhoods ordering residents out over bullhorns, and knocking on doors.

Ham radio operators, meanwhile, volunteered for work in the disaster, helping to coordinate the transportation of victims to hospitals, he said.

Allman pledged to streamline the chain of command for ordering automated cell-phone alerts, or reverse-911 calls, to make it easier for individual law officers to order them.

The sheriff also urged authorities to reconsider civil-defense sirens, staples of the World War II area that have fallen into disuse in recent decades. Many areas have taken down the sirens because of complaints from residents about the noise associated with testing the devices.

At a minimum, "I hope Mendocino County can take a step back and reposition air raid sirens," Allman said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fatal Big Rig Crash on Hwy. 101 in San Rafael Snarls Traffic]]>Thu, 09 Nov 2017 06:31:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Fatal_Big_Rig_Crash_on_Highway_101_in_San_Rafael_Snarls_Traf.jpg

A big rig crashed on Highway 101 in San Rafael late Wednesday night, leaving at least one person dead, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash occurred about 10:30 p.m. on northbound 101 at North San Pedro Road, and initially blocked all lanes on that side of the freeway, the CHP said.

The accident caused diesel fuel to leak onto the roadway because of a punctured fuel tank and spread concrete debris across the freeway, the CHP said.

One lane was later reopened, but there was no estimated time for reopening the other lanes, the CHP said.

<![CDATA[Man Who Killed Richmond Cop Found Sane, Faces Prison Term]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 20:41:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/richmondofficer1030_604935.JPG

A jury on Wednesday found a 32-year-old man to be sane when he fatally shot an off-duty Richmond police officer last year.

Last week, Robert Vega was found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder in the February 2016 killing of Officer Gus Vegas inside Vegas's home in Vallejo. Wednesday's decision means Vega faces up to 21 years in prison.

Vega, a former boyfriend of Vegas' daughter, shot Vegas eight times inside the officer's home. Defense attorneys had said Vega suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and feared for his life when Vegas confronted him after hearing screams from his daughter's bedroom.

The off-duty officer was unarmed, prosecutors said.

"My dad dedicated his life to justice and serving his community, and to me, a little bit of justice was sent back my dad's way," Vegas's son, Enrico Maldonado, said about the decision.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Voters Approve Two of Three Measures in Sonoma County]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 15:32:09 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ballot+generic.jpg

Voters in Sonoma County approved two of three measures in Tuesday's election, according to unofficial final results.

Voting was by mail only because of the wildfires last month.

Cotati voters approved Measure G, a tax on marijuana businesses. It required majority approval and received nearly 79 percent of the vote.

Cultivation businesses will be taxed up to $25 per square foot of cultivation area adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index or eight percent of gross receipts, and up to eight percent for gross receipts on cannabis manufacturing, distribution and dispensary businesses.

It's estimated the tax will provide $300,000 a year to Cotati's general fund budget to provide city services. The tax does not apply to the use or the cultivation of cannabis for personal use as authorized by state law.

Windsor voters approved Measure H, which extends the town's urban growth boundary to Dec. 31, 2040, and includes three parcels totaling an additional 22.5 additional acres for light-industrial use in the Shiloh Road area.

The Santa Rosa Junior College Public Safety Training campus and two other businesses are included in the additional 22.5 acres.

Measure F, a $65 annual parcel tax for eight years in the Wilmar Union School District in Petaluma, was losing by a 64.3 to 35.7 percent margin. It requires two-thirds approval.

The tax would raise $70,890 annually for music, arts, counseling services and technology at the K-6 Wilson Elementary School at 3775 Bodega Ave.

A previous parcel tax expired, and Measure F was to begin on July 1, 2018.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Threatening Graffiti Found at Tamalpais High School]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 09:52:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/101217+students+generic.jpg

Threatening graffiti scrawled inside a bathroom stall at Tamalpais High School has prompted officials to increase security measures across the campus Wednesday.

In a letter to the school community, Principal J.C. Farr announced that the graffiti found in a campus bathroom indicated that some type of harm would be done against students and staff on Wednesday.

Mill Valley police were called once school officials found out about the threat, according to Farr. It was decided that classes would continue as usual and officers, administrators, and campus assistants would roam the campus on Wednesday to keep the community safe.

"While it is unfortunate that we must deal with such circumstances, we believe this provides an opportunity to discuss with your student the serious nature of statements that threaten harm to anyone and how important it is for all of us to be vigilant, report anything unusual and closely follow the instructions of the adults on campus," Farr wrote in the letter.

Anyone with information about the threat is asked to contact the Mill Valley Police Department at 415-389-4100. People can also call the confidential tip line at 415-380-3507.

Photo Credit: NBC Washington]]>
<![CDATA[California NAACP Calls for Change to National Anthem]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 06:16:59 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd-49ers-GettyImages-856373702.jpg

It has been a staple of American culture throughout the nation's history, but the NAACP in California say it needs to go.

The organization says the "The Star-Spangled Banner" should no longer be used as the national anthem because the third stanza of the song, which is rarely sung, references slaves.

Alice Huffman, the president of the NAACP in California and Hawaii, brought up the idea at a recent NAACP state convention. She says the song is racist.

"We're not trying to protest the flag at all," she said. "We're just trying to get it removed so that whatever comes out in the future as a national anthem we can all stand proudly and sing it."

The specific stanza that Huffman has issue with reads, "Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."

"And if you look at it, there's no way you can think it meant anything great for African Americans," Huffman said.

Huffman hopes for a new, more inclusive song that would better represent modern day America.

The NAACP will ask lawmakers for support of its campaign in January.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Coach Charged in DUI Crash That Killed Student]]>Fri, 28 Jul 2017 13:36:17 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SRJCmugshot.jpg

A Santa Rosa Junior College football coach was charged in Sonoma County Superior Court Monday afternoon with the murder of a Sonoma State University student in an alleged DUI vehicle collision Sunday night.

Logologoa Taumaloto Tevaseu, 35, of Santa Rosa, was driving a 2006 Dodge Ram south on Lakeville Highway east of Petaluma around 9:10 p.m. when he crossed double yellow lines and collided head-on with a 2015 Toyota Corolla.

Three other vehicles then collided with the Toyota or each other, causing minor to moderate injuries to the occupants.

The driver of the Toyota was pronounced dead at the scene. She has been identified as Paulette Geronimo Quiba, 21, of Oakley, according to the California Highway Patrol. Quiba was a business studies student at SSU.

Immediately after the collision, Tevaseu, a defensive line coach with the SRJC Bear Cubs football team, refused to take a blood draw, CHP officials said.

He is being held in the Sonoma County Jail and did not enter a plea Monday afternoon. Tevaseu will be back in court Wednesday morning.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office charged Tevaseu with murder with malice and enhancements alleging he was previously convicted of DUI within the last 10 years and he caused great bodily injury to Quiba. He also is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two counts of felony DUI.

Tevaseu's previous DUI occurred on Oct. 20, 2011. He was convicted on Feb. 29, 2012 and was served 10 days in jail, according to court records.

The DUI allegations in the complaint filed Monday also allege he refused to take a chemical test after Sunday's collision, and his blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent and more.

The Sonoma State University Facebook page states Quiba began her studies in the fall of 2015. She was junior and was taking pre-business courses, a proud member of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, the Accounting Forum and the Filipino American Association.

Quiba also was a staff member of Join Us in Making Progress where she was the Days of Service coordinator and part of the Sustainability Coalition last year.

"She will be missed by her friends and classmates as well as by the faculty and staff who were lucky enough to know her," the SSU statement read.

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Residents Aiming to Get Wildfire Cleanup Rolling]]>Tue, 07 Nov 2017 23:37:46 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/srcleanup1107_693383.JPG

Residents of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood that was leveled by a wildfire last month came together Tuesday to get the cleanup ball rolling.

The Army Corps of Engineers began scrapping the first of 5,300 burned out homesites, and the agency still is waiting for concentrations of homeowners to agree to the cleanup so it doesn't have to be done piecemeal.

"It means the contractors have to pull their equipment off the site, load it up, decontaminate it, truck it to the next property and start the process all over again," said Rick Brown, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

About a third of the permissions have been granted, and a line of people were signing up Tuesday. The deadline is next Monday.

Yolanda Rojas Alvarez hopes her house is next.

"They’re having an issue; they’re waiting for everybody’s paperwork to come in," said Alvarez, who got all her neighbors to sign on and was just waiting for the city to process the forms. "It’s just up to the city now, how fast they can turn in that paperwork and get it to them."

Rick Hall and his wife decided to sign up just last night.

"I think we got all of our questions answered," Hall said.

The Army Corps said the number of cleanup crews will grow exponentially in the next few days. The permission forms are being processed by workers at the Department of Public Health. About 900 forms have been approved.

Meanwhile, at a meeting Tuesday night, Coffey Park residents discussed a multitude of topics, including being city planners and designers for their own neighborhood since they were starting from a blank slate.

But before they could think about the future, they had to consider the present. Questions abounded regarding cleanup and whether they should opt-in and let government agencies clean up, paying only what insurance covers, or opt out and hire someone themselves.

Insurance policies are paying anywhere between $13,000 and $40,000 for lot cleanup. 

For some the meeting was crucial.

"It’s been about a month, and we haven’t really had a good chance to sit down and talk about what we want to do to move forward," neighbor Stephanie Laplante said. "This is that opportunity to do that."

Officials are aiming to have the Coffey Park area cleaned up and ready for rebuild by early next year.

NBC Bay Area's Terry McSweeney contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[SF-to-Vallejo Ferry Boat Stranded for Hours on San Pablo Bay]]>Mon, 06 Nov 2017 23:47:23 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ferryvallejo1106_683580.JPG

A ferry boat carrying hundreds of passengers from San Francisco to Vallejo became stranded in San Pablo Bay on Monday evening, turning a normally 45-minute commute into a nearly 5-hour debacle.

Passengers reported that the vessel lost both its engines and dropped its anchors off the coast of Hercules and had to wait for assistance from a tug boat. There were an estimated 330 people on the boat.

"It was long, very long," passenger Kristina Gutierrez, of Vallejo, said. "But you’re laughing now. Five delightful hours, yes."

The ferry was towed to Mare Island, where passengers deboarded and boarded another ferry to take them to Vallejo. The tug boat was unable to go directly to Vallejo because its hull was too deep.

"It was fine. It was just a long day's journey into night," passenger Michael Beseda, of Vallejo, said. "Crew was great, very accommodating. It’s good to be on land."

The ferry, which left San Francisco at 5:30 p.m., originally was scheduled to land at Vallejo at 6:15 p.m. The delay was in its third hour by the time the tug boat arrived at the stranded ferry, and because of the side trip to Mare Island, it lasted about another two hours.

"At the end there, we couldn’t use the bathroom, so that kind of sucks. But other than that, it was OK," said Deana Curran, of Vacaville.

The delay will carry over to Tuesday morning, with the 7:15 a.m. service out of Vallejo and the 8:15 a.m. service out of San Francisco operating with buses.

The cause of the engine failures was not known. 

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Concert Benefits Wildfire Victims, Thanks First Responders]]>Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:04:28 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/napaconcert1105_669514.JPG

Napa Valley hosted a day of music, food and wine Sunday to say thank you to first responders for their hard work during the wildfires.

More than a thousand people attended the free event called Wine Country Strong at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

Napa County Sheriff John Robertson had a front row seat.

"Everybody put their heart into it," he said about the first responders. "It’s definitely a calling. Some of those people acted without care for themselves, and they saved a lot of lives."

Organizers of the concert say they were inspired by what they witnessed in their communities.

"Forty-eight hours after the fires, we have wineries in both valleys, Napa and Sonoma, and I saw the community getting together and being really true heroes," said Jean-Charles Boisset, of the Boisset Collection. "I said we got to thank them."

Local wineries and businesses provided donations to make the concert possible, according to Sonia Tolbert of Festival Napa Valley.

"Watching the community come together during this tragedy has really been exceptional," she said.

For some, the concert served as a step toward healing. They shared stories of pulling together. Kevin Davis, of Sonoma County Animal Services, said it was "absolutely wonderful" to be acknowledged.

"We were out there doing anything we could do for the horses running down the road to everything else that was going on with the animals," he said.

A donation area was set up for disaster relief funds, and even though the event was free, the money piled up quickly. The concert was just part of a larger effort by Wine Country Strong to reach a goal of $100,000 in donations by Dec. 31.

Wildfires in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties burned more than 162,000 acres, killed 43 people and destroyed more than 8,900 structures.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Incoming Rain Presents Issues in North Bay Fire Zones]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 11:33:21 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/northbayrain1102_643687.JPEG

The impending rain is a big concern in the North Bay fire zones, emotionally and environmentally.

In Sonoma County, the race is on to protect rivers and streams from dangerous toxic debris runoff. Some fire victims in the burn zones are trying to get cleanup work done before the rain comes while water quality experts are working to protect waterways from dangerous runoff.

Many of the victims are still hoping to find personal mementos in the ashes, a search that may have to end as rain moves in.

"Feeling like the rain is gonna really change all that, change what's there and what's possible to be found," one fire victim said.

Water quality experts are concerned about rain washing toxic ash and debris into more than 600 streams in the burn zone. They say the natural watersheds typically filter out the water supply, but it's especially important to prevent ash and pollutants from getting into streams.

"We’re really concerned about protecting the streams because they're drinking water supply for most of Sonoma County residents," said Claudia Villacortawiththe North Coast Regional Water Board. "Our natural water sheds filter this drinking water supply system. It’s really important to prevent all this ash and pollutants from getting into the streams."

Crews also were installing filters on storm drains, placing nearly 200 straw wattles in burn zones. The straw wattles filter out toxins that otherwise could pollute drinking water supplies and harm aquatic life.

The Environmental Protection Agency continued working to clear hazardous materials from burn sites. The agency said it is halfway through that process.

During the weekend storm, people are asked to drive cautiously and use sandbags.

NBC Bay Area's Pete Suratos contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Early Winter Storm to Dump Rain, Snow on Northern California]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 17:35:05 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-467299859.jpg

A storm moving in from the Gulf of Alaska arrived Friday in Northern California, soaking the state's Redwood Coast for several hours.

Rain increased from a light drizzle overnight to steady rain on Friday in the state's far north, forecasters with the National Weather Service said.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, overnight light rain made for slick roads ahead of the morning commute.

A mountain pass across the Sierra Nevada that runs through Yosemite National Park closed to traffic Thursday ahead of the storms expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow on the highest peaks, park officials said.

Officials are asking drivers to be safe and prepared for this Winter-like storm by having chains on their vehicles. Despite the dangers, the early snow is a welcome sign for several ski resorts who hope to get several hundred inches of snow for the season. 

Resorts like Boreal Ski will be the first to open their ski area in the California for the 2017-2018 season. 

"It's incredible when we're able to open early," said Tucker Norred. "There's some seasons when we only 73 inches and there's others that we've had 750 inches." 

In fire-scarred regions of Northern California's wine country, meanwhile, crews were working to stem the flow of ash, soil or hazardous substances into waterways in case the storms bring heavy rains there.

Tioga Road, the soaring eastern entry to Yosemite, was closed to traffic shortly before nightfall Thursday. Officials were also closing Glacier Point Road, which offers sweeping views of Yosemite Valley.

Both roads are to be shut through Monday, when the storms are expected to dissipate and road conditions can be assessed.

Two storm systems will be moving through Northern California over the weekend, bringing rain and snow to the region.

Most of the rain is expected overnight Friday into Saturday morning.

In Sonoma County north of San Francisco, crews have been working long days to prevent feared mudslides and water pollution in areas hit by last month's devastating wildfires, which killed at least 43 people and destroyed more than 8,900 homes and other structures.

The work includes placing sandbags and bundles of straw to block runoff into streams, and moving to capture some of the runoff in urban areas that burned. California has declared a public-health emergency in fire areas in part out of concern that household chemicals from burned areas could contaminate soil and water.

This weekend, up to 2 feet of snow are forecast to fall in elevations above 8,000 feet, and at least a foot of snow is expected in Donner and Tioga passes and other areas above 6,000 feet and up, forecasters said. The storms coming in from the Gulf of Alaska will also bring rain to the San Francisco Bay Area, including North Bay counties still recovering from last month's fires.

The first storm will clear by Sunday afternoon. But a second storm system is expected to hit the area Sunday night.

So far, the only Lake Tahoe-area ski resort open is Mt. Rose area on the Nevada side. But operators were pleased with the forecast.

"We are so excited for the coming storms," said Marcie Bradley, a spokeswoman with Northstar Ski Resort in Truckee, which is scheduled to open Nov. 17.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rain Poses Concerns in North Bay Fire Zones]]>Sat, 04 Nov 2017 18:29:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/northbayrain1102_643687.JPEG

The impending rain is a big concern in the North Bay fire zones, emotionally and environmentally.

In Sonoma County, the race is on to protect rivers and streams from dangerous toxic debris runoff. Some fire victims in the burn zones are trying to get cleanup work done before the rain comes within the next week while water quality experts are working to protect waterways from dangerous runoff.

EPA crews spent the majority of Saturday hoping to remove dangerous and toxic materials. 

"It ranges from compressed gas cylinders, pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals typically found in homes," said an EPA spokesperson. 

Thanks to the concerns of the toxic runoff, Cal Fire sent crews to clear the streams of debris to prevent flooding and make sure runoff did end up in those streams. 

Many of the victims are still hoping to find personal mementos in the ashes, a search that may have to end as rain moves in.

"Feeling like the rain is gonna really change all that, change what's there and what's possible to be found," one fire victim said.

Water quality experts are concerned about rain washing toxic ash and debris into more than 600 streams in the burn zone. They say the natural watersheds typically filter out the water supply, but it's especially important to prevent ash and pollutants from getting into streams.

"We’re really concerned about protecting the streams because they're drinking water supply for most of Sonoma County residents," said Claudia Villacortawiththe North Coast Regional Water Board. "Our natural watersheds filter this drinking water supply system. It’s really important to prevent all this ash and pollutants from getting into the streams."

Crews also were installing filters on storm drains, placing nearly 200 straw wattles in burn zones. The straw wattles filter out toxins that otherwise could pollute drinking water supplies and harm aquatic life.

The Environmental Protection Agency continued working to clear hazardous materials from burn sites. The agency said it is halfway through that process.

During the weekend storm, people are asked to drive cautiously and use sandbags.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Experts Fear Automated PG&E Technology in North Bay Fires]]>Thu, 02 Nov 2017 08:59:55 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/clearlake.jpg

A common outage-prevention technology that has been blamed for fueling wildfires worldwide may have helped spark the North Bay firestorm, experts say.

The potentially problematic device, known as a recloser, is essentially an automated circuit breaker. When a fault is detected on a power line, the device helps ensure reliable service, according to retired PG&E engineer turned consultant Dan Mulkey.

When a fault “trips” on a line, power would normally be lost, Mulkey said. But the recloser sends three quick test bursts of power back down the line. The jolts test whether a problem might clear up on its own.

“In the first trip, it will then reclose,” said the 42-year PG&E engineer who retired two years ago. If the “fault is still there, it trips out again, and it will reclose one more time. So it’s three shots to lock out…automatically.”

Mulkey says power lines routinely bind together in the wind. When power is out, the fused lines will typically separate. Then, with the device, the problem circuit can automatically be “reclosed,’’ boosting reliability and saving money.

“That’s in the overhead,” Mulkey says. “Most of the faults are temporary.”

But when a line is down in a windstorm, those “shots” the recloser has sent can repeatedly torch any surrounding brush or trees with as much as 9,000 degree Fahrenheit plasma. That arcing can shower trees and brush with sparks.

That’s what is suspected to have helped fuel the 2007 Witch fire in San Diego, according to regulatory filings against San Diego Gas & Electric in the fight over whether utility customers should pay $379 million in fire costs. And reclose technology was blamed by the Royal High Commission for the massive Bush fire in Australia two years later. It took 119 lives.

The High Commission found the Bush fire likely would not have occurred had the recloser technology not kicked in.

Two years ago, State Sen. Jerry Hill asked whether PG&E would follow the example of the states’ other two major utilities in vowing to idle their reclose technology during periods of high fire danger.

“Very similar to my colleagues,” PG&E electrical system executive Patrick Hogan told Hill at a legislative hearing in November 2015, suggesting that the utility would unplug its reclosers in response to high fire danger. “We’re able to, in high risk conditions, to take the recloser out of service. So it basically only trips once and doesn’t reclose – so you take the reliability hit but you gain the wildfire benefit.”

“That’s good, that’s good to hear,” Hill said.

In a prepared statement at the time, Hogan said PG&E hoped to be able to shut down its reclosers within 132 identified fire-prone zones by the start of 2017.

But PG&E has not said whether it actually did block its reclosers before the North Bay firestorm – leaving Hill concerned.

“I’m interested in knowing whether they did that this time, in that location, or did that recloser turn it on and start another fire nearby, in another location,” Hill said.

In its statements to NBC Bay Area, PG&E did express concern about “broad and far-reaching potential safety impacts” about the unnecessary loss of power to hospitals and first responders.

It also said it had launched a limited pilot project this year to remotely turn off some of its reclosers – including some in Napa and Sonoma -- in high fire danger zones in high risk conditions.

“The pilot-program devices we have in the wildfire-impacted areas worked as designed,” the utility said, without indicating whether they were turned on or off.

Even if PG&E shut off the pilot-project reclosers, experts tell us that as many as half of PG&E’s recloser devices can’t be shut down by system contollers – they have to be turned off in the field.

Hill says getting a full answer on the recloser question could help solve the fire puzzle. “We’ll get it eventually, that’s for sure,’’ he said, “but maybe not until the investigation is concluded.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Man Dies While Moving Fallen Power Pole Near Healdsburg]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 08:25:03 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Ambulance-Connecticut-Generic.jpg

Authorities say a man in California's wine country died after attempting to move a toppled power pole and it fell on top of him.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that authorities with Sonoma County Sheriff's Office say the 25-year-old man was helping the parents of his girlfriend remove the pole that had fallen on top of a truck at a home near Healdsburg on Monday.

Authorities say that as they lifted the pole, the man tripped, causing the pole to fall on him. The family flagged down passing firefighters who attempted lifesaving measures.

Authorities say the pole did not appear to be a public utility pole.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: NBC Connecituct]]>
<![CDATA[Amazon Plans to Hire 800 People Across the Bay Area]]>Thu, 02 Nov 2017 15:46:12 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/amazon-warehouse.jpg

Looking for a job?

Amazon is holding job fairs across the Bay Area hoping to hire 800 people to fill their seasonal warehouse positions.

According to Amazon, these seasonal positions could even lead to a full-time job.

“Last year, thousands of holiday positions were transitioned to regular, full-time roles after the holidays, and the company expects to continue that trend this year,” said Amazon in a press release.

In January, the online retail company said it would add 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. over the next 18 months, despite their attempt to make the switch to automated warehouses.

Amazon plans to hold the job fairs on Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 at the Hyatt House in San Jose at 9 a.m. Other dates include Nov. 4 at the Silliman Center in Newark, Nov. 9 at the Courtyard Marriot in Richmond and Nov. 10 at the Doubletree Fremont-Newark.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[EPA Collects 8K Hazardous Containers from North Bay Fires]]>Thu, 02 Nov 2017 18:00:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/sonoma-napa-county-wildfire-cleanup.jpg

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it has collected more than 8,300 containers of household hazardous waste from burn areas of Sonoma and Napa counties.

The containers range in size between small paint canisters to large chemical drums. They contain paints, cleaners, solvents, oils, herbicides, batteries and pesticides, which all require special handling and disposal.

The containers of hazardous waste from nearly 7,000 commercial and residential parcels in the two counties will be transported to EPA staging sites in Windsor and Yountville before they're disposed at hazardous waste facilities.

The EPA is responsible for surveying, collecting and disposing of the waste.

The EPA finished collecting household hazardous waste from the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa on Tuesday.

Waste collection continues in the Mark West, Larkfield-Wikiup and Fountain Grove areas north of Santa Rosa, and operations have begun in Kenwood and Glen Ellen south of Santa Rosa.

EPA teams in Napa County are working in the Atlas Peak, Soda Canyon, Old Soda Canyon Springs, Mount Veeder, Redwood, Vichy Springs and Monticello roads and Hardman Avenue area.

The public can track the EPA's hazardous waste removal progress in both counties at www.epa.gov/norcalfireresponse. The site shows maps of the fire zones and tracks progress in the field.

The Governor's Office of Emergency Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency and local officials are coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove without cost burn debris, foundations, hazardous trees and some soil from properties. Homeowners must sign a Right to Entry form before debris removal.

Homeowners also can hire a private contractor at their own expense to remove the debris. The work, however, must meet or exceed local, state and federal standards and comply with legal requirements for disposal.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Taco Bell Handing Out Free Treat Thanks to Stolen Base]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:39:27 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-846234500.jpg

The Bay Area may not be represented in this year’s World Series, but that won’t stop baseball fans from getting some free food on Wednesday.

Thanks to Houston Astros outfielder Cameron Maybin, who stole second base during Game 2 of the World Series, Taco Bells across the country will be giving away a free Doritos Locos Taco to customers from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

The annual "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion has been in effect over the last three years, and thanks to Maybin, fans will be able to cash in on Wednesday.

Fans who get free tacos will still be able to enjoy one last baseball game, as Game 7 of the World Series between the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will take place on Wednesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 5:20 p.m. Pacific time. 

For a complete list of Taco Bell locations, hungry fans can visit the restaurant's website

Photo Credit: Getty Images
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma Sheriff's Deputies Shoot, Hurt Suspect in Stolen Car]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 07:29:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Police+Lights-Generic-1020.jpg

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies shot a man who allegedly tried to run over a victim with a stolen vehicle Tuesday night.

At about 10:30 p.m., deputies were dispatched to the 300 block of Bailhache Avenue near Healdsburg on a report of an assault with a deadly weapon that had just occurred, sheriff's officials said.

It was reported to sheriff's officials that the suspect intentionally hit an acquaintance with a vehicle during an argument. The victim was uninjured and called for help, sheriff's officials said.

The suspect, who had a $50,000 arrest warrant for violating a restraining order, fled the scene in the stolen truck.

Deputies quickly located the truck near the Vineyard Creek apartments off of Airport Boulevard. When they tried to pull it over, the suspect refused to stop and drove through a nearby mobile home park, sheriff's officials said.

When the truck reached the end of the park, deputies fired their handguns at the suspect who was hit twice in the arm and surrendered, sheriff's officials said.

The suspect was treated for injuries at the scene and taken to a hospital where he is expected to recover, sheriff's officials said. The suspect's name has not yet been released.

The case remains under investigation.

Photo Credit: News 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Manslaughter Verdict in Richmond Officer's Fatal Shooting]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 19:22:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/richmondofficer1030_604935.JPG

A 32-year-old man was found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder Tuesday in the February 2016 fatal shooting of an off-duty Richmond police officer.

The jury's decision in Contra Costa County court sends the case against Robert Vega into a sanity phase beginning Wednesday, during which the same jury could find him not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of Officer Gus Vegas inside Vegas's home in Vallejo.

Vega, a former boyfriend of Vegas' daughter, shot Vegas eight times inside the officer's own home. Defense attorneys had said Vega suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and feared for his life when Vegas confronted him after hearing screams from his daughter's bedroom.

Vegas was unarmed, prosecutors said.

Vegas's daughter-in-law, Dia Maldonado, provided a statement Tuesday on behalf of the family.

"The case was presented, and we respect the jurors' decision," Maldonado said. "We will have to wait and see how this next portion of the trial goes. There is still a lot that needs to be determined. But at least we now have an opportunity to start our healing process."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Open Enrollment Begins for Covered California]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 23:08:06 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-479421059.jpg

As the White House continues to debate the future of the Affordable Care Act, open enrollment for Covered California begins Wednesday.

The open enrollment process marks the one time of the year when those in need of health insurance can enroll without having to meet qualifying conditions.

Those wishing to enroll will have three months to do so, but people are encouraged to sign up by the middle of December to make sure their coverage kicks in by Jan. 1.

Interested enrollees are also encouraged to shop and compare due to the changes for 2018. Some insurance companies such as Anthem Blue Cross are withdrawing from parts of California while others, such as Blue Shield of California, will be expanding.

Subsidized consumers will see a decrease when it comes to paying for coverage, according to a study performed by Covered California. For the 1.1 million Californians who enroll and receive financial assistance, the average price for coverage will drop about 1.5 percent. That decline equates to a savings of about $9 per month and $108 per year.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[PG&E Timeline: North Bay Fires-Related Incident Reports]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 15:19:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd_pge_scam_san_jose.jpg

Winds gusting between 40 mph and 67 mph drove uprooted trees and snapped branches into PG&E power lines as far as 80 feet away, according to the details of 18 separate North Bay fire-related regulatory reports released Tuesday.

A total of 20 incident reports, logged with the Public Utilities Commission and released under the Public Records Act, were released to NBC Bay Area. One was a correction to another report and another stemmed from a post-fire vehicle crash into a pole.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said he was glad that the state regulators acted quickly to release PG&E’s fire incident reports, but was taking a wait and see attitude about the events of that night.

“What we’re seeing is the first blush, what PG&E’s first impression of what happened,” Hill said. “And we will know far more when the full investigation is completed.”

While specifics of the locations of the failed trees and the voltages of the fallen lines have been redacted, the reports recount the following specific Oct. 8 incidents:

  • At 9:45 p.m. in Oroville in Butte County, a limb from a tree that “appeared to be healthy” hit a distribution line about 15 feet away. Under state regulations, trees can grow no closer than five feet to power lines. PG&E’s report thus rules out “any vegetation clearance issues.”
  • At 10 p.m. in the Kenwood area of Sonoma County, a 60-foot tall eucalyptus tree – growing about 50 feet away from power lines – fell, taking down three main wires.
  • At 11 p.m., an 80 foot tall, “green, healthy” ponderosa pine tree broke at its base in Grass Valley, hitting wires about 7 feet away, destroying a garage with three vintage cars. Damage was put at more than $50,000.
  • At 11:20 p.m. in Nevada City in Nevada County, a ponderosa tree 50 feet downhill from power lines reportedly snapped, taking out distribution lines at wind gusts that PG&E put at 40 mph.
  • At the same time, 11:20 p.m., in Butte County near the town of Bangor, an oak tree limb snapped and hit a nearby wire under wind gusts that PG&E put at 67 mph.
  • At 11:35 p.m. near Ukiah in Mendocino County, a tree some 60 feet from a power line fell and took out the high voltage wires in the Potter Valley area. Automated equipment clocked wind gusts of 40 mph to 50 mph.
  • At 11:55 p.m., in Clearlake, Lake County, two power poles failed at the top, knocking down nearby lines.

The reported incidents continue the following day and others have no specific time.

  • At 1 a.m. on Oct. 9, PG&E said its crews found that an alder tree had snapped near its top in Glen Ellen, near the identified origin of the Nuns fire. The tree top fell on a distribution wire some 30 feet away, under gusts estimated to be up to 58 mph.
  • On 10 a.m. on Oct. 9, authorities found a broken branch from a tree had taken down a distribution line 50 feet away in Calaveras County.
  • In an unspecified location in Santa Rosa, crews checking after the fire found a “possible issue with the secondary conductor” in a fire damaged structure.
  • Also in Santa Rosa, PG&E reported that a 32-inch diameter, 100 foot tall Douglas Fir uprooted and fell into several other trees, taking down power lines that were uphill and about 80 feet away.
  • In Napa, a 25-inch diameter, 70 foot tall Live Oak, fell and hit a distribution line. The tree was uphill and about 44 feet away from the line.
  • Also in Napa, a 25-foot long white oak limb hit fell and struck a distribution line that was 15 feet away.
  • In the Browns Valley area of Yuba County, Cal Fire seized PG&E wires and customer owned electrical gear, but no damage was visible to PG&E equipment.
  • Cal Fire also seized PG&E lines that PG&E said showed no signs of damage in an unspecified part of the city of Sonoma.
  • At a third location in Napa, a 45-foot tall oak – about 10 to 15 feet away from lines – failed and fell into them. Cal Fire seized part of the oak and the line.
  • Near Geyserville, PG&E found a broken limb from a white oak tree about 15 feet from where a wire went down. PG&E estimated winds of up to 65 mph.
  • Last week, near Calistoga, investigators seized parts of PG&E’s distribution line that had become detached from a fire damaged home. PG&E claimed there were “multiple sections of customer-owned” wires at the location. The wires “served multiple pieces of customer-owned equipment” but other was no visible damage to PG&E’s equipment.

Senator Hill says the failures raise the question of whether PG&E maintenance and operational practices played a role in the firestorm. “We’ll wait to see the full outcome of the investigation before coming to any conclusions,” he said.

PG&E provided the following statement Tuesday:

"PG&E is committed to being open and transparent throughout this process. PG&E has provided initial electric incident reports to the CPUC. The information provided in these reports is preliminary and PG&E is fully cooperating with the investigations of Cal Fire and the PUC. There has been no determination on the causes of the fires."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Northern California Wildfires: A Breakdown of the Damage]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 15:49:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861397456.jpg

Cal Fire Officials report more than 8,000 structures were destroyed by the six fires that swept across Northern California starting on Sunday, October 8. As damage assessment is underway, CAL Fire released new information on the breakdown of the fire damage.

More than 70 percent of the buildings that burned were homes, with a total of 6,190. Around 2,000 outbuildings were destroyed, which include things like detached garages, barns and sheds. The fires also wiped out 150 commercial buildings.

The Tubbs Fire that ravaged through both Napa and Sonoma counties topped the chart, destroying more than 5,600 buildings, including 4,655 homes.

Officials with CAL Fire and the Federal Emergency Management Agency join county assessors in damage assessment this week. The numbers below are subject to change in the coming days.

Atlas Fire

  • Residences: 445
  • Commercial Buildings: 17
  • Outbuildings: 319
  • Total: 781

Tubbs Fire

  • Residences: 4,655
  • Commercial Buildings: 94
  • Outbuildings: 894
  • Total: 5,643

Nuns Fire

  • Residences: 639
  • Commercial Buildings: 32
  • Outbuildings: 684
  • Total: 1,355

Pockett Fire

  • Residences: 3
  • Outbuildings: 3
  • Total: 6

Redwood Fire

  • Residences: 314
  • Commercial Buildings: 5
  • Outbuildings: 224
  • Total: 543

Sulphur Fire

  • Residences: 134
  • Commercial Buildings: 2
  • Outbuildings: 26
  • Total: 162

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfires Destroy Part of Hewlett-Packard Archives]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 22:50:39 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/hp-generic.jpg

California's deadly wildfires destroyed much of an archive from tech pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard, such as a decades-old memo in which Hewlett proposes designing a calculator that can fit in his pocket, authorities involved with the archives say.

The more than 100 boxes of letters and other materials from the early days of Hewlett-Packard, now called HP, were stored in two modular buildings at the Santa Rosa offices of Keysight Technologies, an electronics measurement company that acquired the historical trove through a series of spin-offs, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.

The two modular buildings burned to the ground in this month's wildfires , which killed 43 people and destroyed more than 7,000 homes and other structures. The rest of Keysight's campus, including its permanent buildings, survived with minimal damage, Ron Nersesian, the company's chief executive, told the newspaper.

Packard and Hewlett pioneered California's tech industry when they started an electronics firm in a Palo Alto garage with $538 in cash.

The destroyed archives had been valued at nearly $2 million in 2005. Former HP staff archivist Karen Lewis called the collection irreplaceable.

When Lewis first began assembling the materials in the 1980s, "I realized, 'Oh, my God, this is the history of Silicon Valley ... This is the history of the electronics industry.'"

Lewis said the destroyed documents include the memo from Hewlett to engineers that led to the company's HP-35 pocket calculator in 1972. Another memo proposed an open-office floor plan, now a staple of valley companies, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

Lewis faulted the recent handling of the archives, saying previous owners had stored the collections in vaults within permanent facilities, safeguarded by foam fire retardant.

"This could easily have been prevented, and it's a huge loss," Lewis said.

Keysight Technologies spokesman Jeff Weber said his company had taken "appropriate and responsible steps" to protect the archives, "but the most destructive firestorm in state history prevented efforts to protect portions of the collection."

"This is a time to begin healing, not assigning blame," Weber said.

Another HP spokeswoman, Dana Lengkeek, told the Chronicle that other archive material survived elsewhere, including speeches and letters from the firm's founders.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images file]]>
<![CDATA[New California Gas Tax to Go Into Effect on Nov. 1]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 23:04:58 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-97962752.jpg

The summer-driving season is over, but drivers across California will see an increase in prices at the pump starting on Nov. 1.

That's because a statewide gas tax will go into effect.

The new tax equates to a 12-cents-per-gallon increase for most drivers. Diesel users will have to pay 20 cents more per gallon.

Gas taxes, which will likely bring in an extra $5 billion, will be utilized for state and local projects.

By 2017, nearly 77 cents of every dollar drivers spend on gas will actually pay for some sort of tax, with California cashing in on 58 cents of that number.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trial in Killing of Off-Duty Richmond Cop Goes to Jury]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 19:23:03 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/richmondofficer1030_604935.JPG

The murder trial of a man charged with killing an off-duty Richmond police officer in February 2016 was in the hands of a jury Monday.

Richmond police Officer Gus Vegas was shot and killed in his own home by his daughter’s former boyfriend, Robert Vega. Now, a jury must decide whether it was an act of murder or a case of a post-traumatic stress victim acting out of fear.

The 32-year-old Vega opened fire on the father of his former girlfriend in the Vegas home in Vallejo in February 2016. Vegas heard yelling in his daughter's room in the middle of the night and went in to investigate.

Vega shot the unarmed Vegas eight times, prosecutors say, firing some of the shots when Vegas was on the ground. While the prosecutors say it was murder, the defense claims Vega suffered from PTSD and thought his life was in danger.

"We just want justice to be served in whatever fashion they bring back," said Dia Maldonado, Vegas's daughter-in-law, who spoke on behalf of the family. "The jury is going to make a decision, and whatever they decide, we’re behind that."

Maldonado said it’s been a tough case because her family loved Robert Vega, and so did her father-in-law.

"He loved Gus, and Gus loved him," she said. "Whatever happens at this point is just closure for us."

The jury deliberated for about an hour Monday afternoon and will resume deliberations Tuesday morning.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Man and Woman Arrested on Looting Suspicion in Santa Rosa]]>Sun, 29 Oct 2017 14:10:53 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sr+looters-1028.jpg

A man and woman were arrested Saturday evening on suspicion of looting in a burned neighborhood of Santa Rosa, according to police.

Sean Kranyak, 29, of Monterey, and Christina Marsh, 22, of Marina, were arrested on multiple felony charges, including looting, reckless evading, possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of stolen property, police said.

Santa Rosa police officers received a tip about a possible looting about 6 p.m. in the area of 200 Bicentennial Way. Two suspicious subjects, later identified as Kranyak and Marsh, were seen entering a burned area of the Overlook apartments, police said. One of the subjects was seen entering an apartment and coming out carrying a large flat screen TV.

When officers arrived, they saw the suspect vehicle, a stolen Ford pickup with stolen plates, leaving the area, and a chase ensued, police said. When the pursuit reached speeds of 70 mph, officers backed off for safety reasons and lost sight of the pickup.

Another tip led police to where the pickup was dumped on Belair Way, and officers quickly set up a perimeter and began searching for the two suspects. The bed of the truck contained the stolen TV along with various other stolen items, police said.

Moments later, an officer stopped Kranyak and Marsh on Royal Oak Court and took them into custody, police said.

Anyone with information about the case can call the Santa Rosa Police Department at (707) 543-3600.

Photo Credit: Santa Rosa PD]]>
<![CDATA[Day of Remembrance Held For Those Who Died in Wildfires]]>Sat, 28 Oct 2017 22:49:55 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-865518920.jpg

It will take at least months and likely years to fully recover from devastating wildfires that ripped through Northern California earlier this month, destroying at least 8,900 structures and killing 42 people, Sonoma County officials said Saturday.

"We don't control these things, and it makes you realize how small you are in the world when something like this happens," Sheriff Rob Giordano said. "I don't think we understand the level at which it is going to impact lives, and the community will be different."

Giordano spoke before hundreds of people gathered at a college in Santa Rosa, one of the hardest-hit cities, for a Day of Remembrance to honor the lives lost in the deadliest series of wildfires in California history. The fires sparked Oct. 8, eventually forcing 100,000 people to evacuate.

Before a bell rung 42 times to commemorate the dead, Giordano and other officials praised the ordinary and extraordinary acts of heroism by first responders and community members as the firefight raged on for more than a week. Some firefighters worked days on the front line, refusing to take breaks, while sheriff's dispatchers continued taking calls even as the fire came close to taking out their building.

"The night of Oct. 8, we were all tested," Santa Rosa fire Chief Tony Gossner said.

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and five members of Congress spent Saturday attending the memorial, touring the fire ravaged areas and gathering advice from federal, state and local officials on what Congress can do to aid the recovery efforts. In a briefing in Santa Rosa, officials asked them to ease red tape that will make it easier to erect temporary housing and to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency has the resources it needs to clean up any hazardous material before it infiltrates the water supply.

The EPA has assessed 740 properties so far, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency has given out $6 million worth of rental and other assistance to displaced Californians, officials said. Officials estimate the cleanup of debris and other hazardous materials will last into early 2018. The losses are estimated to be at more than $1 billion.

Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents Santa Rosa, said they must make their fellow lawmakers in Washington understand the unprecedented nature of the fires, the deadliest in California history. They drove through a neighborhood near Coffey Park where entire streets are wrecked, with only burned-out cars and charred remains of once-standing houses lining the streets.

"It was just unfathomable the amount of destruction that we saw," Pelosi said. "My colleagues will have to understand this is different from anything else, many times over."

But Pelosi said Northern California's response to the fires can serve as a national model for disaster response if done right. She urged her colleagues in Congress to think beyond the incremental rebuilding needs to consider the big picture of helping the region better prepare for and mitigate damage from future disasters. Obtaining the appropriate amount of relief money will require detailed documentation of homes lost and other destruction, she said.

Santa Rosa alone lost five percent of its housing stock, Pelosi said.

"What would we like to see the result be? Let's engineer it back from there," she said of the rebuilding efforts.

Thompson and other members of Congress, meanwhile, were asked to look at ensuring immigrants living in the country illegally are not at risk if they contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They were also asked to look into improving the system for alerting people of pending disasters, a more difficult task now that more homes rely on cellphones instead of landlines.

As of Saturday, with the 51,624-acre Atlas fire completely contained, the three other blazes that ravaged the North Bay — the Tubbs, Pocket and Nuns fires — are nearing complete containment, Cal Fire said.

The Tubbs Fire, which claimed the lives of 22 people, destroyed about 5,300 structures and burned 36,807 acres, is now 97 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

The Pocket Fire, which burned 17,357 acres, is also 97 percent contained. The Nuns Fire, which killed one civilian and one private water tender operator, destroyed about 1,200 structures and burned 56,556 acres, is now 97 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

Firefighters continue to extinguish hot spots and do fire suppression repair work, according to Cal Fire.

NBC Bay Area's Thom Jensen and Bay City News contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Students Return to Class After Wildfires]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 18:01:53 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Santa_Rosa_Students_Return_to_Class_After_Wildfires.jpg

Friday was the first day back in class for students at several Santa Rosa schools since the wildfires ripped through the region. Christie Smith reports.]]>
<![CDATA[13 Santa Rosa Schools Reopen After Deadly Wildfires]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:03:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/North-Bay-Fires-after.jpg

Thirteen North Bay schools are scheduled to reopen Friday and 11 more on Monday after fires in Sonoma County forced their closure for three weeks, Santa Rosa City Schools District Superintendent Diann Kitamura said.

The schools that will open Friday are Albert F. Biella, Brook Hill, Luther Burbank, Hidden Valley, Helen Lehman, Abraham Lincoln, James Monroe, Proctor Terrace and Steele Lane elementary schools, in addition to Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter, Rincon Valley Middle School, Maria Carrillo High School and Piner High School.

Schools that will re-open Monday are Hilliard Comstock Middle School, Cesar Chavez Language Academy, Lawrence Cook Middle School, Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts, Santa Rosa French-American Charter School, Santa Rosa Middle School, Herbert Slater Middle School and Lewis Preschool, as well as Ridgway, Montgomery, Elsie Allen and Santa Rosa high schools.

Counselors will be present at the schools for students who are dealing with the stress and trauma after the fires, Kitamura said.

Elsie Allen High School and Lawrence Cook Middle School served as shelters during the evacuations caused by the Tubbs and Nuns fires, which started Oct. 8 and are expected to be fully contained Friday.

School breakfast and lunch will also be available to any student who needs a meal, Kitamura said.

Schools in Kenwood are scheduled to reopen Friday, and the Geyserville Unified and Piner Olivet Union school districts' schools are scheduled to open Monday.

Photo Credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Burning Man Trailers to House Santa Rosa Fire Victims]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 11:40:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10262017burningmantrailerssantarosa_564970.JPEG

Shipping containers used just two months ago at the wildly popular Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert will soon offer relief to dozens who lost their homes to California's most destructive wildfire.

A Burning Man theme camp, Camp Epic, is lending the seven containers to first responders, nurses, and the teachers and families of special needs children who attended Santa Rosa-based Anova Center for Education. One hundred and thirty five children on the autism spectrum were served at what has now been reduced to embers.

On Thursday, a field – dubbed Oasis Village – was in the starting phase of being transformed into temporary housing for as many as 75 people displaced by the fires. 

Contractor Glen Ghilotti's crews prepared the land for a park in the midst of seven trailers.

“The business community is stepping up and trying to take care of people so that's what it's all about,” Ghilotti said.

Burning Man organizers own the trailers and the property belongs to a local businessman, who helped bring together volunteers and donors to make Oasis Village a reality.

The containers offer air conditioning, kitchenettes, shelves and bunk beds. Each is 40 to 50 feet long and colorfully painted, while some are divided into three rooms, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

Jen Martini of Camp Epic is working with the nonprofit, Burners Without Borders, to ship the containers for $12,000, which is half the normal price. She is also seeking donations of bedding, toiletries and clothing, the Journal reported. 

Meanwhile, Burners Without Borders has set an online fundraising goal of $103,000 to help transport the trailers from Reno to Sonoma County and back. The money will also be used for kitchen supplies and acquiring additional housing accommodations like tents, trailers and RVs. So far, 59 people have contributed $5,583.

The nonprofit is on the lookout for volunteers who, over the next few months, can help to make Oasis Village a warm and inviting space, and also assist with cooking, fetching supplies and more.

Burners Without Borders is also asking for donations of up to 25 RVs, camper trailers and portable structures for Oasis Village.

Outside of Oasis Village, too, moving on is foremost on the minds of Napa and Sonoma counties' residents. 

A promising sign is that Santa Rosa’s Kaiser Hospital is open once again after being evacuated when flames roared right up to its back door. More than 100 patients and all of the staff were evacuated. Thursday, two-and-a-half weeks later, Kaiser resumed all of its services.

Meanwhile in Napa, local business owners and politicians took a ride Thursday on the famed Wine Train.

“We're back open for business and this is about us showing the world,” said Supervisor Ryan Gregory.

One of the major concerns for displaced families, however, is permanent housing. City, county and state leaders have expressed their concern and commitment to streamlining the permitting process. They plan to help cut through some of the regulatory red tape that can delay building for months and, sometimes, even years.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Emotions Run High as Santa Rosa Schools Prepare to Reopen]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 17:46:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/1025-2017-PinerHigh.jpg

Children in the North Bay are getting ready to return to school for the first time since the wildfires ignited, devastating most everything in their path.

In Santa Rosa, teachers and administrators were able to reenter campuses Wednesday, on the heels of an intensive clean-up. There were tears and hugs as teachers – some of whom have lost their homes – shared stories and began putting together lessons, thinking of welcoming back students whose lives may have been upended.

Seventh-grader Alexa Yáñez Valdez said she enjoys her time at Chops Teen Center where daily visits have nearly doubled since the fire. Now, though, she’s considering what middle school will be like.

“I am happy to go back to school,” Alexa admitted. Her family was forced to evacuate their home, which did not burn.

Alexa is concerned about students who have lost everything.

“It just shocks me about the fire ... it was really close to our house too,” she said.

Like dozens of other Santa Rosa City Schools, Piner High School has been closed since Oct. 9. Some schools plan to reopen on Friday, while others will do so on Monday.

Santa Rosa High School District Superintendent Diann Kitamura said one school burned down and a school farm site was damaged.

“The soot, the smoke, the ash went everywhere,” she said.

Twenty-four schools needed to be cleaned. Administrators learned that 77 staff members lost their homes, while 900 students lived in areas that are now burned. It remains unknown exactly how many student’s homes were reduced to embers, Kitamura said.

“We need to see their faces on Friday morning and Monday morning” to determine if they are OK and, if not, what their needs are, she said.

History teacher Zoe Miller lost her home. “We were one of the first to go,” she said.

She is now renting a house and returned to Piner High School on Wednesday.

“I walked into my classroom and I cried,” said an emotional Miller. “I am really looking forward to seeing my students, my kids.”

Backpacks and supplies are ready for those who need them. The school district also plans to have substitutes teachers lined up, in case teachers need a break. Counselors are available and displaced students will be given free lunch.

Photo Credit: Christie Smith/NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere!]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 11:39:14 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/PumpkinThumb.JPG

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area ]]>
<![CDATA[Michelin Awards Top Honors to 55 Bay Area Restaurants]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 20:45:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rasa1.jpg

Take a bow, Bay Area restaurateurs.

Tuesday’s release of the “Michelin Guide: San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country 2018” thrust 55 local eateries into the international spotlight.

The Bay Area is the crown jewel of the United States’ culinary world with seven three-starred restaurants as compared to New York’s six and Chicago’s three. 

This year’s highly coveted awards were delayed by several infernos that raged across the North Bay, starting Oct. 8. Initially slated for release on Oct. 12, this marked the first postponement since the Michelin guidebook was first published in 2005. 

“Recognizing the turmoil and tragedy of the fires that are still burning, we understand this is a time for grief and recovery, not celebration,” a Michelin spokesperson said in a statement, explaining the decision to wait until Oct. 25. Michelin also made a donation to the Red Cross to help people affected by the wildfires.

North Bay cities, including Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Healdsburg, are home to some of the Michelin winners, but a majority are located in San Francisco. A few others are sprinkled across the South and East bays and the Peninsula.


  • Benu — San Francisco
  • Coi — San Francisco
  • The French Laundry — Yountville
  • Manresa — Los Gatos
  • Quince — San Francisco
  • The Restaurant at Meadowood — St. Helena
  • Saison — San Francisco
  • Acquerello — San Francisco
  • Atelier Crenn — San Francisco
  • Baume — Palo Alto
  • Californios — San Francisco
  • Commis — Oakland
  • Lazy Bear — San Francisco
  • Single Thread — Healdsburg
  • Adega — San Jose
  • Al’s Place — San Francisco
  • Aster — San Francisco
  • Auberge du Soleil — Rutherford
  • Bouchon — Yountville
  • Campton Place — San Francisco
  • Chez TJ — Mountain View
  • Commonwealth — San Francisco
  • Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant — Forestville
  • Gary Danko — San Francisco
  • Hashiri — San Francisco
  • In Situ — San Francisco
  • Ju-Ni — San Francisco
  • Keiko a Nob Hill — San Francisco
  • Kenzo — Napa
  • Kin Khao — San Francisco
  • Kinjo — San Francisco
  • La Toque — Napa
  • Lord Stanley — San Francisco
  • Luce — San Francisco
  • Madera — Menlo Park
  • Madrona Manor — Healdsburg
  • Michael Mina — San Francisco
  • Mister Jiu’s — San Francisco
  • Mourad — San Francisco
  • Octavia — San Francisco
  • Omakase — San Francisco
  • Plumed Horse — Saratoga
  • The Progress — San Francisco
  • Rasa — Burlingame
  • Rich Table — San Francisco
  • Sons & Daughters — San Francisco
  • SPQR — San Francisco
  • Spruce — San Francisco
  • State Bird Provisions  — San Francisco
  • Sushi Yoshizumi — San Mateo
  • Terra — St. Helena
  • Terrapin Creek — Bodega Bay
  • The Village Pub — Woodside
  • Wako — San Francisco
  • Wakuriya — San Francisco

Photo Credit: Rhea Mahbubani/NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Gunman's Father, Friend Killed in Lake County Attack]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 07:23:40 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LakeCountyShooter1.jpg

A gunman shot down his 85-year-old father and killed his longtime friend during a bizarre rampage through this small Northern California town, sheriff's officials said Tuesday.

Alan Ashmore, 61, remained jailed Tuesday on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and robbery. He was being held without bail. It was unclear whether he had a lawyer

Investigators were unclear about the motive for the 90-minute series of attacks Monday morning in Ashmore's hometown northwest of Sacramento.

The rampage began when Ashmore argued with a 22-year-old Middletown, California, woman in his home, held her at knifepoint and shot her in the foot when she fled, Lake County sheriff's Lt. Norm Taylor said in a statement.

She ran to a neighbor's house.

Ashmore then shot his father, Douglas Ashmore, 85, outside the home and tried to shoot the neighbor but the handgun misfired, Taylor said.

Ashmore then got a 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun from the house and drove off in his Chevrolet Tahoe, stopping to fire at several other homes, including the house of a former employer and a home where a woman escaped by jumping from a window, Taylor said.

Ashmore allegedly killed a longtime friend, 64-year-old Richard Braden, as the man sat in a car and wounded a California Highway Patrol officer who was responding to shooting reports, Taylor said.

The officer was treated for a leg wound, CHP Officer Kory Reynolds told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ashmore went on to a Chevron gas station. As he walked into the station store with the shotgun, he bumped into a beer vendor who was leaving and nearly knocked over the man, owner Bob George said.

"The vendor turned to him and said, 'What the hell are you doing?'" George told the Chronicle. "And the guy turned around and shot the gun. He was like five feet away from the vendor when he shot the gun."

The round broke the front window. As George ran out of the back door, he saw Ashmore running to his vehicle with a shotgun and a 2-liter Pepsi. The beer vendor, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, returned fire, shattering the windows of Ashmore's SUV, George said.

Ashmore then drove off, stole cigarettes and a lighter at gunpoint from a convenience store and pointed a gun at someone at a winery and after a chase by sheriff's deputies was arrested at a roadblock, Taylor said.

He also set several small fires while driving in an effort to escape but firefighters quickly doused them.

At the time of his arrest, Ashmore had the shotgun, a .25-caliber pistol and numerous rounds of ammunition, Taylor said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Lake County Sheriff's Office via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Report Suggests Bay Area Housing Market Could Be Cooling Off]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 15:41:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-484768986.jpg

A new housing report suggests that the Bay Area housing market may be cooling off, but not for every region.

Bay Area home sales overall dropped about 4 percent this September compared to one year ago, according to the California Association of Realtors.

Alameda County witnessed a 15 percent decrease in home sales, according to the report. Napa home sales fell 12.4 percent, Solano County sales declined 6.3 percent and Contra Costa County sales slipped 5.5 percent.

The one county with a jump in sales was Marin County, which saw a nearly 24 percent increase, according to the report.

Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma counties experienced either no change in home sales or shifts below the 2 percent threshold, the report indicated.

While the number of sales drops, home prices continue to soar. The median price for a single-family home in the Bay Area rose 11.7 percent this past year, according to the report.

Sales could be on the decline and prices could be climbing due to a lack of supply. Active sale listings across the region were down 20 percent in September compared to last year, according to the report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Supports Family of Water Tender Killed During Fires]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 11:53:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-862143592.jpg

People in the Bay Area are coming together in support of the family of a Missouri water tender driver who was killed as he helped defend homes of people he had never met from one of California's most destructive wildfires.

Garrett Paiz, 38, was killed when his truck overturned on Oct. 16 on a winding Napa County road. He had been delivering water to crews battling the Nuns Fire, but crashed before dawn as he headed from vineyards into the mountains.

"My feeling is that he lost his life protecting our homes and businesses and the least we can do is help out his family," said Galen Drace, 35, of St. Helena.

Although Drace's neighborhood was not affected by the fires, he spent time volunteering at the Marin Civic Center Shelter that drew hundreds of evacuees. Upon hearing of Paiz's death, Drace wrote a Facebook post, encouraging the Napa community to rally around his family. 

When he went to start a fundraiser on Paiz's behalf, Drace found a GoFundMe campaign that had been initiated by Heather Ascherin Morway. 

The Red Bluffs woman expressed condolences on behalf of Tehama Transport, a freight shipping and trucking company where Paiz worked as a driver.

The GoFundMe account has a goal of $20,000. As of Tuesday, 131 people have donated over $10,000.

The money will "go directly to his family to aid them as they grieve and memorialize his life," Morway wrote on the fundraiser's website, promising that Paiz "will never be forgotten."

Drace has helped get the word out — despite not being connected to Morway or Tehama Transport. He commended the public's generous response to the effort.

"I think many share my opinion that it is our responsibility to help. He came from out of state and died protecting people he had never met. We owe him and his family a debt," said Drace, whose friends have lost their homes, jobs and wineries. 

However, Drace, who works at a St. Helena winery, stressed that Sonoma and Napa valleys continue to be in dire need of help — even broad swaths of both areas that have been unaffected by the blazes.

As things stand, businesses are reeling from a staggering number of cancellations in the wake of dozens of wildfires that burned more than 220,000 acres, chased thousands from their homes, and claimed at least 42 lives.

"If we don't see more visitors in these valleys, we are going to have a lot of people go out of business," Drace said. "I do think these fires have brought our communities closer; the outpouring of support has been amazing. We just need people from outside of the area to stop cancelling their trips."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tractor Driver Helping Boy Scouts Dies in Marin Co. Accident]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:42:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/TractorFile.jpg

A 37-year-old man who died Monday when the tractor he was driving in unincorporated Fairfax in Marin County tumbled down a hillside has been identified by the Contra Costa County coroner's office as William Bradbury.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew responded at 8:45 a.m. to a request for a hoist rescue in the area of 500 Iron Springs Road, where Bradbury had been operating a skip loader tractor and the road gave out, sending Bradbury and the tractor 250 feet down a hillside.

Bradbury, a Fairfax resident, was taken up into the helicopter and then flown to a nearby field where a medical helicopter flew him to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, according to the CHP.

He succumbed to his injuries at about 12:30 p.m.

Investigators determined Bradbury was making improvements to a private portion of Iron Springs Road as part of a volunteer effort with the Boy Scouts.

A vehicle traveling in the opposite direction approached the area and both vehicles yielded to the right side of the road, but the roadway under the tractor gave out, causing it to go down the hillside, according to the CHP.

Marin County sheriff's deputies and firefighters from Marin County, Ross Valley and Corte Madera had also responded to assist in the rescue.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[High School Football Game Comes During a Time of Need]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 22:31:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/High_School_Football_Game_Comes_During_a_Time_of_Need.jpg

Monday night football took on a special meaning in the North Bay when Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate played a game after the devastating North Bay wildfires. Cheryl Hurd reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma County Approves Ordinance to House Residents]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 14:05:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathSunday3.jpg

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this afternoon unanimously adopted emergency ordinances geared toward providing immediate and emergency housing for residents displaced by the wildfires in the county this month.

The ordinances include prohibiting the issuance of new vacation rental permits for 45 days, subject to an extension for up to two years. The ordinance aims to temporarily preserve the county's existing single-family residences and accessory dwellings for permanent residential and long-term use.

The board also approved an ordinance allowing residential use and occupancy of recreational vehicles and travel trailers inside and outside fire-damaged sites without county approval for 45 days, as long as they have adequate septic holding capacity.

Also included in the 5-0 approval vote are ordinances extending seasonal farmworker housing to 365 days a year, allowing the temporary rental of existing guest houses, pool houses and other residential accessory structures for rent to fire victims and allowing safe parking programs at county-owned facilities and privately owned sites in certain zones.

Fires in the county since Oct. 8 have consumed 102,785 acres and destroyed an estimated 6,700 homes, most of them in the Santa Rosa area.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fund to Help Undocumented Immigrants Affected by Wildfires]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 20:10:59 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861694944.jpg

A new fund has been started by a coalition of immigrant service providers and advocates to provide direct assistance to undocumented residents affected by the North Bay wildfires.

The campaign, ‘UndocuFund,’ was launched for residents in Sonoma County with a mission to provide direct support to undocumented children, families and communities affected by the fires.

According to ‘UndocuFund,’ an estimated 28,000 undocumented immigrants live and work in Sonoma County, many of which were affected by the fires. Due to a lack of English speaking proficiency and immigration status many undocumented victims avoid access to disaster-relief services despite their eligibility.

“UndocuFund will ensure that undocumented families displaced by the fires will have the support and resources they need to recover and rebuild,” said the campaign's website.

Funding will be provided to fire victims for expenses such as:

• Temporary Housing
• Home repairs
• Essential household items
• Medical and dental expenses
• Tools and equipment required for work
• Clean-up items
• Repair of essential vehicle
• Moving and storage expenses
• Funeral and burial expenses
• Necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies)

According to the website, one hundred percent of all donations made to the fund will be used directly to support victims of the fire. The process to receive funds has not yet been announced but is expected to be ready soon.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay High Schools Play Football After Deadly Wildfires]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 18:02:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/North_Bay_High_Schools_Play_Football_After_Deadly_Wildfires.jpg

In the midst of devastation in the North Bay, two high school football teams are coming together to play a game to help life some spirits. Cheryl Hurd reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Classes Resume in Napa County Following Deadly Wildfires]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:48:02 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10232017NapaStrongSign_524571.JPG

All schools in Napa County reopened Monday following deadly wildfires that ripped through the region.

Students arriving to class showed relief, happiness and strength in being together. Signs in classrooms also features messages like "Welcome Back" and "Napa Strong."

Schools in the county were able to reopen thanks to cleaner air and no signs of smoke, a stark contrast from just two weeks ago as fires raged, threatening the communities.

"It was really bad, thick," high school senior Ulysses Sid said, adding the smoke made it hard to breathe and see.

Schools have set up rooms with counselors for anyone who needs to talk -- those emotions may come out later, but students and staff said they want to help.

"Just checking in on people is important," student Maliya Blackmon said. 

Napa High School Principal Annie Petrie added "The general sense with the kids is we can overcome anything."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Shooting in Lake County Kills 2 and Injures 2]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 11:29:14 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/police-lights-generic-day-connecticut.jpg

Authorities are trying to determine why a gunman shot up homes and stores in a small Northern California town, killing two people and injuring two others.

Sixty-one-year-old Alan Ashmore was arrested Monday at a roadblock after he allegedly opened fire at homes, a car, two gas stations and a winery in his hometown of Clearlake Oaks, northwest of Sacramento.

One man was killed in a home, another in a car, and a woman and a California Highway Patrol officer were shot. Authorities say the woman is expected to live, and the officer's body armor kept him from serious harm.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin says it's unclear whether the gunman targeted people, fired randomly or did both.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut]]>
<![CDATA[Police Seek Driver in Vallejo Hit-and-Run Collision]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 21:28:29 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10232017VallejoHitRun2_530822.JPG

Police on Monday released surveillance photos in hopes of catching the driver in a hit-and-run collision in Vallejo that left two children injured.

The hit-and-run collision was reported at 5:47 p.m. Sunday on Turner Parkway. At the scene, officers found two small children who were struck by a vehicle that failed to stop at the scene, police said.

According to police, a woman from Vallejo had been pushing her 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in a stroller.

They were walking north across Turner Parkway east of Foothill Drive when a vehicle traveling west on Turner Parkway struck the stroller.

The children were thrown a considerable distance and suffered major injuries, police said.

The vehicle, possibly a white Acura TL, fled the scene, police said.

The mother, who was not injured, and the two children were flown to a hospital for treatment. The 3-year-old girl was released from thie hospital with bruises to her face and shoulder. Her 2-year-old brother is in critical condition and recovering after surgery.

Chris Adams pulled over to help after the hit-and-run incident and said he has not been able to stop thinking about what he saw.

"I just remember his face, trying to look into his eyes and him crying and not being able to get that out it's heartbreaking," Adams said of the 2-year-old boy.

Adams said the 3-year-old girl was badly injured, but responsive so he went to the aid of her brother.

Police on Monday were able to obtain surveillance video from a business near where the crash occurred.

The collision remains under investigation and anyone with information is asked to contact Vallejo police Sgt. Shane Bower at 707-648-4329 and refer to case number 17-13530.

A GoFundMe has been created to help the family.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and Answer Hassan contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Vallejo PD
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<![CDATA[Summer-Like Heat Returns to the Bay Area]]>Sun, 22 Oct 2017 12:00:46 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Sun_Heat_Generic_Hot_car.jpg

It may be the middle of October, but summer-like heat had made a comeback across the Bay Area this week.

The National Weather Service over the weekend predicted that daytime high temperatures across the region could be 15 to 20 degrees above seasonal averages on Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported Salinas reached triple-digit heat with 100 degrees registered at the city's airport.

Watsonville reached 98 degrees, and was followed by Hollister and Monterey both registering 95 degrees in the afternoon.

Other cities that reached at least 90 degrees include Santa Rosa, Napa, San Jose, Concord, Half Moon Bay, Livermore and San Martin, according to the National Weather Service.

The Bay Area warming trend does include low humidity levels, which ramps up fire danger.

Those hoping for fall-like temperatures will likely have to wait until next weekend.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Watch: Samoan Singing Fire Crew Video Goes Viral]]>Tue, 24 Oct 2017 09:11:31 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/samoannnnn0001.JPG

A video of a Samoan fire crew singing with the US Forest Service is going viral for its musically uplifting spirit with over 96,000 views on YouTube.

In the video, Samoa Crew 61, better known as the "singing crew," is seen walking down off the mountain in Shasta-Trinity National Park and signing acapella while other firefighters sang harmony.

According to a Facebook post by the U.S. Forest Service, the crew had been working on the Helena-Buck Fires and even received an award from the Incident Commander for their hard work. 

The video was reportedly shot by Lori Light on September 27, a few days before the North Bay wildfires sparked. Light later posted the video on YouTube on Oct. 13.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Audit Finds PG&E Repair Job Backlog in Sonoma, Santa Rosa]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:31:39 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PGE-EMAIL-MON-ok---00000000.jpg

The state’s last regulatory audit of the PG&E division ravaged by the North Bay firestorm warned the utility that it was late in fixing more than 3,500 known electrical problems in Santa Rosa and Sonoma alone, records reviewed by NBC Bay Area show.

The findings of the California Public Utilities Commission’s PG&E Sonoma Division audit -- performed in September 2015 – point to concerns about PG&E maintenance practices well before the fires that destroyed nearly 5,000 homes and claimed 42 lives. PG&E has filed eight separate regulatory notices of electrical equipment failures in the fires.

In a December 31, 2015 audit letter to the utility, Fayi Daye, a supervising electric safety regulator with the state’s Public Utilities Commission, outlined the violations found in the review of records between 2010 and 2015 and a spot check of the division’s electrical distribution equipment.

Daye noted that the auditors’ review of repair records for the areas that would become hardest hit by the fires -- Santa Rosa and Sonoma -- showed the company was behind schedule on a total of 3,527 separate repair orders.

“Late work orders included overhead and underground facilities,” Daye noted.

The audit also checked PG&E’s maps of electrical distribution lines and found more than 50 pieces of overhead equipment – including pole mounted transformers and lines themselves-- had not been inspected yearly as required under state rules.

Spot checks showed that for one power pole in Santa Rosa, a supporting cable was not properly connected to assure the pole could remain standing. Inspectors also found that communications gear had been spliced onto the line and was dangling 10 feet from the ground.

“PG&E did not notify the communications company of this safety hazard when it last inspected the pole,” Daye’s report noted. In another location in Somona, inspectors found “noticeable slack” on a support strut between poles.

The PUC didn’t issue any fines in the audit. Critics were dismayed by the findings.

“This is particularly alarming because these citations are where the fires happened," said Britt Strottman, and attorney for the counties ravaged by the San Bruno pipeline fire and the massive Butte fire in 2015. She says the audit reflects a troubling pattern. "PG&E has a history of neglecting its infrastructure and this is more evidence of that."

State Sen. Jerry Hill was also troubled by the findings and wants to make sure regulators do a better job of monitoring the utility's repair efforts.

“It was very shocking,” Hill said.

“Thirty five hundred jobs not completed really was a surprise because they are getting the money for these, they are getting the funds to do the work in a timely manner.”

PG&E did not respond to requests for comment or provide its official reply to the audit findings.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[First Snow of the Season Turns Tahoe into Winter Wonderland]]>Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:35:58 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Glory_Hole%5B1%5D.jpgSquaw Valley received its first winter snowfall of the season on October 19 and 20.

Photo Credit: Jessica VanPernis Weaver]]>
<![CDATA[Tubbs Fire Most Destructive Wildfire in CA History: Cal Fire]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:06:41 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/sonomareturn.jpg

After rain doused the North Bay overnight, helping in the battle against several blazes, some Santa Rosa fire victims woke to the good news that they will be allowed to return to their homes Friday.

People who lived in the now devastated communities of Coffey Park, Orchard Park and Journey's End will be granted entry between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. However, there are restrictions.

The area will be heavily staffed by law enforcement officers and residents must provide proof of identification, which will be used to generate entry passes.

In a statement issued early Friday, Santa Rosa officials said, "This controlled entry is designed to allow only residents into their neighborhood, so they have protected time to assess and grieve."

Police warned of a build-up of traffic in the area as residents try to get into their neighborhoods. Other commuters were asked to use alternate routes.

On Saturday, properties in the Journey's End and Orchard mobile home parks will be released to their owners. Public access to Coffey Park will start Sunday.

Authorities say cooler temperatures and light rainfall have aided thousands of firefighters across the North Bay as well as crews working to douse the Bear Fire that sparked Monday in the Santa Cruz Mountains 

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said fire crews should reach full containment by Friday.

Other large fires will take longer.

Meanwhile, authorities increased their count of buildings destroyed to 8,400 from fewer than 7,000 a day earlier as crews continued assessing fire damage, according to the Associated Press.

Crews have almost finished their damage assessments, he said. 

"We're getting back into the areas where homes are hard to access and hard to reach. That's why these numbers are trickling in," Berlant said.

The four wind-whipped fires that started Oct. 8 swept through parts of seven counties have landed on the list of California's top 20 most destructive blazes. At least 42 people were killed, and preliminary estimated of wildfire losses exceeds $1 billion.

Of them, the Tubbs Fire has broken the record as the most devastating fire in California's history, Calfire said Friday. It has burned 36,432 acres and is 93 percent contained.

Cal Fire announced it had stopped the forward progress of those fires on Wednesday as tens of thousands of evacuees were let back into their neighborhoods. More than 15,000 people remained evacuated on Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, the Atlas Fire has burned 51,624 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 87 percent contained; the Nuns Fire, which includes the Partrick, Adobe, Norbbom, Pressley and Oakmont fires, has burned 54,382 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties and is 85 percent contained; and the Pocket Fire has burned 16,552 acres in Sonoma County and is 82 percent contained.

Farther north, the Sulphur Fire in Lake County has torched 2,207 acres and is 96 percent contained, and the Redwood Valley Fire in Mendocino County has charred 36,523 acres and is 95 percent contained.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma Co. Toxic Clean Up May Not Finish Until Early 2018]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:24:59 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Searching+for+remains.jpg

FEMA announced Thursday the North Bay fires rank 4th on their list of disasters in terms of the amount of destruction and the number of lives taken in a single incident. The urban wildfires have killed at least 42 people and more than 50 remain on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s missing persons list.

As containment of the fires tops 85 percent, the attention now turns to the clean up and recovery for thousands of families, beginning with the removal of thousands of tons of toxic debris.

Santa Rosa city council member Chris Rogers wrote in a Facebook post, “Clean up should begin within the next few weeks with a goal of being done by early 2018.” He added that homeowners will need to a sign a “’right of entry form’ that will allow the clean up” of their properties. The city has entered into agreements that will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to handle the first wave of toxic testing and cleanup, and then CalRecycle will take over the secondary wave of clean up to get up to California’s standards. Rogers said, “They will properly document the home for insurance/FEMA purposes, and the cleanup will be 100 percent reimbursed.”

He said homeowners “retain the right to clean up their own property through private, certified contractors” but then they will bear the liability and “FEMA is unlikely to reimburse them for the entire cost of the cleanup.” 

Yvette Escutia and her 2-year-old son Juan Carlos were among seven family members living on Dennis Lane who fled with nothing as flames raced through their home in Coffey Park. Three generations in one home, now hoping to return and salvage anything they can.

“It's just memories that we would like to get. My wedding ring is still there, my charm bracelet that my husband gave me when my son was born. Little things like that. We know we're not going to be able to repair anything that was burned or anything but I wish that, I hope that my ring is still there,” Escutia said.

But many of the homes in Coffey Park are now red-tagged, warning people to keep out because the buildings are uninhabitable. Some signs also instruct people to keep several feet away from structures like chimneys or unstable walls. 

Still, Sean Smith with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services understands many residents will want to comb through the remains of their homesites. He instructs them to be aware of hazards, such as holes they may step into under the rubble.

“When people get back they have to be careful about what they touch and expose people to, the ash and chemicals that get on them,” Smith said. “Don’t take kids or animals they’re smaller, closer to the ashes they’re more vulnerable.”

He advises people to wear boots, gloves, and masks, and then bag those items before getting back in the car.

Smith could not offer an exact timeline for the toxic cleanup but says the state is waiting for contractors to arrive. He said cleanup efforts will be prioritized based on location.

“We’re gonna look at waterways, the environment, other facilities, [is it a] daycare center, hospital, school, elderly folks home? We want to clean around those properties first.”

Escutia, who has asthma, worries about the longterm health of her family. More than 6,500 structures burned in Sonoma County, leaving behind an unknown toxic cocktail of lead, asbestos, plastics and chemicals.

“It will all have to go to a toxic dump somewhere. We just don’t know what’s in there,” John Buchanan said. The retired fire chief with 50 years of service now works with Statewide, a contractor specializing in decontamination and fire damage reconstruction.

He said it’s critical to get the cleanup done efficiently and thoroughly, especially with the impending rainy season.

“Rain’s coming. It’s gonna push that stuff farther down and percolate in the soil we’re concerned about that.”

Buchanan said he’s impressed with Santa Rosa’s efforts to fast track construction by streamlining the permitting process for rebuilding. He said homeowners should feel confident the cleanup will be managed properly but that people who are concerned about potential toxins left behind can expect to pay $300 to $1,000 for further environmental testing by private companies.

Now staying with friends in Petaluma, Yvette Escutia said she hopes the recovery efforts will go smoothly, and quickly. “I would like to stay here because I’ve been here my whole life.” 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Gov. Brown Signs Order for EPA to Help in Hazardous Cleanup]]>Sat, 21 Oct 2017 11:41:49 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Governor_Brown_Tours_Santa_Rosa_Affected_Areas.jpg

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order on Saturday enabling the federal government to help with the removal of hazardous waste from homes burned in the devastating North Bay fires.

Under the order, professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency can help state and local officials remove such hazardous debris as batteries, flammable liquids, asbestos siding, paint and pipe insulation from burned homes, the governor's office said.

Removing these hazards will help protect public health and the environment, and will allow residents and cleanup crews to enter burned properties more safely, according to the governor's office.

"The (EPA) ... will have the authority to enter private property in all impacted counties to remove debris that may contain hazardous substances, and to conduct any testing appropriate to ensure the hazards are mitigated," the order reads, in part.

The governor visited the fire-ravaged area last Saturday with U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Brown last week declared a state of emergency for Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties because of the fires.

Brown also issued an executive order to cut red tape and help streamline recovery efforts last week. He has secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response to the fires, as well as federal direct aid for residents of Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Yuba, Orange and Nevada counties who have suffered fire losses.

<![CDATA[CA Fires Cause $1 Billion in Damage, Burn 7,000 Buildings]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 23:04:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861694944.jpg

The wildfires that have devastated California this month caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property, officials said Thursday, as authorities raised the number of homes and other buildings destroyed to nearly 7,000.

Both numbers were expected to rise as crews continue assessing areas scorched by the blazes that killed 42 people.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the preliminary dollar valuation of losses came from claims filed with the eight largest insurance companies in the affected areas and did not include uninsured property.

The loss total was expected to climb "probably dramatically so," he told a Los Angeles press conference.

The initial insurance total covered 4,177 partial residential losses, 5,449 total residential losses, 35 rental and condominium losses, 601 commercial property losses, more than 3,000 vehicle losses, 150 farm or agricultural equipment losses, and 39 boats.

The estimate of homes and structures burned was boosted to 6,900 from 5,700 as fire crews returned to hard-hit neighborhoods and assessed remote and rural areas they could not get to earlier, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

He said most of the newly counted destroyed buildings burned on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 — when the wildfires broke out in Northern California's wine country and other nearby areas.

"The estimates are in structures and are mostly homes, but also includes commercial structures and outbuildings like barns and sheds," Berlant said.

Twenty two of the 42 deaths in California's October fires happened in a Sonoma County wildfire, making it the third deadliest in California history. A 1933 Los Angeles fire that killed 29 people was the deadliest, followed by a 1991 fire in Oakland that killed 25.

California Gov. Jerry Brown late Wednesday issued an executive order to speed up recovery efforts as fire authorities say they've stopped the progress of wildfires.

Tens of thousands of people have been allowed back home but more than 15,000 people remain evacuated Thursday, down from a high of 100,000 last Saturday.

Brown's order also allowed disrupted wineries to relocate tasting rooms and suspended state fees for mobile home parks and manufactured homes.

The order extends the state's prohibition on price gouging during emergencies until April 2018 and expedites hiring of personnel for emergency and recovery operations.

In Los Angeles County, authorities said a charred body was found on Mount Wilson, where crews were trying to surround a smoldering wildfire in steep terrain.

The male body discovered late Wednesday was recovered by the coroner's office, which will try to identify it, said Sheriff's Sgt. Vincent Plair.

California firefighters were also battling a blaze that sent smoke billowing into the college beach town of Santa Cruz.

The wildfire in steep and rugged terrain had grown to nearly half a square mile and the number of houses threatened by the fire had doubled to 300.

Several firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[ Woman Finds Mickey Treasures in Remains of Coffey Park Home]]>Sat, 21 Oct 2017 20:13:13 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Mickey-mouse.jpg

In ordinary times, the sight of Mickey Mouse would not evoke an emotional response, but these are not ordinary times. Especially for Kelly Schulken, who found Mickey to be a serious morale booster after losing her home in Coffey Park to the treacherous wildfires.

“It warms my heart,” said Schulken. “I love Mickey Mouse; he’s been my hero since I was eight years old.”

Schulken and her husband were in Arizona at the time of the fire, receiving updates from their home alarm system. By 7 a.m. they realized their house had been lost to fire.

Now, as they search through the remains of where their home once stood, finding pieces of their beloved Mickey Mouse is a reminder of the treasures in their life.

“So I’m 58 now, and any part of that collection I can still have I want,” said Schulken. “They found a few pieces that I’ll be able to salvage.”

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Emergency Alerts Unable to Reach Millions in Bay Area]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:26:06 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/firefighter19.jpg

U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris delivered a scathing letter to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday evening, criticizing the agency for its failure to develop an effective cell phone emergency alert system. This comes after Sonoma County emergency officials told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit that that the current wireless emergency alert system is unsuitable for evacuations because it cannot be geo-targeted to specific areas and can only be sent out to all of the county’s 500,000 residents.

The devastating fires throughout the North Bay exposed a growing problem for emergency planners across the state. As communication technology improves, their ability to alert millions of residents following an impending disaster becomes more of a challenge.

In Sonoma County, there were two groups of evacuees – those who received an evacuation alert, and those who did not.

“I came out and it was a wall of fire,” Santa Rosa native Brett Gripe told NBC Bay Area. The longtime resident escaped his Mark West Estates home of 30 years after his friends fled their burning home on Wikiup Bridge and woke him up in the middle of the night.

“They pounded on neighbors’ doors and woke others up several neighbors. They saved our lives,” Gripe said.

Gripe says he never received a call from the county to evacuate.

“Nothing was on my cell phone or home phone. I’m an old timer I have two landlines.”

Gripe is one of several residents the Investigative Unit spoke to who never received an evacuation alert. Thursday, Sonoma county emergency manager Christopher Helgren told NBC Bay Area that his staff decided not to activate the county’s Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system because he feared the alert would reach too many people, causing widespread panic and traffic jams.

“It was an evacuation situation and we wanted to specifically target the residents that were in immediate danger,” Helgren said. “In situations requiring evacuation, until that system has greater granularity so I can target areas that are affected; I can’t use that system for evacuations.

WEA allows county officials to send an alert to all cell phones within a few miles of targeted cell phone towers. Since 2013, the California Highway Patrol has used the system to send out Amber Alerts. FEMA approved Sonoma County’s application to use the system in July of 2016, but the county has never used it.

Instead, Helgren said the county chose to evacuate residents using SoCo Alert, which allows the county to target specific neighborhoods. However residents have to sign up for SoCo alert. Prior to the fire, roughly 15,000 of Sonoma County’s 500,000 residents were registered, roughly 3 percent.

San Mateo County emergency coordinator Jeff Norris says poor registration is a problem facing many Bay Area counties. In San Mateo, only 65,000 of the county’s 765,000 residents are registered.

“We can't notify you if we can't reach you,” Norris told NBC Bay Area. “When reaching people is going to save lives, we're going to use every tool we can.”

In the event of a wildfire, Norris said he plans to evacuate residents by sending a carefully crafted WEA message with instructions and directions.

“The better we make the message… the more likely we are to save lives,” Norris said.

While WEA can be an effective tool to send out a mass alert, very few jurisdictions have the authority under FEMA regulations to use the system. Instead, counties rely on local alert systems that residents must sign up for.

Click on your county system below to sign up.



Registered Userts

2015 Population Estimate


AC Alerts



Contra Costa

Community Warning System (CWS)

No Response



Alert Marin




My Napa County

No Response


San Francisco




Santa Clara




San Mateo

SMC Alert




SoCo Alert




CityWatch Notification System

Transitioning to new system


As for Brett Gripe, the 22-year Novato PD veteran is unsure where he will spend his retirement after building a life in Santa Rosa.

“I don’t know what happens to a town when so many neighborhoods are devastated,” Gripe said.

In addition to local alert systems, county leaders can also reach residents through reverse 911 calls to landlines. But even those systems still will not reach everyone with a landline if residents don’t sign up to receive an alert.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Woman Arrested for Allegedly Stealing From Fire Evacuees]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:47:28 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10192017-katie-lehnhard.jpg

A Petaluma woman who was arrested Monday on suspicion of stealing items from North Bay fire victims and then later released, was arrested again Wednesday after police identified additional victims.

On Monday a mail theft victim reported fraudulent charges to her bank account. She also informed police of a canceled check made out to the Mary Isaak Center, police said.

Based on the canceled check, police identified 31-year-old Katie Lehnhard as a possible suspect. Officers contacted Lehnhard and learned she had an arrest warrant and was on active probation.

A probation search recovered personal identifications, credit cards and checkbooks belonging to the victim, other Petaluma residents and fire evacuees from Santa Rosa who were staying in Petaluma evacuation centers, police said.

Police said they believe the stolen property was related to thefts from vehicles that had been left behind in burned-out neighborhoods.

Lehnhard was arrested on suspicion of mail theft, forgery and fraud and was booked into the Sonoma County Jail.

Following her arrest and subsequent release from jail, police continued to investigate and identified two more victims in Santa Rosa and three in Petaluma.

On Wednesday, police located Lehnhard in Petaluma and arrested her again on suspicion of misappropriation of property, credit card theft and burglary. She was booked into the Sonoma County Jail and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Photo Credit: Petaluma Police Department]]>
<![CDATA[Californians Prepare for Annual 'ShakeOut' Earthquake Drill]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 07:34:23 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/EarthquakeFile.jpg

Millions of Californians and many others around the world plan to drop, cover and hold on in an annual drill aimed at keeping them safe during the violent shaking of earthquakes.

Organizers say 10.2 million people are registered to take part in the "Great California ShakeOut" at 10:19 a.m. Thursday.

Participants include more than 6 million K-12 students and nearly 2 million people at colleges and universities as well as governments, businesses, faith-based organizations and individuals.

An additional 42 million people have registered for other ShakeOut drills across the United States and its territories as well as in British Columbia to Japan, Italy and New Zealand.

The ShakeOut drills originated in California in 2008.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Comcast to Donate $1.5 Million to North Bay Fire Relief]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:20:39 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Comcast_to_Donate_1.5_Million_to_North_Bay_Fire_Relief.jpg

Help for fire victims continues to pour in a variety of ways. NBC Bay Area's parent company Comcast-NBC Universal is among the donors. On Wednesday, the company announced it is giving $500,000 in cash and another $1 million in services to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Comcast will also produce commercials and donate advertising time on its cable systems to urge others to donate to the cause as well.]]>
<![CDATA[Mendocino Monks Return From Fiery Exile]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:56:40 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/1018-2017-monks.jpg

Early Monday morning as a deadly swath of fire marched through 250 homes in Redwood Valley in Mendocino County killing eight people — the spiritual residents of a pair of mountain monasteries joined those fleeing into the night while the glow of flames threatened below.

Father Damian of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery was awakened by a gentle knock on his door — which didn’t quite seem to fit the urgency of the situation unfolding. But once he looked out his window from his mountain perch, he knew things were bad.

“I got up and I looked there - the world had turned upside down,” he said. “Right below us here I saw what looked like the sun rising from the earth itself.”

The sun he saw was the orange flaming terror chewing up home after home in the Redwood Valley neighborhoods below. He rang the monastery’s bells — then ran door to door gathering the monks. They gathered in the wooden chapel built in the 1980s, and prayed a prayer for trouble times.

Meanwhile three monks drove down the mountain to find out how bad it was — only to find the road impassible with fire. They returned to the monastery.

“They told me that it was just apocalyptic,” Father Damian recalled. “There was fire everywhere - there were animals running towards them.”

About a half mile down the hill, twenty-three monks at the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery watched the same terrifying flames licking at the hills. They hopped into cars and headed toward the only way out — North on Tomki Road to Willits — the treacherous dirt road no one uses.

“When we left we weren’t sure whether we were going to have a monastery,” said the monastery’s abbott, Ajahn Passanno. “It was flames all around.”

Father Damian decided to wait it out, wondering if they would survive. What if they couldn't make it off the hill?

“We kept thinking we can just go sit in the pond,” he said grinning. “And go and die from algal infections there.”

When they finally decided to flee, the fire’s most potent damage had been wrought. They drove down Tomki Road past the flattened grey debris that had once been a neighborhood.

“We have a family home we bless each year,” he said. “And it looked like maybe aliens from outer space had removed it.”

The Buddhist monks took refuge in nearby Ukiah, in the City of 10,000 Buddha’s monastery — the Catholic monks roomed with a variety of supporters. For the next week, neither group would know whether their monasteries survived the fires. Heavy smoke billowed from the mountains as helicopters ran non-stop drops of fire retardant — yet definitive news came as rumors.

“We did get word,” Passano said. “From a firefighter passing on word to a neighbor that's OK, the monastery’s still OK.”

On Tuesday, more than a week since the inferno, as county officials cleared residents from Redwood Valley to return to their fallen neighborhoods — probing through the ashes for objects from their lives before the fire — the residents of the two monasteries were cleared to return home, not knowing what they’d find.

Father Damian said the fire crept within a thousand feet of his monastery’s upper buildings — but seemed to spare both spiritual centers. As he walked the blackened ground just above the monastery’s land, a burned-out tree spit flame and smoke — a visual cue of how close the devastation that had run amok down the hill had come to his home.

He said Cal Fire crews had used his monastery as a home base, cutting a fire break from the property to Tomki Road, stopping the fire’s spread.

“I was grateful that we had a home to come home to,” he said. “I was so sad that our neighbors didn’t.”

On Tuesday afternoon, several carloads carrying the Buddhist monks climbed Tomki Road, past rows of destruction — burned out cars with melted hubcaps, forlorn chimneys without their houses, a pair of lion statues guarding the entrance to nothing.

The monks in their bright orange robes filed into the monastery for prayers of thanks — the compound’s buildings looking exactly as they did when the monks fled, save for a large fire truck standing guard in the middle of their yard.

“A lot of people have been involved in protecting the community,” Passano said, in a nod to the dozens of firefighters who watched over the property, “allowing us to be able to come back.”

Father Damian sat at a long row table inside his monastery’s empty community room. The majority of the ten brothers who live at the site had not yet arrived home. He said like the Buddhist monastery, his facility was planning to house a family that had lost a home in the blaze.

He pondered the emotions over things that had been spared — and those that had not.

“I was so happy,” he said of his return to the property. “But I saw what we had to come through and what people had lost — and so I didn’t want to be too happy.”

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Finds Mickey Treasures in Remains of Coffey Park Home]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:15:28 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Woman_Finds_Mickey_Treasures_in_Remains_of_Coffey_Park.jpg

In ordinary times, the sight of Mickey Mouse would not evoke an emotional response, but these are not ordinary times. Especially for Kelly Schulken, who found Mickey to be a serious morale booster after losing her home in Coffey Park to the treacherous wildfires. Sam Brock reports.]]>
<![CDATA[How You Can Help Mendocino, Lake County Fire Recovery]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:20:41 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/couple20.jpg

Mendocino and Lake Counties are struggling to recover from the spate of wildfires that wreaked havoc on Northern California, scorching more than 250,000 acres and leaving thousands displaced. 

Below is some information on how you can help families and organizations in Mendocino and Lake counties who were affected by the blaze. For a list of fire relief resources for other counties, click here. 


Disaster Fund for Mendocino County: This nonprofit will help with the short-term repercussions of the Redwood and Potter

Mendocino Coast Children’s Fund: This nonprofit is staffed by volunteers and will be working to help meet the immediate needs of the families who have been evacuated. Some of their youngest volunteers are children, who have started lemonade stands to help donate to fire relief funds. 

Donate to the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department: This volunteer organization helps fire crews battle flames and provides extra assistance in emergency situations. Find out more information here

Community Center of Mendocino: A staffer at the community center lost everything in the Redwood Valley Fire, including tools needed to sustain a carpentry business and clothing belonging to a 13-year-old girl. The organization posted an open call for donations on its Facebook page, asking people to bring tools or clothing to the Mendo Video in Mendocino. 

Disaster release for Vinters: In some cases, wine merchants lost not only their home but also their business. To sign up to provide short-term help, fill out this form: Information will be shared with members of the Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino wine growing and vintner associations. 

Mendocino County Animal Shelter: Shelters across Northern California are boarding dogs that may have run off or gotten separated from their family when the fires erupted. The Mendocino County animal shelter is posting photos of the dogs in their center. You can share the posts, and the shelter also accepts donations.


United Way of the Wine Country: The nonprofit is helping Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma Counties with recovery efforts. Find out more here.

North Coast Opportunities: North Coast Opportunities has two donation pages; one is exclusively for Lake County relief efforts, while the other is for victims of the Mendocino Complex Fire. Find out more here.

Lake County Animal Shelter: The Shelter has unclaimed animals that may have been displaced by the Sulpher Fire. You can share the posts to help spread the word, and the shelter also accepts donations.  

Have something to add? Email Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com. If suggesting donation sites and fundraising sites, please be sure to include the name of the beneficiary county or organization.

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Couple Who Lost Home in Fires Files Suit Against PG&E]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:15:33 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathSunday4.jpg

A couple whose Coffey Park home burned down in the deadly North Bay fires said Wednesday they filed the first lawsuit alleging PG&E is responsible for their loss to find out the truth about what happened.

The suit, filed by Wayne and Jennifer Harvell late Tuesday, comes as PG&E acknowledged Monday it told regulators about eight equipment failures related to the North Bay fires. The blazes have destroyed nearly 5,000 homes and claimed 42 lives.

“For us, it’s about getting to the truth of what happened,” Jennifer Harvell, 54, told reporters outside the San Francisco civil courthouse.

“If there is some responsibility to be borne by PG&E, or whoever, we need to find out,” Harvell’s husband, 58, added.

The Harvells say they barely escaped the wrath of the Tubbs fire with their two dogs and two cats before it jumped Highway 101 and devoured their Mocha Lane home of 30 years.

One of their sons, an Iraq war veteran, managed to salvage one of his dog tags from the rubble.

The couple is now living in a hotel that will accept their pets.

According to the couple’s suit, “The Wine Country fires were started when electrical infrastructure owned, operated and maintained by PG&E...came into contact with vegetation inspected and maintained by PG&E.’’

Their attorney, Bill Robins, flatly rejected the idea of waiting until after the official investigation is over to file his suit.

“We have family here and many families whose lives have been completely destroyed,” the Santa Monica-based attorney said.

“The notion that we are going to wait for months and months and months to get the process going – that we know is going to be a long process – is just not acceptable.”

Robins added that the origin of the fire coincides with reports of PG&E downed lines and transformer failure.

In a statement, PG&E says it is still assisting firefighters and working to restore service. “We aren’t going to speculate about any of the causes of the fires and will support the reviews by any relevant regulator or agency.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NorCal Fires Lay Waste to Pot Farms Ahead of Legalization]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 10:27:52 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_17289679871164.jpg

Desperate to see if wildfires had damaged his farm, Marcos Morales gunned his four-wheel-drive station wagon along the hidden dirt roads that crisscross Sonoma County vineyards.

After evading police roadblocks and passing vintners' well-tended pools and houses, he finally arrived to a disheartening sight: Scores of his marijuana plants had been destroyed, and a barn that held 1,600 pounds of ready-for-market pot was a smoldering ruin.

The same fires that destroyed Northern California wineries and threatened to taint grapes still on the vine also took a toll on the region's marijuana farms, which were about to begin an important harvest less than three months before the nation's largest recreational pot market opens for business in January.

Morales and the workers who made it around the roadblocks Sunday worked to cut down 2,500 smoke-damaged plants, which will be worth far less than the top dollar he had hoped to get for premium bud.

"It's not good," he said Sunday. "But we'll be OK."

His operation in Glenn Ellen and other pot farms nearby were still in a fire zone that was off limits to all but emergency personnel a week after flames tore through the area.

At least 31 marijuana farms were destroyed and many more damaged, according to the pot industry's California Growers Association. That number is expected to rise significantly once evacuation orders are lifted and farmers are allowed back to their property.

Unlike neighboring wineries, marijuana farmers do not have crop insurance because the plant is still listed as an illegal drug under federal law. That keeps financial institutions out of the industry.

The estimated losses do not count indoor grows, backyard greenhouses and converted garages lost to the fire in hard-hit Santa Rosa, the center of Sonoma County's blossoming marijuana industry.

The figure also does not account for illegal growers who want no part of legalization and operate as far undercover as possible even in a region where toking up on the sidewalk is as socially acceptable as popping a bottle of red in a park.

In Santa Rosa's devastated Coffey Park neighborhood, a half-dozen destroyed houses with obvious indoor operations were clearly visible in the ashen ruins. The smell of fresh bud overwhelmed the ever-present odor of smoke on one block.

The fire damage was especially costly because most farmers were about to start harvesting.

Many of the growers who suffered the greatest losses were working to obtain licenses to grow recreational pot once state regulators starting issuing permits on Jan. 1.

Farmers with local permits to grow medical marijuana are expected to receive the first state licenses. But those damaged by fire are now concerned they may lose out if they don't get back up and running quickly. Many of them have already paid fees and lawyers in their efforts to go legitimate.

"I did everything right and by the book for the first time this year," said Andrew Lopas, who lost 900 plants worth $2 million outside of Santa Rosa next to a popular wild animal park.

Lopas obtained a Sonoma County permit to grow medical marijuana in anticipation of applying for a state license.

"This was the first time I put a crop in the open," he said. "This is the first time I put in that many plants."

In Mendocino County to the north, growers complained that law enforcement officials refused to escort them to their farms so they could water plants even though the same courtesy was extended to wineries.

A day later, Sheriff Thomas Allman announced that marijuana growers "in good standing" with permits or applications for permits would be allowed to check on their farms in evacuation areas.

Meanwhile, people in the industry now joke about renaming famous strains to "Campfire Pot" and "Hickory Kush."

The damage is expected to have little impact on the state's overall marijuana economy because thousands of growers were unaffected by the fires, especially in the three-county region known as the Emerald Triangle.

"The impact will be pretty modest statewide," said association President Hezekiah Allen, who put the economic losses in the tens of millions of dollars. "Even though the timing could not have been worst."

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA['Ray of Light': Newborn Antelope Born During Tubbs Fire Dies]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:15:44 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/211*120/1016-2017-TubbsWeb.jpg

A newborn antelope, celebrated as a miracle due to his birth while the Tubbs Fire — from which he took his name — ravaged Santa Rosa, has died, according to the Safari West Wildlife Preserve.

Intestinal complications, not the blaze, caused Tubbs' death, according to Aphrodite Caserta, with Safari West. 

"Tubbs looked strong at the outset," Safari West said in a statement. "He was quick to his feet and seemed to thrive. As the keepers and veterinarians monitored him, however, he began to falter. He was taken into veterinary care, but ultimately passed."

The preserve named its newest Nile Lechwe — an aquatic antelope found only in a small area of eastern Africa — Tubbs, after one of the deadliest wildfires in California's history.

His arrival "provided us a much-needed ray of light in a time of darkness. We named him Tubbs, in tribute to the inferno that framed his birth, and to reclaim it from an undeserving disaster," Safari West said. 

Nile Lechwe are endangered so "every baby born is vitally important to the survival of the species," Safari West wrote on its website.

Although grieving the loss of the animal, Safari West in a news release expressed gratitude for the fact that Tubbs "visited us at all."

"Through light and darkness, ash and spring growth, life goes on. Today we mourn the loss of Tubbs, but we also celebrate the cycle of life that brought him to us," the statement said in part.

The devastating wildfires did not claim the lives of any other animals at Safari West, according to Caserta.

"Thankfully, we have not lost any animal due to the fire — all were saved and continue to be well," she said. "The support of the community, our friends, our guests, our families have been overwhelming! Our keepers come here every day and our animals are returning to their old routines while all around them our maintenance staff work to rebuild what was damaged."

The community has rallied around Safari West, even going so far as to start two GoFundMe campaigns.

People's donations will help Safari West staff who have lost their homes and been displaced by the devastating fires, according to Facebook. 

"This last week has been a changing point for all of us in the North Bay," Caserta said. "We have suffered much together but we will also recover together."

Photo Credit: Will Bucquoy for the Press Democrat]]>
<![CDATA[Death Toll From North Bay Fires Jumps to 42]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 23:16:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861821222.jpg

The death toll from Northern California's destructive wildfires rose to 42 Wednesday after the remains of another person were found in Sonoma County.

Spokeswoman Misti Harris said the county is working on identifying its 23rd victim. 

Others killed in the fire include eight in Mendocino County, six in Napa County and four in Yuba County. A water tender driver was also killed after the truck they were driving overturned on a winding and steep mountain road in Napa County.

Of the roughly 2,060 missing persons reports in Sonoma County, a total of 50 people remained outstanding as of Wednesday, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said. Authorities say they are conducting targeted searches for victims and the work is slow-going.

However, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says he doesn't expect the death toll to go much higher.

Sgt. Spencer Crum said Wednesday that the "number of dead people we're finding has really slowed down'' and that many people listed as missing have been located safely.

Half of the 53 missing person reports are for homeless people, and Crum doesn't believe they perished in fires because they did not live in areas hardest hit by fire. He said many missing person reports are made by people who haven't seen the individual in years but thinks that person was last in Sonoma County.

Napa County reported Tuesday that eight people remained on its missing person list.

The wind-whipped fires that started Oct. 8 swept through parts of seven counties, destroying 5,700 homes and businesses and becoming the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California history.

Containment numbers for the Tubbs, Pocket, Nuns and Oakmont fires, which ignited last week and swiftly ripped through neighborhoods and businesses, have been steadily improving over the past several days, according to Cal Fire. 

Light rain forecast in Northern California is expected to help firefighters battling the remains of wildfires that have burned for more than a week in wine country.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said about a tenth of an inch of rain is expected Thursday night.

He said it won't be enough to drench fires, but the precipitation combined with moist winds should help.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, says crews did controlled burns to wipe out fuel needed by wildfires to spread.

Tens of thousands of evacuees are returning to their homes, although more than 30,000 were evacuated as of Tuesday morning. That number is down considerably from Saturday when an estimated 100,000 people had been forced out of their homes.

As of Wednesday, the Atlas Fire has burned 51,064 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 83 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched 36,432 acres in Napa County and is 91 percent contained; the Nuns Fire, which includes the Partrick, Adobe, Norbbom, Pressley and Oakmont fires, has burned 54,423 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties and is 80 percent contained; and the Pocket Fire has burned 12,430 acres in Sonoma County and is 63 percent contained.

Farther north, the Sulphur Fire in Lake County has torched 2,207 acres and is 92 percent contained, and the Redwood Valley Fire in Mendocino County has charred 35,800 acres and is 75 percent contained.

Cal Fire hopes to fully contain the rash of wildfires by Friday.

The progress comes as firefighters elsewhere are working to gain control of a 300-acre fire that erupted late Monday in a heavily-forested area of the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Family Dog Miraculously Survives Atlas Peak Fire]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:07:09 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WEBYananakadog_475795.JPEG

A family’s beloved eight-year-old Labrador managed to survive the flames and ashes when the Napa County wildfire first broke out last week.

The Harbert family says they evacuated the area where the flames blazed during the fire, but were eventually trapped from escaping, forcing them up a hill. To their luck, a CHP chopper was willing to take them to safety, but not their dog.

“He was looking at us and you can imagine he was thinking why are you leaving?” said Dan Harbert. “It was emotional so she was hysterically crying. I had my 97-year-old mother in my arms.”

The family left Drake in their truck with a window cracked, hoping their dog would survive.

According to the family, once they arrived at the command post, they began asking for help from anyone around them. To their luck, after spending 11 hours in the Atlas Peak fire, Drake returned safely.

“You know our pets rely on us, they trust us and that is such a precious thing and to have his life be saved and our lives, mean’s more than a building,” said Dan Harbert.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Tough Housing Market Awaits NorCal Wildfire Victims]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 07:34:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-862143594.jpg

As firefighters gain on wildfires burning in Northern California's wine country, the many thousands who lost their houses, condos and apartments in those fires will have to find a new place to live in one of the toughest housing markets in the nation.

In San Francisco, an average one-bedroom apartment rents for more than $3,000 a month and the median home price is about $1.5 million. The climbing cost of living has reached the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which includes parts of the fire areas.

The fires that swept through parts of seven counties were the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in in California history. At least 42 people were killed and 6,000 homes destroyed.

Crews made excellent progress Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, setting off controlled burns to deprive wildfires of added fuel, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire. He said cooler weather and the lack of wind helped.

"We're hoping that Mother Nature will continue to cooperate with us," he said. "Increased moisture in the air and potential rainfall, all of those are welcome signs."

Also on Wednesday, Sonoma County increased its death count from 22 to 23 when officials reported they had found another body in Santa Rosa. Officials released no details.

Keeping positive is hard when facing the reality of starting from scratch, said John De Groot, whose home in Santa Rosa burned down along with a lifetime of memories.

"We've worked our whole lives," De Groot said. "We've had this house for 23 years. So there are a lot of memories there. Grandkids have been there. They love it. And it's not there. So now what?"

California, which was grappling with a housing shortage before the wildfires broke out, is faced with a massive logistical issue with entire neighborhoods destroyed and so many seeking to rebuild.

"This is a tremendous event for an urban area," Brock Long, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday. "We've got a lot of thinking to do about how you mitigate this from happening in communities down the road and becoming more resilient."

An estimated 100,000 people were evacuated at the height of the fires, and about 34,000 remain under evacuation. Many have yet to find out if their homes are still standing.

"The good thing is we have each other," said Ramona Lancu, whose family home in Larkfield was destroyed. "We were able to escape. Now we just start a new life. It's hard."

Lancu was among tens of thousands who have drifted home to find their lives and their communities dramatically altered.

At a Red Cross shelter in Petaluma, 69-year-old Sue Wortman recalled the words that raced through her mind when she fled the flames near her home in Sonoma.

"We're all going up in smoke," she thought at the time. Since then, she's been walking around in a daze.

Firefighters gained more control Tuesday of the massive wine country wildfires, even as other blazes erupted in mountains near Los Angeles and Santa Cruz.

Meanwhile, officials and trauma experts worried about the emotional toll taken by the grueling week of blazes.

Wortman has been living in her RV outside the Petaluma shelter, while hundreds of other evacuees sought refuge in tents and trailers and on cots inside the fairground facility. She has sought comfort among friends and with her dogs but knows that feeling won't last.

"I think it's really going to hit when we go home and see the destruction," she said.

Highlighting the concerns of mental health professionals, the California Psychological Association has emailed an urgent request calling for volunteers to help wildfire evacuees cope with the trauma they have faced and its aftermath.

"There is tremendous acute and long term impact and we are needed right now to help," Dr. Chip Shreiber, the association's disaster resource coordinator, said in the email sent Monday to a distribution list of 13,000 licensed psychologists across California. "Please get the word out."

It's common for survivors to feel a range of emotions — sadness, anger, irritability — and to suffer flashbacks or nightmares while having trouble sleeping, especially in a shelter surrounded by strangers.

Evacuees were advised to pace their exposure to news and media, which provide information that can reduce anxiety but also become overwhelming.

Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Sonoma, Terry Chea in Santa Rosa, Jocelyn Gecker and Janie Har in San Francisco, and Andrew Dalton and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Resident's Hayward Business Robbed as He Fights Flames]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:29:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tattoothieves1017_467616.JPG

One Napa resident managed to save his home from getting swallowed up by wildfire, but he still suffered loss hundreds of miles away.

Dane Simms said as he was battling flames at his Napa home Sunday night, thieves broke into this tattoo parlor in Hayward and stole money and other valuables.

Simms spent the last week fighting fire advancing on his home.

"My neighbor's house goes down in flames; we physically saved our property," he said. "Got evacuated but didn't leave."

Meanwhile, security cameras were capturing the suspects breaking into Simms Inc. Tattoos. Simms said the money they made off with was intended to help people. He had his wife take his treasured "Star Wars" collection from Napa to his business, so he could hold fundraisers for fire victims. He posted updates on Facebook, and it seems crooks were paying attention.

"I've never felt devistation like this," he said.

The security cameras caught three men breaking into the tattoo parlor and stealing thousands of dollars meant for fire victims as well as a large portion of the "Star Wars" collectibles.

"It's tough; I thought I was doing the right thing," Simms said. "Wake up Monday morning, I haven't seen my family, haven't been off my hill, and I get robbed. It's heartbreaking."

One of the suspects has a tattoo, and Simms said it feels to him like the burglars knew their way around his shop. He said they didn't just take money and valuables; they also stole the trust he had in people.

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office is investigating the theft.

<![CDATA[Evacuees Track North Bay Wildfires]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 19:04:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Evacuees_Track_North_Bay_Wildfires.jpg

It's a bit of a contradiction, but when your home is threatened by wildfire the one thing you don't want to see is fire. But once your home is evacuated they want to keep an eye on the fire. Some of course do it by watching it on TV. Others just want to see in person how much danger their home is in. Garvin Thomas reports.]]>
<![CDATA[National Guard Crews Survey Wildfire's Destruction]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 23:10:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10172017SantaRosaAftermath_462317.JPEG

The National Guard has 22 aircrafts working to fight the wildfires burning in the North Bay, including two drones.

Crews have been battling thick smoke and high winds. Tuesday was the first time it was safe enough for the National Guard to take an NBC Bay Area camera aboard an aircraft so we could show how Santa Rosa looks from above after wildfires ripped through the region.

The Sonoma County city from the air features a scar of scorched Earth that will take years to heal.

Officials say 2,100 National Guard troops have been deployed to fight the North Bay wildfires. Even those with years of experience say seeing the devastation is haunting.

NBC Bay Area joined a crew of four from the 129th Rescue Wing based at Mountain View's Moffett Field. Senior Airman Austin Hellweg on his first wildfire mission is unlikely to forget the disaster that now ranks as the most destructive fire in California history. The North Bay fires have burned an area the size of New York City and has taken down more than 3,500 homes and businesses. At least 40 people have died in the fires, officials said.

"The toughest part for me seeing this is knowing how many people have been displaced, lost their homes...pretty much everything," Hellweg said.

Pilot Caroline White is flying reconnaissance missions to help crews in the air and on the ground. In 10 years of active duty, she has never experienced one like the North Bay fires.

"We just got off (Hurricanes) Harvey and Irma and that was heartbreaking," White said. "But to see this in our own backyard -- some of our own squadron members have had their childhood homes burn down."

Veteran first responders also said the sights of the wildfires and aftermath in their home state will be seared into their memories.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security and the State Office of Emergency Services also surveyed the damage on Tuesday to help plan for future rebuilding that will need to happen across the North Bay.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Schools to Stay Closed Rest of Week]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:30:38 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/wildfire+schools-1017.jpg

Napa Valley Unified School District schools will not reopen until at least next Monday because of ongoing air quality concerns related to the wildfires that continue to burn in the North Bay.

School district officials wrote on the district's website Tuesday that schools will remain closed through at least the rest of this week because "there is just too much variability in air quality to be confident for an entire school day."

The schools have been closed since wildfires sparked Oct. 8, burning across much of Napa County as well as Sonoma County and part of Solano County.

In Sonoma County, the Office of Education announced Tuesday that several school districts will remain closed through the week because of the fires, road closures or unhealthy air.

Bellevue, Bennett Valley, Geyserville, Kenwood, Piner Olivet Union, Rincon Valley, Roseland, Santa Rosa City Schools and Sonoma Valley school districts are all included in the closure.

The Mark West Union School District, which is located in the Larkfield burn zone, will be closed through Oct. 30 for cleanup. The district has contracted with Service Master Recovery Management, which estimates the fire mitigation effort will require 50 employees and take about 10 days to complete.

The Alexander Valley Union Elementary School District and Wright Elementary School District in Santa Rosa plan to reopen Wednesday. The Windsor Unified School District and Cloverdale Unified School District tentatively plan to reopen Wednesday.

The Oak Grove Union School District that serves west Santa Rosa and east Sebastopol tentatively plans to reopen schools Monday.

In addition, Santa Rosa Junior College announced that it would be closed for the rest of the week, with classes and activities resuming this Monday.

The Solano County Office of Education said all schools that were closed due to the Atlas fire reopened Monday.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital to Reopen]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:27:17 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/nb+fire-1016.jpg

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, which was forced to evacuate last week as wildfire quickly approached, is slated to reopen Tuesday, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The hospital evacuated patients just days ago when the wildfires swept through the area. On Monday, the health system announced the facility would reopen with full services, including inpatient and emergency care, at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Sutter said it evacuated 77 patients in six hours, and to reopen, the facility had to undergo a thorough cleaning and pass inspections by both the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and the California Department of Public Health, hospital officials said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Couple's Engagement Rings Survive Tubbs Fire]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 19:15:56 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sam1withring.jpg

Monica Brinkerhoff was crushed.

At last sight Monday, flames were licking the Santa Rosa house she shared with her wife, Sam Brinkerhoff. But when the family returned to Coffey Park two days later, only a smoldering husk remained amid an apocalyptic scene.

“I think I needed closure,” Monica Brinkerhoff said. “I honestly started crying after I got through the shock of seeing the house. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it, and I was really defeated at that moment.”

Just then, Sam Brinkerhoff discovered a severely singed jewelry box under debris and ash.

Inside was the pair's engagement rings, burned and blackened but still intact. The women, who are expecting their first child, could even make out the heart engravings on one of the bands while a diamond shone on the other.

"The fireproof safe didn't make it, none of the paperwork made it, but the rings did," Sam Brinkerhoff said. "Just for a moment, in the middle of all that devastation, there was a little bit of hope."

Monica Brinkerhoff, who is six months pregnant, was overjoyed. The moment provided temporary relief from the anxiety and worry she had been feeling since the fire broke out, sending the couple and their dogs fleeing. 

"We get really emotional when we think about everything we lost," she said. "We bought the house for the baby. We had five years of trying to conceive where we accumulated everything — we had the crib, we had clothes, we had the changing table, we had everything," Monica Brinkerhoff said.

"Now it's gone."

And rebuilding will be a struggle. The pair ran Caring Home Care, a business that provides assistance to seniors in Sonoma County, out of their home. 

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help ease the burden. Friends and clients have been rallying around the couple, flooding the page with donations. 

"Every day they selflessly help those in need who can no longer care for themselves," wrote Gemma McKenney, a friend who created the GoFundMe for the couple. "Even this morning after they received the news they had lost their home, their main concern was their clients and making sure they were all evacuated."

Firestorms raged across a broad swath of the North Bay late Sunday, engulfing trees, homes, and cars and leaving only devastation in its wake. The blazes scorched more than 200,000 acres, claimed at least 41 lives and reduced roughly 3,000 homes and business to rubble.

The Tubbs Fire, which obliterated the Brinkerhoff's home, has scorched 36,432 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties. Firefighters were still working to snuff it out by the following Tuesday. 

Thinking back to the night the blazes sparked, the Brinkerhoffs said they had been so focused on escaping their Coffey Park neighborhood as it went up in flames that they didn't think about gathering important possessions.

"I had 10 minutes to get out," Sam Brinkerhoff said. "I didn't even grab my wallet."

Other than their rings, the only thing that is still recognizable is an oversized jar in which Sam and Monica Brinkerhoff collected coins. Now it is melted and mangled, but they're holding onto the keepsake anyway. 

Whenever sadness creeps in, Monica Brinkerhoff reminds herself that the outcome could have been much worse. As it stands, her wife and their pets are safe, and so are their tokens of commitment that symbolize their eight-year relationship.

The women say they want to return to Coffey Park when it is rebuilt in the years to come. Until then, they will be staying in a temporary rental. 

"It gives us peace knowing that our baby is going to have a stable home and that we won't be moving around," Monica Brinkerhoff said. "And we've had such strong support from the community. People have been so generous. We don't feel alone in this, and that means a lot."

Photo Credit: Ron Carnero/Sam Brinkerhoff
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<![CDATA[Santa Rosa Homes Spared by Fires Bring Joy and Sense of Loss]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 08:46:39 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_17289773397308.jpg

Tom and Catherine Andrews live on the edge of devastation.

On one side of their mid-century style home, the deadly wildfires that ravaged parts of Northern California for more than a week wiped away the houses of neighbors they have known as long as two decades. On the other side, were those like the Andrews, who were spared.

On Monday as calm winds gave an advantage to firefighters trying to tame the flames, the couple balanced their good fortune against the losses suffered by many friends.

"It was disbelief and just feeling like the luckiest guy on earth," Tom Andrews said. "I can't believe, I mean, total destruction 50 feet away and to have our house still standing here.''

For his wife, a real estate agent who sold many of the homes to friends on Wikiup Drive, there was bitter along with the sweet.

"It's heartbreaking," she said. "I'm trying not to have survivor's guilt, I think they call it. But we've been here 20 years this week. We raised our kids in this house. So many of the families on this hill raised their kids."

After days of wind gusts that constantly fanned the fires, lighter wind offered a chance for crews to make greater gains, and thousands more people were allowed to go home more than a week after the blazes that have killed more than 40 people began.

Improving weather, the prospect of some rain later in the week and tightening containment of the flames were tempered by the first death from the firefighting effort — a driver who was killed when his truck overturned on a winding mountain road.

Many of those who returned knew in advance whether their homes were standing or reduced to ash.

Satellite images, aerial photos and news reports with detailed maps of entire neighborhoods had given homeowners in populated areas a pretty clear idea of the fire's path. Some had seen the flames coming as they fled. Some families in rural areas had to wait until they laid eyes on their property.

The return home was emotional even for those whose properties were spared.

"When we came up to check on it, we were amazed it was here," said Tom Beckman, who credited his neighbor's two sheep with chomping vegetation surrounding his home and keeping the fires at bay.

"All the trivial things we have to work on — cleaning up, replacing the stuff in the fridge and freezer — that's nothing compared to my friends who lost their homes," Beckman said.

The smell of smoke remained thick in the air and spread to the San Francisco area, but skies were clearer in some places.

The truck driver, who had been delivering water to the fire lines, crashed before dawn Monday in Napa County on a roadway that climbs from vineyards into the mountains. No other details were available about the accident, which was under investigation, said Mike Wilson, a fire spokesman.

In the historic main square of the wine and tourist town of Sonoma, a statue of the community's 19th century founder was draped with signs thanking firefighters who have saved the town from disaster.

"The love in the air is thicker than the smoke," read a sign on the bench that displays the statue of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, which was wearing a face mask.

Although the weather was still hot and dry, the calmer winds and the possibility of rain should help crews tamp down the deadliest, most destructive cluster of blazes in California history.

"Any sort of moisture is welcome at this point," said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "In terms of fire, the weather outlook is looking to be improving.''

A fraction of an inch is predicted to fall late Thursday in Sonoma and Napa counties, though fire officials noted that if showers bring more wind than moisture, it could spell trouble for firefighters.

Crews continued to battle flames that have crossed a mountain from Sonoma County to Napa County. Three helicopters repeatedly dipped water buckets into a reservoir and made drops to stop flames from crawling downhill toward historic wineries in the Napa Valley.

Most of the people reported missing have been located, and authorities said many were false reports from people far away who could not get in touch with friends or relatives.

About 100 people remained unaccounted for.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said he expects some of those will be found dead in burned-out homes.

Before they let people return to view the damage to their homes, authorities want to search thoroughly for remains and make sure the area is safe — a process that could take weeks, Giordano said.

About 40,000 evacuees were still waiting for permission to go back to their communities, down from a high of 100,000 on Saturday.

While police kept people from burned-out neighborhoods, some managed to sneak past road blocks to view the damage.

Janis Watkins wasn't so lucky. She was turned back from Santa Rosa's Wikiup neighborhood, where she wanted to see if the home she grew up in — built by her father — had survived.

She was almost certain it was lost, as well as a home where she raised her family in another part of the city.

"It appears that both my family homes are gone," she said, tears in her eyes. "The landmarks of my life are gone. It's a big emotional loss.''

Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Sonoma, Brian Skoloff in Napa and Brian Melley, Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg]]>
<![CDATA[Row After Row of Charred Houses, Cars and Boats]]>Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:48:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/Screen+Shot+2017-10-17+at+5.02.36+PM.pngThe first sense that hits you when approaching Coffey Park is the smell —burned, almost charred earth, metal, grass, plastic, all blended together. It looks like something out of a movie set — “Apocalypse Now” or “War of the Worlds,”— except it’s not.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Gonzalez/ NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Oakland Hills Fire Survivors Help North Bay Wildfire Victims]]>Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:53:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WEBOakHillsFire_462239.JPEG

A fire scorched neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills two decades ago and survivors of that fire are using their knowledge of that experience to help the thousands of people who lost their homes in the North Bay.

“I’m here to tell you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sue Piper, a survivor of the Oakland Hills fire.

Piper has been lending her support at a local assistance center to help fire victims take the first steps toward recovery.

“It’s encouraging,” said wildfire victim, Jason Mitchell. “I mean they can bounce back so we can bounce back. Sonoma strong.”

At the center, victims can find helpful information from simple things like DMV visits to what they made at federal or local agencies. According to other fire victims, the process is quick and simple and only takes about 20 minutes.

Another assistance center is set to open Wednesday, October 17 at the Hanna Boys Center on 1700 Arnold Drive in Sonoma and will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West Wildlife Preserve Welcomes 'Miracle' Tubbs]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 20:03:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/211*120/1016-2017-TubbsWeb.jpg

The Safari West Wildlife Preserve in Santa Rosa is celebrating what it calls a miracle while devastating wildfires continue to burn in the North Bay.

Safari West recently welcomed Tubbs, its newest Nile Lechwe -- an aquatic antelope found only in a small area of eastern Africa. The preserve named Tubbs after one of the wildfires burning and said Nile Lechwe are endangered.

"Every baby born is vitally important to the survival of the species," Safari West wrote on its website.

The wildlife preserve hopes sharing Tubbs' story will "remind us to see the light" while the region battles and recovers from the fires.

View more on the Safari West website.

Photo Credit: Will Bucquoy/for the Press Democrat]]>
<![CDATA[Restaurants Reopen Following Devastating Wine Country Fires]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:31:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ap_17282751494273.jpg

Restaurants and shops that were spared by the Wine Country fires are reopening this week, signaling a shift as the community struggles to return to business-as-usual following mass devastation and loss of life. 

World-famous restaurant The French Laundry will re-open Tuesday. The Yountville eatery, which has earned three Michelin stars, closed last week out of respect for its employees and due to a slate of power outages. Still, staff stayed on site at the bakery to serve first responders. 

"Everyone is working to normalize our situation in these extreme times," wrote restaurant staff on the company's Instagram. 

Bouchon, R+ D Kitchen, Red, Ad Hoc, and Redd Wood are among the other tourist-friendly destination spots that are opening their doors. Together, they make up some of the most sought-after destination spots for vacationers in Napa County and Sonoma County, which relies heavily on its tourism-based economy. 

Boosted by better weather, firefighters have made significant gains in controlling the deadly wildfires, which left at least 41 dead and scorched more than 200,000 acres. But it's not over yet. More than 34,000 people remain evacuated across Northern California. Hundreds, possibly thousands, will eventually return to their homes to find only charred wreckage and ash. 

It's too soon to tell the full extent of the damage and its consequences for the local economy, but scores of businesses and restaurants perished in flames, too. Employees who lost their homes may also be forced to relocate. 

The Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, located in Santa Rosa, was completely obliterated by the flames. Its 130 employees, most of whom work on an hourly-basis, are out of a job.

Lenora Olson, head of HR for the company, posted on Facebook that she was hoping to find other local work for the employees. The post was shared more than 7,000 times, drawing hundreds of comments and offers of employment. 

"Words cannot describe how much it means to me," Olson wrote in an update. 

Other companies include the Fountaingrove Inn and the K-Mart Department Store in Santa Rosa. Head over to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for a more comprehensive list.

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[PG&E Identifies 8 Electrical Failures in North Bay Firestorm]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 19:01:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10162017NBayFire_448424.JPG

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials revealed Monday that they have officially notified California regulators of eight separate electric equipment failures in the recent North Bay firestorm – but declined to detail what triggered them.

“Since Sunday’s windstorm, the company has submitted eight electric incident reports related to damaged facilities to the CPUC,’’ the company said in a statement late Monday, which stresses the utility will “support and assist with the review of these wildfires by the appropriate regulatory agencies…”

PG&E referred questions about those reports, however, to state regulators, who did not respond to several requests for details made by NBC Bay Area.

The eight incidents – now being probed by state regulators as well as Cal Fire – are relevant given that the CPUC has long been grappling with a particular fire-safety threat posed from the state’s 4.2 million power poles.

Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said Monday that regulators are not able to even determine some basic information about those utility poles, including the nearly 2 million maintained by PG&E.

“Where is the pole?” Picker said in outlining the many unanswered questions about the state’s electrical infrastructure. “Who owns the pole, What’s on it? What’s the condition of the pole?”

The commission has begun the task of trying to overcome the information gap to create a centralized database. Meanwhile, regulators have been sounding the alarm about those unknowns.

“Pole problems and violations will cause serious injuries to the public and damage to properties,” one regulator stressed during a briefing to the Public Utilities Commission.

One danger is that poles can rot from the inside out, said Fadi Daye, a supervisor with the commission’s Electric Safety and Reliability Branch, during the commission briefing in May of last year.

Another, Daye told the commission, is that poles can be overloaded with unaccounted for gear, weighing them down.

“That’s a lot of weight, it can act as a sail on a pole in a windy area,” said Picker, who is overseeing regulatory proceedings related to power pole data.

Overloaded poles can snap, causing lines to break and spark. That is what happened with an Edison utility pole in the Canyon Fire in Malibu in October 2007, a fire fueled by the same kind of high winds that whipped through the North Bay.

But in a response to fact finding questions from regulators, PG&E had trouble accounting for exactly what is on power poles, telling regulators this year: “Complete information on all attachments and equipment on poles is unattainable so long as joint owners are not required to provide all parties information on attachment and equipment installations.”

In a statement late Monday, the company said it welcomes any effort to track what equipment is on its power poles as a way to “enhance public safety and reliability of utility service.” PG&E went on to say, “With our constant focus on the safety of the public and our workforce, we share a commitment with the Commission and all California energy companies to ensure the ongoing safety of our infrastructure.”

Mark Toney, executive director for the ratepayer advocacy group, TURN, says it is too early to say whether power poles are to blame for the recent fires, but the risk is real.

“We just don’t know,” Toney said Monday. “What we do know is pole safety is incredibly critical right now and that the state and all the utility companies, both the telephone and the energy companies need to work together to make sure we have safer poles all throughout California."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Berkeley Fire Crews Join Fight Against North Bay Blazes]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 16:54:53 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/BerkeleyFire.PNG

Video recorded by a Berkeley Fire Department strike team responding to the North Bay wildfires shows firsthand how quickly the fire moved and how intense the flames were.

At 5 a.m. last Monday, firefighter Mike Shuken was on Berkeley Fire Department Engine 6 and racing for Santa Rosa. The crew was headed for what they thought was a grass fire. But as they hit the city limit, reality started to set in.

"It was one of those, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Shuken said.

The Berkeley firefighters were told to stage at a Kmart store and wait for assignment. When they arrived the building was engulfed in flames.

Fire then beat the crew to their second spot, a neighboring gas station.

"The different areas that we arrived at were being eliminated as safe areas for staging, so we kept pushing forward," Shuken said.

The firefighters then found themselves in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood, already unrecognizable, as fire had wiped out entire blocks.

"We weren't even sure what we were looking at," Shuken said. "Hundreds and hundreds of homes that burned down."

With fire burning all around them, they were finally able to make a stand on the 1800 block of Towhee Street.

Shuken thinks they managed to save roughly 30 homes, but also learned that one of the hundreds lost belonged to a fellow Berkeley firefighter.

Shuken said the video he recorded will not only help other agencies in their response to a natural disaster, but also show the rest of us what it was like on the frontlines of the devastating fire.

Photo Credit: Berkeley Firefighters]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Fires: Calistoga Reopens, Preps to Help Neighbors]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 18:09:59 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10162017Calistoga_448253.JPG

Calistoga residents got the green light to return home Monday after North Bay wildfires prompted authorities to issue a mandatory evacuation for the entire city last week.

The mandatory evacuation order issued Wednesday turned Calistoga into a ghost town.

On the city's main drag, several shops started reopening Monday. Others will take a few more days to get back to business. But everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that they had a town to come back to.

Mayor Chris Canning welcomed residents back home and urged people to prepare for helping neighboring communities.

"Let's get ready to help our friends and neighbors in Napa County, to our neighbors in Sonoma County," Canning said.

Just down the road in Napa, a local assistance center is now open for those who do not have a home to come back to. Victims can get help with things like car and rent  payments, and government loans.

Simon Timony spent his day at the assistance center looking for missing people. He has been able to reunite about a dozen families, some whom he found in shelters.

The message is clear back in Calistoga: Get in, get settled and get ready to help others.

"At the end of the day, when everyone needs a rest and a break, come back up to Calistoga and we'll take care of you," Canning said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfire Smoke Believed to Have Caused Man's Death: Family]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:32:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/SmokeNorthBayFires.jpg

A 27-year-old father with breathing problems is believed to have died as a result of the wildfire smoke choking the North Bay, according to the man's family.

Joshua Hoefer, who struggled with asthma in the past, died on Sunday, roughly four days after he started complaining about having breathing trouble.

Hoefer's girlfriend Cierra Lopez said Hoefer took Albuterol — a medication designed to treat asthma — but it stopped providing him with relief on Thursday.

"I looked over and he was purple, and he was clenching and he just, at that point, his head went back...I looked at his finger tips and they were blue," Lopez said.

Lopez initiated CPR and called 911, but those efforts ended up not being enough. 

"[The doctor] came in and explained that, due to the smoke and [Hoefer's] already horrible asthma, that he had an asthma attack and went into cardiac arrest," Lopez said.

A hospital spokesperson on Monday could not confirm Hoefer's exact cause of death. The spokesperson did say that roughly 150 people have come to the emergency room within the past 24 hours. An estimated 15 percent of those suffering from respiratory issues were admitted. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pregnant Woman Flees Fire on Bicycle, With 2 Children in Tow]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 15:31:34 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/charity+ruiz.jpg

As a massive inferno ripped through Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy fled from the suburb on a bicycle, carrying her two toddlers in tow. 

“It looked like the fire was jumping towards us,” Charity Ruiz, who is expected to give birth this week, said. “It was coming so fast. I was trying to keep calm for my daughters, to keep them from seeing it and getting scared." 

Ruiz, her husband, and their children had attempted to flee from the neighborhood in the early hours of Monday morning in their car, but a traffic jam formed as the entire subdivision fled from the Tubbs fire. The family soon found themselves trapped on a street that was being taken over by flames and smoke. 

“I knew we had to get out,” she said. “There was no way we were going to make it through in the car.” 

The family ran back to their home, where Ruiz grabbed a bike and an attached toddler trailer. She started peddling as fast as she could, flagging down cars as she went, while her husband remained on foot to help other neighbors evacuate. The pair vowed to reunite later. 

“I was worried we were going to tip over," she said. "But I kept talking to my girls, telling them that it was going to be okay."

After what seemed like an eternity on the road, a good Samaritan pulled over. The man took an alternate route to safety and delivered Ruiz and her children to a friends house. Once there, she was able to reconnect with her husband. 

“I was just so thankful,” she said. “So many people had passed by without stopping. But he didn’t. He was the only one." 

Ruiz said she'll remember the man's kindness forever. 

While the family is now reunited, their ordeal is far from over. One week later and with a baby due any minute, the Ruiz family must start from scratch. Their home was completely obliterated by the flames. 

Hundreds of her neighbors will be forced to start over, too. Almost all of Coffey Park was destroyed by the Tubbs fire, one of more than a dozen infernos that wreaked havoc on Wine Country communities and left at least 40 dead and more than 200,000 acres scorched. Haunting aerial photographs of Coffey Park show a wasteland of debris and charred wreckage, with beloved possessions transformed into piles of ash and cars melted in the street.

The suburb has become so unrecognizable that residents have taken to writing their names in chalk on the sidewalk, so they know whose wreckage belongs to whom. Simple things, like picking up mail at a make-shift community center, have provided touchstones of normalcy during the ordeal.

“It’s been hard,” Ruiz said. “I know that we can rebuild, but it’s more about losing the sentimental stuff that was in the house. You can't put a price on that.”

Her children's baby clothes, photo albums, and a precious video from her wedding are just some of the items she wishes she could hold again. Her daughters also talk about missing their bedrooms, a thought that brings Ruiz to tears. 

Still, she is trying to remain optimistic, and there have been a few saving graces. Any day now, the couple will welcome their first son. And there has been an outpouring of support on a GoFundMe campaign in their honor, created by a young woman whom Ruiz mentored in a church group. 

Some donations have even come in from flood-wrecked Houston, Texas, which is still recovering from its own natural disaster. 

“I’ve been weeping. Every time I go online I start crying,” Ruiz said. “I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of people that don’t even know us, who have blessed us."  

Most of all, she's happy she has her family rallying around. 

“At the end of the day, we’re all here; We all made it out okay,” she said. “For that, I feel lucky.”

Have comments, corrections, or a tip? Email Gillian.Edevane@nbcuni.com or call her at (669) 263-2895. 

Photo Credit: Charity Ruiz
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<![CDATA[Contract Firefighter Killed After Water Tanker Crashes]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:29:13 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/watertendercrash_443845.JPEG

A contract firefighter on Monday was killed after the water tanker they were driving crashed in the region where crews continued to battle a spate of wildfires that ignited last week, a Cal Fire official said.

The crash occurred sometime before 7 a.m. along Oakville Grade Road near Highway 29 in Napa County, Cal Fire official David Shew said. 

"This morning we tragically lost a member of our firefighting community," Shew said.

The large truck, which had been working at the Nuns Fire, was making its way downhill when it somehow lost control and landed upside down on a steep embankment next to the road, according to Shew.

"This is a very, very steep road," Shew said. "Oakville Grade is known as own of the steepest roads in Napa County."

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, Shew said. When asked if fatigue could have played a role, Shew said firefighter energy levels are draining by the day.

"Everyone is getting tired," he said. "There has been no break for these firefighters since the fires erupted last Sunday evening."

The victim was not a Cal Fire firefighter, according to Shew.

Further information was not available.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area ]]>
<![CDATA[Smoke Advisory, Spare the Air Alert Issued for Bay Area]]>Sun, 15 Oct 2017 23:36:31 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_17285575204007.jpg

A smoke advisory and Spare the Air alert have been issued for Monday in the Bay Area, air quality officials said Sunday.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District recommended that people, especially in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, stay inside when possible in buildings with filtered air such as public libraries and shopping malls; or people in the fire-impacted areas should leave the area for areas less impacted by wildfire smoke until the smoke levels subside.

People who must stay in the fire-impacted areas should wear an N95 mask to minimize breathing harmful particles in smoke.

Air district officials urge people to protect themselves and their family from heavy smoke.

Residents who see or smell smoke in their immediate area should stay indoors, if possible, with the windows and doors closed and air conditioning units on recirculate.

Air district officials are asking residents and visitors to avoid adding pollution to the air by cutting back on activities such as wood burning, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, driving and barbecuing.

Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Brush Fire Near Homes in Novato Prompts Evacuations]]>Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:04:27 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/novatofire1015_434090.JPG

Fire crews in Novato knocked down a vegetation fire Sunday afternoon near homes on the west side of Highway 101, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The blaze, which was reported about 3:30 p.m., burned between San Marin Drive and Delong Avenue, and smoke was visible from the freeway, the CHP said. It was contained about 4:15 p.m., fire officials said.

Evacuations were conducted on Carmel Court, and other residents initially were instructed to be ready to evacuate, Novato police said.

The Novato Police Department shut down streets in the area and asked the public to avoid the area, the CHP said.

No further details were available.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[At Least 40 People Killed in Northern California Wildfires]]>Sun, 15 Oct 2017 07:10:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/22384345_10154820554861990_3081846610763059516_o.jpg

Rising winds fanned the California wildfires again Saturday, forcing hundreds more people to flee from their homes in the state’s fabled wine country and 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 on a blaze that has killed an unprecedented 40 people, the 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 threated Sonoma and a portion of Santa Rosa that included a retirement community that evacuated earlier this week, authorities said.

Napa County announced two more deaths Saturday bringing the total death toll to 40. As of Saturday afternoon, the death toll stands at 22 in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, six in Napa County and four in Yuba County.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect across the North Bay and parts of the East Bay through 11 p.m. Saturday. Low humidity, higher temperatures, and gusty winds are expected to persist into the weekend and contribute to extreme fire behavior. 

"Everyone is coming to grips with idea that Santa Rosa is never going to be the same again," said councilman Chris Rogers.

Governor Jerry Brown and senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris visited the hard-hit town on Saturday. 

"At a time like this, we all pull together," Brown said, describing the fires as a "horrible situation."

Harris encouraged residents to pay heed to evacuation orders while Feinstein promised the government's help.

Critical fire threats will exacerbate ongoing fires in Northern California, according to the National Weather Service. Any new fires are expected to spread rapidly – no matter what firefighters do to stop them. Firefighters have been warned that conditions in the field have reverted to the severity of Sunday, when a firestorm struck the region. 

"Normal is going to take a very new meaning here in Napa as we see our way out of this," said Belia Ramos, chairwoman of the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

As of Saturday, though, strong winds in the region had prompted officials to halt escorts into evacuated areas.

No evacuations are planned Saturday, but ongoing weather conditions could change that, Ramos said, urging people to be "vigilant."

"This morning I woke up and I saw blue skies, but I can tell you I know I’m not the same person I was on Sunday," Ramos said. "None of us are. And that takes a toll on everybody."

A local assistance center will be available for Napa County's fire victims, starting next week. Congressman Mike Thompson said FEMA has approved individual disaster assistance grants that will be made available to people who have lost their homes and been otherwise affected by the wildfires. However, they will only be available after residents have received insurance funds.

"It's like a hurricane. Instead of water drops flying sideways and wind, you have fire flying sideways," Cal Fire Capt. Jerry Fernandez told NBC Bay Area.

According to Cal Fire, the Atlas Fire has burned 50,383 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 45 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched 35,270 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties and is 44 percent contained; the Nuns Fire has burned 46,104 acres in Sonoma County and is 10 percent contained; the Partrick-Carneros Fire in Napa County has charred 12,379 acres and is 18 percent contained; the Pocket Fire has burned 10,996 acres in Sonoma County and is 5 percent contained; and the Pressley Fire has torched 473 acres in Sonoma County and is 10 percent contained.

Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the scenic coastal area of Mendocino farther north, leveling whole neighborhoods and leaving only brick chimneys and charred appliances to mark where homes once stood.

The Redwood Valley Fire burning in Mendocino County has torn through 34,000 acres and is 20 percent contained; the Sulphur Fire has torched 2,500 acres in Lake County and is 60 percent contained; and the Cascade Fire in Yuba County has burned 10,120 acres and is 75 percent contained, officials said.

Early Saturday, firefighters reported a new Lake County blaze, dubbed the Long Fire, which charred 20 acres off Highway 20 and Long Valley Road, east of Clearlake Oaks.

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.

On Saturday, an unknown number of additional structures burned down in a rural area, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Judy Guttridge, who was evacuating for the second time this week, said her daughter saw flames advancing over the side of a hill around the same time Bordigioni did and told the family to get out.

“I have good insurance, everything,” she said. “All the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids are fine. I’m OK with that.”

Firefighters spent much of the last week digging defense lines to keep the flames from spreading. On Friday, they tried to fortify the edge of Sonoma using bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

But if winds push the flames over that barrier, neighborhoods including some of the town’s costliest homes were in the path, along with a historic central plaza built centuries ago when the area was under Spanish rule.

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.

Winds gusting up to 40 mph were expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening.

Also Friday, a lucky few of the nearly 100,000 people who have fled from their homes got to return, and examples of charity were everywhere, along with a sign that began popping up in more and more places: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”

Astonishing video released from the fire’s hellish first night showed the courage of the deputies and firefighters working amid the flames.

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!” an unidentified Sonoma County deputy can be heard yelling in the body-camera video released by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The footage was recorded as he urged hesitant drivers to speed out of a town that was being devoured by flames.

The deputy is shown lifting a disabled woman out of her wheelchair and into an SUV to rush her out of town. And he drives through walls of flame looking for more people to help.

“And that’s just one person,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said at a news conference.

At an RV evacuation site at Sonoma Raceway, evacuees counted their blessings, trying not to think about what they had lost and what they might yet lose.

The mood at sunset Friday was upbeat, even cheerful, as children and dogs played in the twilight. More than 100 campers were parked by the side of a highway. There were portable bathrooms and tables groaning from donated water bottles, stuffed animals and food.

Ron Vitt, 75, and Ellen Brantley, 65, sat in chairs watching the cars go by, a small table between them holding drinks: gin with cocktail onions for him and gin with lime for her. They joked as their dog bounced about happily.

“There is a sun that’s going to set. There’s a dog who is really happy,” Vitt said. “So you got to bring some sanity into this whole thing.”

At Sonoma Valley High School, the parking lot was packed with cars and vans. Middle school Principal Will Deeths supervised volunteers and made sure people had plenty of water and a filter mask. He said more than 100 people spent Thursday night at the school, which has been converted into a shelter.

He said the community response has been phenomenal. Hairdressers from Oakland came to fix people’s hair and a young man played guitar to entertain families, he said. They even had a birthday party for a 5-year-old boy, complete with a donated cake from a local bakery.

“Two days ago we were in need of size 5 diapers,” he said. “Someone put it on Facebook and within an hour, four or five cars pulled up, two or three boxes. Boom, boom, boom, here you go.”

More than a dozen fires broke out nearly simultaneously on Oct. 8 and people had little time to escape. Most of the deaths were elderly people.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines. 

Associated Press writers Paul Elias in Sonoma, Olga R. Rodriguez, Jocelyn Gecker and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco and Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz also contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[Army of Firefighters Brave Deadly NorCal Firestorm]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 12:52:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-861056470.jpg

Santa Rosa firefighter Brandon Palmer has fought big blazes in his 20 years on the job, but the 81-hour shift he spent fighting the fire storm in his own neighborhood this week was still stunning.

“It’s crazy to watch your hometown be annihilated by fire,” he said, back at his Santa Rosa firehouse. “It just takes your breath away.”

Palmer is one of more than 10,000 firefighters working this week to control the most destructive group of fires in state history. Dozens of people have been killed, and more than 5,000 homes and other structures have been damaged or destroyed.

Fighting the fires has been exhausting, days and nights dragging heavy hoses through thick smoke, hiking over steep terrain, hopping on and off trucks. More than 200 hand crews are also on the scene, building fire lines with shovels and bulldozers, slashing through brush with chainsaws and pulaskis, hiking for miles with heavy backpacks.

When the fire broke out above Santa Rosa, Palmer — who was off duty — hurried into the station, grabbed his gear and went to work, dragging hoses through vegetation.

“We could hear explosions. The sky was glowing,” he said.

After his wife and children safely evacuated, Palmer said he lost track of time over the passing days as they rushed from block to block. Although residents were largely out of the area, in one backyard, he came across a big, yellow Labrador.

“He was freaked out. We tried to grab his collar. Usually they’ll lick you to death, but he was a little nippy,” Palmer said. With the road open and safe, they called Animal Control and moved on.

The firefighters rest when they can, catching short naps, sometimes sprawling on the ground in front of their trucks. They fuel up with quick meals and chug coffee at their fire camps donated by local businesses. While the missions are coordinated by commanders, crews said the radio chatter about new fires, high winds and a rapidly moving front line had them changing tactics.

“It was hot, it was steep, we got into some thick smoke a couple of times,” said seasonal firefighter Christina Barker, 30, of Turlock. Hoses were burning up, she said, and at one point they were separated from their engine during a shift that went on for more than 50 hours.

“None of us are thinking about the fear or the challenge. We’re just focused on how to be efficient,” she said.

On her seventh day of almost nonstop work, Barker said Saturday that community support is keeping her going. During one exhausting shift, her crew was invited in to a home for cold sodas. On Friday night, as she was settling down in her truck for a short rest, a neighbor brought her a cot.

“I didn’t have to sleep in the engine,” she said.

While local firefighters have hit it hardest, 2,100 members of the California National Guard, 425 law enforcement officers and crews from more than 100 supporting agencies from around the U.S. are also working to stop the blazes, control traffic and protect property. Firefighting helicopters and air tankers are also up, dropping fire retardants and assessing damage.

“I’m completely exhausted. I can barely think right now,” said Capt. Jimmy Bernal of the Rancho Adobe Fire District, taking a break during what he described as a very intense week. He said at one point he couldn’t manage to spell his last name.

“I was dispatched to a grass fire and got sucked into a structure fire,” he said. “They didn’t have any units to relieve us, so I worked four days straight.”

State officials said that while they seem to be gaining control over some fires, others are still erupting.

“We are still at it full tilt. But we’ll get ahead of these flames and preventing more loss of property and life throughout the weekend and into next week and as long as it takes,” California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Coffey Park Is Ground Zero For NorCal Fire Devastation]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 07:35:48 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathWednesday5.jpg

The warnings about impending doom came suddenly and in different ways. Frantic pounding on doors. Blaring fire alarms. Commotion outside windows.

Awakened from a deep slumber in the dead of night, bleary-eyed residents of the Coffey Park neighborhood peeked outside and saw hell: burning debris raining down, smoke so thick it was hard to see or breathe and an encroaching wall of flame.

From a distance you could just see red. And hear nothing but explosions,” said Dan Hageman, a 49-year-old construction worker. Hageman quickly sprayed down his house and yard, then fled with this wife. His home was one of the few that survived.

Coffey Park, a square-mile of middle-class homes and friendly neighbors on the northern edge of Santa Rosa, was among the hardest hit areas from the series of wildfires that broke out last Sunday in Northern California. Dozens died, and thousands of homes were destroyed, 2,800 alone from the Tubbs Fire that scorched Santa Rosa.

Fueled by fierce winds, the flames chewed up hillsides, jumped over a six-lane highway and sent thousands fleeing for their lives. Many had nothing but the clothes they wore, leaving behind all their possessions and a lifetime of mementos.

At least two of the dead were killed in Coffey Park — a number that could rise once authorities sift through ash to see if there are bone fragments, teeth, medical devices or anything else that could identify human remains.

According to survivors, the fire hit Coffey Park when flaming embers blew across U.S. Highway 101 and ignited the businesses and homes around Hopper Avenue. From there, it jumped from house to house.

When Andrew Ziegler, 46, saw flames outside windows, he scrambled to gather his 8-month-old dog while praying the power would stay on long enough for him to raise the garage door.

“I had a puppy that wouldn’t listen and I’m in a wheelchair,” Ziegler said. “I figured the best thing to do was not be a burden on someone else, get the hell out of here.”

Several blocks away, Wayne Sims was becoming an amateur firefighter in a harrowing fight that saved his home.

Awakened by smoke, the 62-year-old stepped outside to investigate. His neighbor across the street jumped in his car and came back to report that the fire had jumped the freeway. Sims sent his wife and cat away and did his best to spray down the home with a garden hose.

Down the street, he spotted a CalFire crew spraying water on a blazing home.

“I said: ‘You guys gotta come over here. That one’s gone. You can save my house. Come and save my house,’ ” Sims said. “I was begging them. And they did. They came down here.”

Sims convinced the firefighters to give him their hose, so he sprayed down his own home and his neighbor’s — using the water pressure to knock down his flaming back fence so he’d have a way to escape — while the pros moved down the street. They saved much of the cul de sac.

But by the time the sun came up Monday morning, most of Coffey Park was gone, replaced by a hellscape that looked more like a war zone than a suburban neighborhood.

Houses were reduced to smoking piles of ash, leaving a thick cloud of smoke that burned the eyes and lungs. Orange flames spewed from broken gas lines. Vehicles were melted, their make and model indiscernible. A few were overturned, apparently when their gas tanks exploded and launched them into the air.

And in the street were snaking yellow hoses, some still connected to blue-and-white hydrants, abandoned by overwhelmed firefighters forced to give up and flee.

Monday was trash day in northern Santa Rosa, and the streets of Coffey Park are dotted with gray and blue trash cans left out the night before. Some melted, leaving behind a pile of recyclables in the street.

But many somehow survived. When their owners return to destroyed homes, all they’ll recognize is the trash they threw out before running for their lives.

People who live in remote forested corners of the West accept the risk of wildfires as a fact of life. But Coffey Park is not in the forest. It’s a suburban neighborhood where plumbers, painters, nurses and small business owners made their home in two- to four-bedroom houses built mostly in the 1980s.

Recent home sales were around $400,000 to $500,000, below the median home price for Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that is the largest in the world-renowned wine region of Napa and Sonoma counties north of San Francisco. Mayor Chris Coursey said the city lost 5 percent of its housing stock and suffered at least $1.2 billion in damage.

Residents of Coffey Park say it is a special place.

“You walk down the street, everybody says hi to you,” said Anna Brooner, 57, the original owner of her home built in 1988.

Leslie Garnica, a 17-year-old high school senior who was born and raised in Coffey Park, liked to open her blinds and window so she could see the three palm trees in her front yard as she laid in bed and listened to music.

“This is all I’ve ever known, and it’s kind of weird knowing that you have to start again, find something new,” Garnica said. “This is what I’m used to. But I don’t have it anymore.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Wildfires Light Up Bay Area Skies]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:27:33 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2017-10-15+at+2.48.09+AM.pngAs the North Bay wildfires burned, the skies around the Bay Area were marked by tragically striking sunsets and dramatic orange skies.

Photo Credit: gcmak/Instagram]]>
<![CDATA['It’s Been a Battle': A Day in the Northern Calif. Fire Zone]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 18:04:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-861016240.jpg

Fire crews were briefed and headed out to do battle. Survivors returned to the charred remains of their homes, picking through debris for anything recognizable. And families clung to the hope that missing loved ones were still alive.

As the sun rose thick and orange Friday in Northern California, there was heartbreaking routine to the ongoing wildfires catastrophe.

Stories of some who lived through the inferno by standing in backyard swimming pools this week spread. In the town of Sonoma, evacuation orders began days ago, but a few residents still were trickling out. As they left, some opened their gates and tacked up handwritten signs: “POOL IN BACK,” just in case someone needed access.

Fire crews worked feverishly, setting back burns to save homes, dragging hoses, watching the wind for gusts or shifts. The air was thick with acrid smoke.

“It’s a balancing act between using water to put out some of this big stuff and to save your water in case that side goes,” said Kyle Hawkins, a firefighter who traveled from Southern California with his crew.

CalFire Battalion Chief Joe Buchmeier said local crews were resolute, driven by the fact that their own neighborhoods were burning. Already several firefighters, including Calistoga volunteer fireman Buddy Pochini and Mill Valley Fire Chief Tom Welch, have lost their homes.

“Making people rest has been harder than making people work on this,” Buchmeier said. “It’s been a battle to try to get people off the line, including myself.”

More help was arriving.

King County, Washington, sent three strike teams, 50 firefighters in 16 vehicles, for what they planned to be an 18-day deployment.

“These guys are trained in wildland fires, and this is what they love to do,” Eastside Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Clark said. His men were part of the team who were making the 800 mile trip.

They’re joining a force of thousands from as far as Victoria, Australia, who are fighting the flames.

At the decimated Journey’s End mobile home park in Santa Rosa, even shattering discoveries were becoming the norm.

“It is very tedious work,” said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Thompson after officers recovered bone fragments Friday morning.

Dozens of search-and-rescue personnel were on site, grimly searching for residents who didn’t make it out before fire swept through. A crew of men and women in white suits stood by to receive remains. Thompson said officials believed two or three more bodies would be recovered, but hours later when the convoy pulled out, led by three National Guard Humvees, officials declined to say whether any other remains had been found.

Behind the scenes, local leaders tried to facilitate school closures, emergency housing and other logistics. Midmorning, state Assemblyman Jared Huffman’s office announced in English and Spanish that federal law enforcement agents were suspending immigration enforcement in evacuation sites and assistance centers.

“My message to everyone in the North Coast and North Bay community, no matter their immigration status: stay safe, vigilant, and continue to follow all public safety warnings,” he said.

Oakville Grocery, a popular gourmet picnic stop for Napa Valley tourists, closed early Friday afternoon as flames approached.

“The fire is getting closer,” manager Leo Ponce said, “so we’re shutting down for now.”

They had opened as usual at 7:30 a.m. with a crew of “whoever could come in,” Ponce said.

He said that most of the customers were emergency crews, who the shop is feeding for free.

But the occasional carload of tourists also stopped by, he said.

“There are some who are barely aware of the fires,” he said. “They’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Couple Had Celebrated 50-Year Anniversary Before Fire]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 20:50:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/10-13-17-napa-image-RIPPEY4.jpg

At least 40 people have died in the deadliest week of wildfires in California history. The victims include a couple who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, a 14-year-old boy whose parents and older sister were severely burned, and a woman born with a spinal defect who worked to help others despite her own troubles.

A look at some of those who were killed in the blazes:

Very Generous Spirit

LeRoy and Donna Halbur, both 80, had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and for years Leroy delivered food for the needy three times a week.

They had no chance to flee a wildfire that destroyed their Santa Rosa home early Monday, said their eldest son, Tim Halbur.

“The winds came up pretty quickly. It was all countryside behind them,” Tim Halbur said. “My mom was found in the car in the garage. My dad was somewhere on the driveway. He probably had gotten her into the car, and he went outside to check on conditions.”

Tim Halbur said his parents were devoted to community, friends and family. An avid world traveler, LeRoy Halbur was an usher at Resurrection Catholic Church in Santa Rosa. He volunteered with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, delivering meals right up to the week before the fires.

Donna Halbur wrote children’s books and was a former elementary school teacher.

“What I want you to know is that they were very generous of spirit and they carried that spirit to the community,” their son said.

Doing Good by Others

Roy Howard Bowman, 87, and his wife, Irma Elsie Bowman, 88, lived a life quietly doing good for others.

The Mendocino County couple provided money to help launch a Spanish-speaking ministry at the Assembly of God church in Ukiah, recalled Sylvia McGuire Nickelson, who met the Bowmans at church.

“They both were beautiful, inside and out,” Nickelson told the San Francisco Chronicle . “I just loved them.”

“Anybody who needed a second chance, the Bowmans were their advocate,” said Felice Lechuga-Armadillo, who with her siblings would host the Bowmans for Sunday dinners. “Anyone who needed help, they stepped forward — but quietly.”

The couple were found in the fire-ravaged remnants of their home in the remote Redwood Valley, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Santa Rosa, on Monday.

Roy Bowman was a U.S. Navy veteran and former federal employee. Irma Bowman loved to bake and “would tell us to speak well of other people,” said Lechuga-Armadillo.

Roy Bowman had a stroke earlier this year. Irma Bowman told Lechuga-Armadillo’s mother that if he had another, she wanted to have one as well — “because she didn’t want to be on this Earth without him,” Lechuga-Armadillo said.

'The Horse Lady'

Valerie Lynn Evans had a fierce love of animals.

Evans, 75, kept horses, goats, dogs, a mule and a steer at her Santa Rosa home. She’d sometimes lead the mule down the street, allowing folks to feed it, said her longtime neighbor, Tracy Long.

“We knew her as the horse lady,” Long told the San Francisco Chronicle.

As flames approached their homes late Sunday, Brian Strehlow, a neighbor across the street, offered to help.

“She said, ‘We got this,’” Strehlow said.

Evans died while trying to save her dogs.

Evans’ neighbors said they believed that her husband, son and a daughter-in-law were able to escape, but that they hadn’t been able to reach them since the fire.

Evans kept a large collection of books on horses. Long, whose home was damaged by fire, said she occasionally sees pages from Evans’ library blowing along the street.

Timid and Giggly

At 14, Kai Shepherd was among the youngest victims of the wildfires.

After flames swept over a mountain, the Shepherds had tried to drive down to escape. Their neighbor Paul Hanssen found their two charred vehicles blocking the road, doors still ajar from when they had apparently abandoned them and fled on foot.

Hanssen found the mother, Sara Shepherd, and her 17-year-old daughter, Kressa, lying on the ground, more than half their bodies burned. Kai Shepherd was further down the mountain and did not survive.

First responders found Kai’s father, Jon Shepherd, separately, on the mountain. He was also badly burned but alive. Kai Shepherd’s parents and sister are being treated at burn centers.

His sister, Kressa Shepherd, a Ukiah High School junior, had to have both legs amputated beneath her knees.

Family friend Irma Muniz remembers Kai Shepherd was timid and giggly after she met him last year while shooting a Christmas card photo of the family posing in the woods of Redwood Valley, a community of about 1,800 roughly 70 miles (113 kilometers) north in Mendocino County

'She Was My Life'

George Powell woke to a wall of fire already bearing down on his Santa Rosa home and immediately yelled to his 72-year-old wife, Lynne Anderson Powell: “Get out!”

Lynne Powell grabbed her border collie, Jemma, which always slept next to her, a laptop and asked for the best way to get off their mountain before jumping in her car.

George Powell left 15 minutes later after fetching his three dogs. George Powell now realizes when he raced down the mountain he drove past his wife’s car that had gone off the road and into a ravine in the heavy smoke.

After searching for her all night and the next day, a detective called to tell him a body burned beyond recognition was found steps from her car. Inside was a dog also burned to death.

“If I had known, I would have gone down there with her, even if it meant I would have died with her,” George Powell, 74, said. “I don’t know how I’m going to cope. She was my life.” He repeated: “She was my life.”

The couple had been married for 33 years. He was a photojournalist and she was a professional flutist, spending much of her career playing for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, which operated until 2011.

The two met while she was on vacation in Los Angeles, where George Powell freelanced for newspapers. He said it was “love at first sight” and he moved to New Mexico to be with her. After they retired, they settled in northern California so his wife could take care of her aging parents.

The two shared a love of border collies and entered in agility runs with their dogs. She was an avid quilter. The fire took everything, including her quilts and his life’s photo archive.

Lynne Powell did not want a memorial service or obituary. But George Powell said he may hold a special lunch with friends to celebrate her life.

“I don’t think I ever felt unloved or uncared for any second of my life with her,” he said.

Together in Life and Death

Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara, 98, are the oldest victims of the wine country wildfires identified so far.

Their bodies were found by one of their sons who had made his way past security and found the home in Napa where they had lived for 35 years completely gone. Only two blackened metal chairs, a porcelain tea set of white and soft washes of blue and other small remnants remained to testify to the couple’s long life together.

Charles Rippey — who was known by his nickname “Peach” since he was a toddler — appeared to be heading to the room of his wife, who had had a stroke in recent years.

Mike Rippey said his father would have never left his mother. The couple met in grade school and recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary with their five children.

“Those of us in the family always would, you know, wonder what would happen if one of them died and the other one was still left because we knew that, you know, there’s no way they would ever be happy whoever was the last one and so they went together,” Rippey, 71, said as he stood among the charred ruins of their home.

The couple attended the University of Wisconsin and married in 1942 before Charles Rippey served as a U.S. Army engineer in World War II. He then became an executive with the Firestone tire company.

Dedicated to Helping Others

Christina Hanson, 27, used a wheelchair and spent her life dedicated to helping others despite her own hardships, her family said.

Kelsi Mannhalter had posted on social media asking people to search for her cousin after the fire Monday ravaged Santa Rosa where Hanson lived.

Mannhalter later confirmed on Facebook that Hanson did not survive when the flames consumed her home.

“Just surreal,” Mannhalter posted. “I love you so much and am going to miss you sweet cousin. I can’t say it enough.”

Her father was found collapsed on the street in front of his home with third-degree burns and was taken to a hospital in San Francisco. Hanson had tried unsuccessfully to reach him as flames surrounded her apartment around 1:30 a.m. Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Hanson was born with a spinal defect and lost her mother at 9 to lupus.

Still, her focus was always on others, her stepmother, Jennifer Watson, told the newspaper, describing her as “a very happy, social and positive person.”

Hanson volunteered two days a week at an Alzheimer’s residential care facility in Santa Rosa, where she would entertain residents.

She also taught herself sign language and interpreted for the hearing impaired.

“She loved helping people and loved her family,” said Watson, who was with her stepdaughter the day before she died.

Her family wrote in an online obituary that Hanson “was granted her angel wings.”

Died in Her Husband's Arms

In the 55 years they were married, Carmen Caldentey Berriz had spent countless hours in her husband Armando’s arms.

In his arms was where the 75-year-old took her last breath on Monday, as he held her afloat in a swimming pool as walls of fire burned around them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Carmen had known Armando was the one since she was 12, and the two dated for years before marrying in 1962. By the time Carmen turned 75, their family had grown to include two daughters, a son, their children’s spouses and seven grandchildren.

The Berrizes were three days into a vacation at a Santa Rosa rental house with family when son-in-law Luis Ocon woke early Monday morning and saw the fire begin to overtake the neighborhood.

They fled to their cars.

Luis, Monica Ocon, and their daughter made it through the thick smoke and flames and pulled over, watching for Carmen and Armando’s car to emerge behind them. It never came.

Armando Berriz’s car had gotten stuck on a fallen tree. He told his wife they had to run back to the house to take shelter in the backyard pool.

As flames melted the chaise lounges a few feet away, Carmen clung to Armando, who kept them both afloat by hanging onto the brick sides of the pool.

Armando Berriz held on for hours, even as the brick burned his hands, even as his wife stopped breathing. He let go only after the flames had burned out, laying Carmen on the steps of the pool with her arms carefully crossed over her chest.

He walked 2 miles to find firefighters.

“Everything they did was as a team,” daughter Monica Ocon said. “They had this bond and this strength that literally lasted a lifetime.”

One Last Phone Call

Linda Tunis moved from Florida to the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa to be closer to her family. When the northern California wildfires quickly overtook the park, the 69-year-old woman phoned her daughter.

She was trapped, she told her daughter, Jessica Tunis. She was surrounded by fire, and going to die.

Jessica Tunis screamed at her mom to run to safety, to flee the burning home.

“I was telling her I love her when the phone died,” Jessica Tunis told the San Francisco Chronicle.

After three days of hope and dread, Jessica’s brother Robert Tunis found his mother’s remains in the debris where her house once stood.

Linda Tunis was spunky and sweet, Jessica Tunis said Wednesday. She was also fiercely independent, an attitude that wasn’t dampened by her health problems. She had failing memory because of a stroke, and had lost the sight in one of her eyes because of high blood pressure.

She loved bingo and the beach, choosing to move California mostly because it brought her nearer to her close-knit family, Jessica Tunis said.

“My mother’s remains have been found at her home at Journey’s End. May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma,” Jessica Tunis posted on Facebook earlier this week.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Workers Continue to Harvest Grapes Despite Unhealthy Air]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 13:23:29 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/10132017MondaviWorkers_413361.JPEG

The state’s worker safety agency issued a worker safety advisory late Friday after NBC Bay Area took video of workers harvesting grapes at The Robert Mondavi vineyard in the fire-torn Napa Valley, some without any protection from the smoky air that surrounds them.

While most workers are wearing some sort of mask, others use a bandana or no mask at all.

“That should not happen,” said Garrett Brown, a retired 20-year veteran inspector with the state’s worker safety agency, Cal/OSHA.

Brown says under state regulations, employers are required to outfit each worker with a specially fitted respirator mask, capable of filtering out fine particulates in the air. They should also limit harvesting time.

According to a chart on the website of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, air quality in Napa County ranged from unhealthy to extremely unhealthy as of Friday morning, based on high levels of the tiny particles from the massive firestorm.

Bad air has prompted schools as far away as San Jose to limit outdoor activities. Brown says workers in the vineyards should be protected, and it’s up to the employers to make sure that happens.

“It should not be simply a situation,” Brown said, “where some workers are sent, as sort of a sacrifice, to work outdoors in unhealthy air to gather grapes.“

Late Friday, Cal/OSHA issued an advisory notice to employers, telling them to provide approved masks, allow for breaks and to be alert to workers becoming dizzy due to exposure.

Mondavi did not respond to our requests for comment. Brown welcomed the advisory.

“Anything Cal/OSHA can do to remind and inform employers of their legal responsibilities to protect their employees’ health and to provide information on how they protect their health would be a big advantage,” he said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[RAW: Bodycam Footage Shows Daring Rescue in Sonoma County]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 03:11:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sheriffbodycam_1200x675_1073122883899.jpg

Bodycam footage from a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy shows him rescuing people from the fire (Warning: Strong language).]]>
<![CDATA[Mendocino County Grapples With Wildfire's Aftermath]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 22:48:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/209*120/2017-10-14_1-27-57.jpg

In Mendocino County, residents are grappling with widespread destruction from the fires. The Redwood Complex Fire has wiped out entire neighborhoods and businesses. NBC Bay Area's Joe Rosato Jr. shows us what residents are returning to.]]>
<![CDATA[Leaving Home in a Fire Zone and Fearing It's a Final Goodbye]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 01:46:22 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860592008.jpg

Neighbors and strangers huddle along streets under siege by wildfires. We fix our worried stares on ridges encircling us, at billowing smoke and hope we don't see the glow of flames.

In the path of one of California's deadliest blazes, talk is of wind direction, evacuations and goodbyes.

Each time I turn the key to lock my front door, I think I might be leaving home for the last time. I've covered my share of stories about people fleeing catastrophes, but I'm living the life of a fire evacuee for the first time.

"Take care, sweetie,'' one woman said in my community on the edge of the small, rural, wine-centric city of Sonoma, hugging me through my car window on one of three consecutive nights we fled an approaching blaze.

On that Tuesday night, flames arced like solar flares on the ridges above sprawling old oaks and tall redwoods. The trees conceal the wooden former cottages from Boyes Hot Springs' days as a resort destination for wealthy San Franciscans looking to soak away their aches in the hot springs.

Now, it's a tinder-dry working- and middle-class community on edge.

Another neighbor climbed onto his roof with a garden hose, training water first on his house, then surrounding ones. Another neighbor vowed to stay, envisioning taking a stand against any looters.

With the ever-present stench of smoke, discussion that night on the street focused on the direction of the wind and advancing fires.

"Northeast,'' one man said. I didn't understand the subtleties but knew winds from the north were bad.

"Northwest,'' a woman next to him angrily corrected, glaring at him in darkness brought on by a loss of electricity.

"Northeast,'' he insisted, and we all lapsed back into our silent sentry of the ridgetops.

Not everyone in Northern California had the ability to watch the fire grow when so-called Diablo winds whipped up the wildfires late Sunday. In the first hours, dry tempests toppled oaks onto roads, ripped loose power lines and drove deadly embers ahead for miles.

Many of the more than two dozen people killed so far died in those first hours as wildfires reduced whole blocks of houses to ankle-high ruins with little or no warning.

At 3:30 a.m. Monday, smoke was so strong that I awoke thinking my house was on fire. With electricity already gone, it shocked me how long it took to gather contact lenses, shoes and other essentials I scattered when I had returned to California a few hours earlier from a cousin's wedding in Oklahoma.

For two sleepless days, I drove around with my dog, John, in the backseat in case fire overtook my home while I was reporting on the destruction.

The death toll climbed. The number of houses destroyed grew into the thousands. And two dozen fires kept advancing at the whim of the winds.

My canine companion lost hope he was on an extra-long trip to the dog park and grew steadily depressed, slumping on the seat. Many others had their dogs in tow, their heads sticking out car windows as firetrucks sped past and mountains burned.

With my suitcase still packed from the wedding, I had a go-bag with me, although the knee-length dresses and heels were unsuitable evacuee wear.

Hundreds of police officers and then National Guard members poured into fire zones, helping evacuate residents and block people from returning to burning and scorched areas.

My press pass got me past roadblocks. Highways and farm lanes were blackened for miles on both sides. With familiar buildings and landmarks gone, whole stretches of road were unrecognizable.

I came across former volunteer firefighters defending their houses from relentless flames that advanced at first from one ridge, then another, then another. The popping of propane tanks in the area punctuated conversations.

People clustered at barricades that blocked them from their homes. Some pleaded with lawmen to pass. Others numbly accepted it.

I encountered people on foot where it seemed unwise to be.

A woman with a duffel bag hanging from each shoulder stood alone on a highway, the only pedestrian for miles in a burning area.

"What should I do?'' she asked.

She had been told the fire was coming, that her house would surely burn. It wouldn't burn, would it? she asked, seeking reassurance. She didn't want to go to Sonoma, where I was heading, so she thanked me and stayed behind.

I gave a lift to a San Francisco man who had left his car and set out on foot to check the fate of a vacation rental property. He celebrated to see it unburned but returned to the car grumbling about how messy the vacationers had left it when they fled.

I returned home Wednesday morning and relished a rare normal moment walking my dog, only to curse when I realized ash was raining down.

Later that morning in Napa, the namesake city of the neighboring wine-making area, smoke blinded a driver as he rolled down a window exiting a freeway and rear-ended my gray Prius.

Driving back home with the left rear lights and back frame of my car now askew, the radio station I was listening to had a news reporter breathlessly broadcasting from my block. Never a good sign.

Ash pelted my windshield and officers encouraged us to go.

I picked up my tortoise shell cat, Jumpy, and sadly freed two chickens to their fate in my backyard before turning the key in the lock one more time.

Tree limbs started swaying gently as the wind rose and I drove away, hoping it wasn't the final goodbye.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Insurance Firms Offer Help to Residents Affected by Fire]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 23:06:34 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-861059268.jpg

Representatives of two insurance firms are helping members with claims from the North Bay wildfires, Sonoma County officials are working to reduce property tax bills and federal loans are now available to Sonoma and Napa County residents, business owners and private nonprofits affected by the fires.

Nationwide has sent representatives to the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa and State Farm has sent representatives to a number of evacuation centers.

Nationwide reps today were at the Finley Community Center at 2060 W. College Ave. At the center, representatives helped customers with claims.

The claims process can also be started by calling (800) 421-3535 or visiting Nationwide's website.

State Farm mobile claims vehicles began arriving in fire areas today.

State Farm officials suggest property owners start the claims process as soon as possible.

The process can be started by getting in touch with one's agent, calling (800) SFCLAIM, submitting a claim through the company's mobile app Pocket Agent.

State Farm officials suggest property owners keep receipts for living expenses since the expenses may be reimbursable after a deductible is met.

Property tax bills are being reduced for Sonoma County residents with a certain amount of damage, county officials said.

The reductions will be made without the need for property owners to file paperwork with the clerk-recorder-assessor, Clerk-Recorder-Assessor William Rousseau said in a statement.

Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Erick Roeser said in a statement that he hopes to have the adjusted tax bills out by Dec. 11.

Affected taxpayers will have a 30-day deferral period after they receive a bill.

Taxpayers with impound accounts should get in touch with their lender to tell them about the change in the status of their property, Roeser said.

For more information on calamity-damaged properties, residents can check this website.

Because of the disaster, staff from the clerk's and the tax collector's office may not be available to answer questions about the tax reductions.

County officials will be sending out more information about calamity-damaged properties.

Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration are now available for Sonoma and Napa county residents, business owners private nonprofits to repair or replace certain types of damaged or destroyed property such as real estate and inventory.

To be considered for the assistance, applicants must first register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mental Health Aid Available for Residents Affected by Fire]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 21:24:51 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-861062716.jpg

As fires continue to ravage Northern California, mental health services are available for people grieving - or fearing - the loss of their homes and loved ones, county officials said.

"We know this is a time when people are experiencing trauma in their lives," said Jennifer Larocque, a spokeswoman for Sonoma County said. "They have been evacuated, they may have lost their loved ones, they are looking for their friends. We want to make sure we are there for them in any way they need."

With that in mind, Larocque said mental health services are available at the county's four shelters. The shelters are as follows: Sonoma-Marin County Fairgrounds, 1350 Fairgrounds Drive, Petaluma;

Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa; Elsie Allen High School, 599 Bellevue Ave., Santa Rosa; and Santa Rosa Veterans Building, 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa.

Two of Solano County's shelters have mental health clinicians, according to the county's Office of Emergency Services. These shelters are at Solano Community College, 4000 Suisun Valley Road, in Fairfield, and Allan Witt Park, 1741 W Texas St., also in Fairfield.

"We have had mental clinicians out at the (shelters) and other community organizations have been there as well," said Sandra Sinz, Solano County's mental health director. "Kaiser has sent clinicians there as well," she said.

Sinz said people can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

"We get some data from them, and they have been receiving more calls from our area," Sinz said. She said a person doesn't have to be suicidal to call the line.

"It goes through a switchboard and then connects you to a local California crisis line," Sinz said.

As with the other two counties, mental health services are available at Napa County's three shelters, Cara Wooledge, a health education specialist with Napa County, said today.

The shelters are at Napa Valley College, 2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway in Napa; the Crosswalk Church, 2590 First St., Napa; and the American Canyon High School, 3000 Newell Drive, American Canyon.

"We have bilingual staff there who are available to talk to folks if they need support," Wooledge said.

The health education specialist had another resource: The national Disaster Distress Helpline.

"It's a great resource, available 24/7," Wooledge said. "Anyone across the U.S. can call and talk to a trained mental health counselor. We're trying to share this not only with people affected directly by (the fires) at the shelter, but people at home if they have been affected."

The number is 1-800-985-5990, and it's also possible to communicate via text, she said. To do so, people should text one word with no spaces, talkwithus, to 66746. To do so in Spanish, text one word, hablanos, to 66746.

Services specifically for veterans are also available in Napa County.

The Vet Center, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has deployed personnel to the wildfire evacuation center at Napa Valley College from Concord and Fairfield to provide mental health services and paperwork assistance for any displaced veterans.

The mental health personnel will be at the shelter today and Saturday.

They were at the shelter Thursday with a trailer set up for three separate counseling sessions to be conducted simultaneously.

"Say you're having a panic attack," readjustment counselor Lori Shepherd said. "You come in here and have a counseling session."

Shepherd said the smoke, smells and sight of burnt buildings can be stressful for veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other war zones.

Mental health services are available at Napa Valley College for any veterans who have been displaced by the North Bay wildfires and are in need of assistance. They can be reached at (925) 433-3407.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfires Create Worst Air Quality Ever Recorded in Bay Area]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 05:09:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860798702.jpg

Smoke from the wildfires north of San Francisco has sank the air quality level in the Bay Area to the same unhealthy level as some of China's smog-choked cities, sending people to emergency rooms and forcing schools to close and people to wear masks when they step outside.

The region has endured days of choking smoke since the fires began Sunday night and claimed at least 31 lives and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

Air quality in the most of the region Thursday was as bad as Beijing, China's notoriously polluted capital, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

"We have unprecedented levels of smoke and particles in the air that we normally don't see," said Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the district.

He called it the worst air quality ever recorded in many parts of the Bay Area.

Officials warned that very fine smoke particles, thinner than a human hair, can get lodged in the lungs and into the bloodstream, causing irreparable damage to the body. In Solano County, hospitals there received more than 250 people who complained of toxic air inhalation, county health officer Bela Matyas said Thursday.

With winds expected to keep blowing in smoke from the fires to populated areas this weekend, many schools decided to close Friday and organizers canceled weekend events, including an Oktoberfest in Walnut Creek and a fitness festival and half marathon in San Francisco.

Sports teams are monitoring the air quality as they prepare to host games.

The NFL has been exploring options to move Sunday's game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers if it becomes necessary.

Oakland, which is some 45 miles south of the fires, has been blanketed by smoke.

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford are monitoring the air quality as weekend football games approach.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Drone Video: USPS Delivers Mail in Burned-Out Neighborhood]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 14:39:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Mailman+drone.jpg

A surreal video of a postal worker delivering mail to a neighborhood obliterated by the deadly Northern California wildfires has gone viral on social media, with some commenters remarking that it looks like something out of a dystopian film. 

The video, captured by drone photographer Douglas Thron, was first posted by NBC networks on Tuesday. It shows a mail carrier driving around the fire-ravaged Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, where residents described seeing a “wall of fire” rushing toward their homes as they scrambled to evacuate.

The homes in the subdivision were leveled to smoldering ash and debris, yet the video shows a mail carrier driving up to several lots and placing mail in what is left of the mailboxes.

Charity Ruiz, who is nine months pregnant, remembers fleeing from the neighborhood with her two children. Her Coffey Park home perished in the blaze. 

"It seemed like the fire was jumping towards us," she said. "It happened so quickly." 

Seeing the pictures and videos of her former neighborhood, she said, was shocking. 

"I just can't believe it. It looks like something out of a movie."

A local U.S. Postal Service district manager told news outlets that the postal worker was honoring requests from homeowners who planned to return to the area to collect any salvageable personal items.

"This is an example of the long-standing relationship that has been established between our carriers and their customers based on trust," Noemi Luna told The Mercury News. “A few customers asked the carrier to leave their mail if the mailbox was still standing because they could not get to the annex to retrieve it."

Watch the video above. Find ways to help with fire relief here.

Photo Credit: Douglas Thron]]>
<![CDATA[Chaos, Lack of Communication Frustrates Families of Missing ]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 01:54:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860685090.jpg

Ellen and Bob Pearson's family has been searching for the couple since they were last seen evacuating from their mobile home in Santa Rosa, preparing to leave in their purple Pontiac as flames lurked in the distance.

But five days later, no one has heard from the couple, both in their 70s. And the family is growing frustrated with the Sonoma County Sheriff's office, where phones lines are busy or out, and other agencies that seem to have different databases of the missing.

"It's been challenging trying to figure out which agency or which number to call," said Tiffany Couto. She was raised by a grandmother who always checks in. "People are trying to help so much, but it's a chaotic time and so it's a challenge to understand exactly how to handle this."

Chaos has marked a disaster that spans several counties and cities, adding to the frustration of hundreds of people searching for loved ones. The release of information is disjointed with the public relying in part on separate media updates throughout the day broken out by county and agency.

In Sonoma, the county sheriff's office announced Thursday it is searching for missing people and bodies. Napa County continued to direct people to search for missing through a website hosted by the American Red Cross.

"It really calls into question a better response," Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa said about the handling of missing person reports. "Maybe there's some best practice when we're done with this that we can try to make sure that there is a better clearinghouse."

The Governor's Office of Emergency Services is also directing people to the Red Cross website rather than any state database.

In an interview Thursday, director Mark Ghilarducci said all agencies were coordinating well in a large-scale disaster that is going to have "zigs and zags."

"But there is an organization in the chaos and that's how we are facilitating response to this, that's how we're adding additional resources, that's how we know where to place those resources, and to address all the needs in the shelters," he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has kept a low profile, speaking at one press briefing but otherwise letting state emergency officials take the lead.

Ken Pimlott, director of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, described the Democratic governor as "very engaged in what is going on" and proving support.

Pimlott also said it's the job of local sheriff-coroners — not the state — to account for the missing and dead.

While sheriff's deputies focused on active evacuations this week, individuals and families were left to search on their own. Many turned to social media with plaintive cries for help. They hit up hospitals and evacuation centers, hoping their missing loved one is simply unable to tell people who they are or without a working cell phone.

More than 48 hours after a woman told her daughter on a phone she was trapped by fire, a Santa Rosa man digging through the ruined rubble found her remains.

"My mother's remains have been found at her home at Journey's End. May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma," Jessica Tunis wrote on Facebook.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Thursday there were about 400 people on his county's missing person list, although it was unclear how many are duplicates or even people who are actually safe.

The elderly cousins of Garret Clark's mother, for example, were found safe Wednesday after fleeing their Santa Rosa home Tuesday in a hurry. Neither Rick nor Leslie Howell own mobile phones, making it difficult to let friends and family know they were safe.

Still outstanding is the case of Norma Zarr, whose Santa Rosa neighborhood was evacuated Tuesday evening. Nobody in her family has seen or heard from the 61-year-old woman since.

Charlene Baumunk Allen said sheriff's deputies visited her mother's house on Wednesday, but didn't find her or her silver Honda CRV.

The sheriff's office has been helpful, says Allen, who lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

"I don't know if she's under a rock or if she's ok," she said. "This is a trying time."

Couto, the granddaughter, said her family reported her grandparents' distinctive purple Pontiac, but she doesn't know whether officers were ran the license plate numbers in their search for missing people.

"I'm at a loss and I'm not sure what steps to take to find them," she said. "We're all confused. We're not sure how to be productive."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NorCal Under Siege in State's Deadliest Week of Fires]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 12:24:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860726910.jpg

People are trying to find lost loved ones, sift through the remains of lost homes and count, identify and mourn the dozens of dead — all while the unprecedented fires in California's wine country rage on.

The communities of the North Bay were facing another day under siege Friday, despite being driven to exhaustion by evacuations, destruction and danger amid the deadliest week of wildfires the state has ever seen.

It wears you out,” said winemaker Kristin Belair, who was driving back from Lake Tahoe to her as-yet-unburnt home in Napa. “Anybody who’s been in a natural disaster can tell you that it goes on and on. I think you just kind of do hour by hour almost.”

Seventeen large fires have burned more than 221,000 acres, or 345 square miles, officials said Friday. They noted "good news" that three smaller fires have been contained and that there was progress on containment of the others. All but eight of 77 cell towers knocked out of service have been restored. 

But Mark S. Ghilarducci, director of the state's Office of Emergency Services, cautioned that, "We're not out of this emergency. Not even close." 

The death toll has climbed to an unprecedented 36 and was expected to keep rising. Individual fires, including the Oakland Hills blaze of 1991, have killed more people than any one of the current fires, but no collection of simultaneous fires in California has ever led to so many deaths, authorities said. 

Of those who perished in the calamitous fires, 19 lived in Sonoma County, nine in Mendocino County, six in Napa County and four in Yuba County.

Hundreds more are injured or missing.

“We had series of statewide fires in 2003, 2007, 2008 that didn’t have anything close to this death count,” said Daniel Berlant, a deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, along with U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, will visit Sonoma County on Saturday afternoon. The governor has declared a state of emergency for Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties due to the devastating wildfires burning across California.

According to Cal Fire on Friday, the Atlas Fire has burned 48,228 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 45 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched 35,270 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties and is 44 percent contained; the Nuns Fire has burned 46,104 acres in Sonoma County and is 10 percent contained; the Partrick-Carneros Fire in Napa County has charred 12,379 acres and is 18 percent contained; the Pocket Fire has burned 10,996 acres in Sonoma County and is 5 percent contained; and the Pressley Fire has torched 473 acres in Sonoma County and is 10 percent contained.

Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the scenic coastal area of Mendocino farther north, leveling whole neighborhoods and leaving only brick chimneys and charred appliances to mark where homes once stood.

The Redwood/Potter Fire burning in Mendocino County has torn through 34,000 acres and is 20 percent contained; the Sulphur Fire has torched 2,500 acres in Lake County and is 60 percent contained; and the Cascade Fire in Yuba County has burned 10,120 acres and is 75 percent contained, officials said.

Real recovery efforts will have to wait for firefighters to contain wildfires spanning an area the size of New York City.

Officials called for more evacuations Friday; an evacuation advisory was issued for a part of Napa County home to world famous wineries, including the Robert Mondavi Winery, and is not far from the French Laundry, a restaurant with three Michelin stars.  

Despite the presence of flames nearby, workers at the Mondavi winery — many without masks — spent the early hours of Friday picking grapes.

Eight thousand firefighters are battling growing flames and fatigue is beginning to set in.

The Sebastopol Fire Department posted two pictures on Facebook: One showed three men resting on the ground, using rocks as pillows, and the second depicted a firefighter lying on a lounge chair in the backyard of a home that the crew had saved.

Although it’s normal for firefighters to work for 24 hours and then take the following 24 off, that hasn’t been possible when dealing with the wine country wildfires. Resources were stretched thin as the fires grew quickly – in some places into residential areas.

Some firefighters told NBC Bay Area they have been on the front lines of the Nuns Fire in Sonoma County since Sunday night. Some news reports say crews have been out in the field for 80 hours.

Although a testament to firefighters’ commitment to public service, helping them rest is a question of safety, according to Napa County fire Chief Barry Biermann. Cal Fire is bringing in reinforcements from throughout the state, as far as Nevada and Oregon, and even Canada and Australia. Thousands of additional firefighters have been deployed in the last 24 hours. 

This, while the Bay Area braces for dangerous fire conditions on Saturday. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning from 5 p.m. Friday through 11 p.m. Saturday.

Meanwhile, choking smoke hangs thick in fire zones and has drifted all over the San Francisco Bay Area, where masks to filter the fumes were becoming a regular uniform and the sunsets were blood-red from the haze.

“It’s acrid now,” said Wayne Petersen in Sonoma. “I’m wearing the mask because I’ve been here two or three days now. ...  It’s starting to really affect my breathing and lungs so I’m wearing the mask. It’s helping.”

Even some members of the Oakland Raiders were wearing masks during workouts Thursday.

The fires drove hundreds of evacuees northward to beaches, some sleeping on the sand on the first night of the blazes.

Since then, authorities have brought tents and sleeping bags and opened public buildings and restaurants to house people seeking refuge in the safety and clean air of the coastal community of Bodega Bay, where temperatures drop dramatically at night.

“The kids were scared,” said Patricia Ginochio, who opened her seaside restaurant for some 300 people to sleep. “They were shivering and freezing.”

California Highway Patrol Officer Quintin Shawk took relatives and other evacuees into his home and office, as did many others.

“It’s like a refugee camp,” Shawk said.

There are 3,9000 people in evacuation centers, with shelters at 40 percent capactiy, officials said Friday.

At an earlier news conference, Napa Supervisor Belia Ramos urged people to take advantage of the county's shelters, without fear of recrimination from immigration officials.

“We are a welcoming community here in Napa County and that cannot be more true right now – regardless of race, regardless of immigration status, regardless of age, sex, creed, sexual orientation, religion," she said. "You are welcome in our shelters. We want you to come in.

"We do not want anyone sleeping in their cars; we do not want anyone in harm’s way; we do not want you to fear leaving your home because you do not have a place to stay."

To further her point, Ramos also read a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said in part: “In consideration of these distressing circumstances, ICE will continue to suspend routine immigration enforcement operations in the areas affected by the fires in northern California, except in the event of a serious criminal presenting a public safety threat."

People need not worry about immigration raids at evacuation sites, assistance centers, shelters and food banks, according to the statement.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said officials were still investigating hundreds of reports of missing people and that recovery teams would begin conducting “targeted searches” for specific residents at their last known addresses.

“We have found bodies almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” said Giordano, whose office released the names of 10 of the dead, all age 57 or older, on Thursday.

Metal implants, such as artificial hips, have ID numbers that helped put names to victims, he said. Distinctive tattoos have helped identify others.

Sheriff's officials also say at least five people have been arrested for allegedly trying to steal from people’s homes. Several neighborhoods have been evacuated, making the residences easy targets. Law enforcement officers have been called in from around the Bay Area - and across California – to help patrol areas that are under curfew.

There have been 65 calls reporting looting since the fires began, police said. The Sonoma County District Attorney’s office issued a statement saying that any looters apprehended “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Since igniting Sunday in spots across eight counties, the fires have transformed many neighborhoods into wastelands and an estimated 25,000 people have been forced to flee.

Fire officials were investigating whether downed power lines or other utility failures could have sparked the fires.

On Thursday, Sonoma County officials announced plans to help residents adjust property values and lower their tax bills. 

“Once the fires are out, we will be working with Cal Fire and our local fire departments to identify all properties with over $10,000 in damage," William Rousseau, the county's clerk-recorder-assessor, said in a statement.

People with impound accounts are also encouraged to inform their lenders of the state of their properties. 

The goal, according to Rousseau, is "applying large scale property tax reductions." 

Also in Sonoma County, officials have partnered with MapBox to create a real time interactive map that provides aerial images of Santa Rosa, giving residents the chance to view the status of their neighborhoods. The map can be moved to hover over specific addresses and zoomed in to see whether the structures are intact or destroyed. The large red areas on the map demarcate vegetation — not flames — officials said. 

As of Friday, 2,834 Santa Rosa homes and 400,000 square feet of businesses have been destroyed, officials say.

Meanwhile, some lucky evacuees returned to find what they least expected.

Anna Brooner was prepared to find rubble and ashes after fleeing Santa Rosa’s devastated Coffey Park neighborhood.

Then she got a call from a friend: “You’re not going to believe this.” Her home was one of only a handful still standing.

“I swore when I left I was never coming back to this place,” Brooner said. “I feel so bad for all the other people. All of us came back thinking we had nothing left.”

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Social Media Messages Uplift Anguished Calif. Fire Victims]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 03:33:12 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/FLAGinrubble.jpg

A major swath of Northern California is burning under a reddened sky and blanket of smoke. It’s been a time of darkness – both literally and figuratively – for thousands for five anguished days.

Yet uplifting hashtags and heartfelt posts on social media from multiple hard-hit fire zones are sharing signs of resilience amid the devastation.

Marin County Parks took to Twitter to send Sonoma #LoveFromMarin. Officials posted an image of a poster that was taped to a pole and offered its own take on the proverb "blood is thicker than water." #SonomaProud, it signed off.

Another message on the Santa Rosa Police Department's Facebook page depicts an American flag against a charred background. The stars and stripes are the sole sources of color — and seemingly, hope — in a photograph of a burned tree and a house that has been reduced to smoldering rubble. 

Santa Rosa has been devastated by the Tubbs Fire, which leveled entire neighborhoods, including Coffey Park and Fountaingrove. 

In another post tagged #santarosastrong, the department wrote about one of its own — officer Samuelu Poueu — who, along with his family, "narrowly escaped" before flames consumed his Larkfield home early Monday. 

"They returned to the ash where their family home once stood with the hope to find any memento of their lives but it didn't look like anything survived," police wrote.

Turns out, something did: Poueu's police badge.

Poueu's best friend, fellow officer Mike Paetzold, discovered the damaged memento, police said.

Photo Credit: Santa Rosa Police Department]]>
<![CDATA[North Bay Wildfires: Death Toll Climbs to 36]]>Sat, 14 Oct 2017 16:31:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-860298200.jpg

Wine country wildfires already well on their way to becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history could gain momentum Thursday and erase even the modest gains firefighters have made.

Steady winds with gusts up to 45 mph with nearly non-existent humidity are expected to descend on the areas north of San Francisco where at least 35 people have died and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. A total of 191,437 acres — or nearly 300 square miles — have burned since the fires ignited late Sunday.

Of the more than two dozen people who perished in the calamitous fires, 18 lived in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, two in Napa County and four in Yuba County.

"We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe," Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said Thursday. Pimlott said the blazes are expected to spread as firefighters — some of whom have lost their own homes — brace for additional days of bone-dry humidity and gusty winds through the weekend.

"What this means is our fires are going to continue to burn erratically," Pimlott said. "They have the potential to shift in any direction at any time."

The coroner identified 15 of the 18 who died in Sonoma County. Ten of their names were released Thursday: Carol Collins-Swasey, 76, of Santa Rosa; Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, of Santa Rosa; Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, of Santa Rosa; Suiko Grant, 75, of Santa Rosa; Donna Mae Halbur, 80, of Larkfield (Santa Rosa); Leroy Peter Halbur, 80, of Larkfield; Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, of Santa Rosa; Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, of Apple Valley; Michael John Dornbach, 57, of Calistoga; and Veronica Elizabeth McCombs, 67, of Santa Rosa.

Fires within the city limits of Santa Rosa alone have gutted 2,834 homes, according to Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey. Roughly 400,000 square feet of commercial space has also been destroyed.

"The city of Santa Rosa has suffered a serious blow in these fires," Coursey said, adding that the destruction numbers could rise.

Flames across wine country have driven tens of thousands from their homes. Some who took shelter at Napa Valley College expressed frustration at not knowing anything of the conditions of the homes they'd fled. They also said they have no idea when they can return — or what to expect when they get there.

Napa Sheriff John Robertson said Thursday that deputies would begin escorting people with "critical needs" into certain parts of the city. Exigent conditions include checking on pets, retrieving medication, business needs and checking on people who stayed behind, he said. 

Entire cities were evacuated in anticipation of the next wave of fires, their streets empty, the only motion coming from ashes falling like snowflakes.

A mandatory evacuation order in Calistoga forced all 5,300 residents to get to safety. Early Thursday, flames shot into the air just miles away from downtown Calistoga, sending a haze of smoke into the normally bustling town, known for wine tastings and hot springs.

Someone left behind a note and some protein bars in the ghost town, asking firefighters to save a family's home. Derek Bohan, who was born and raised in Calistoga, said the experience has been "definitely scary."

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning had strong words for people who were ignoring the mandatory evacuation order.

"Your presence in Calistoga is not welcome if you’re not a first responder," he said. "Your choice to say – and there have been very few of them – is a distraction to our first responders. You will not be given life safety support at this point. You are on your own.

"If you’re trying to visit Calistoga, you are not welcome. That is very hard for us to say because we’ve been known since the 1800s as a very hospitable community. That’s not helpful at this point."

In addition to Calistoga, firefighters are paying close attention to Sonoma, Middletown and Geyserville due to the increased threat of fire danger. 

"The situation is very dynamic and oftentimes can change by the minute or by the hour," Pimlott said.

A total of 21 fires burning across the state have torched more than 191,000 acres as they entered their fourth day, many of them without much containment. Modern, strategic attacks that have kept destruction and death tolls low in recent years have been ineffective against their ferocity.

The Atlas Fire has burned over 43,762 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 3 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched roughly 34,270 acres in Napa County and is 10 percent contained; the Nuns Fire has burned 14,698 acres in Sonoma County and is 3 percent contained; the Partrick-Carneros Fire in Napa County has charred over 10,817 acres and is 2 percent contained; the Pocket Fire has burned 8,130 acres in Sonoma County; the Adobe Fire has scorched 7,955 acres in Sonoma County and is 1 percent contained; the Norrbom Fire in Sonoma County has burned 4,331 acres and is 1 percent contained; and the Pressley Fire has torched 473 acres in Sonoma County and is 1 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

At a news conference Thursday, Belia Ramos, chairwoman of the Napa County board of supervisors, said that crews have begun making progress on containing the flames, which she described as "really good news."

Pimlott echoed that sentiment, saying that resources pouring in across state and even international lines have helped in the firefighting effort. More than 8,000 firefighters and other personnel are currently battling the blazes, and additional resources continue to flow in from states such as Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, South Carolina and North Carolina. International relief has come from Canada and as far away as Australia.

Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said that despite a Red Flag Warning being in effect, overnight winds didn't really pick up to the extent that had been predicted. That allowed firefighters to go from only protecting structures and keeping people safe to being able to "get some containment started."

"We have a long way to go," but fatigue has already become a major concern for Cal Fire officials, Biermann acknowledged.

"Safety is our top priority – safety of the people we’re out there to help protect, safety of our crews," he said. 

However, Biermann admitted, "We have people who have been on that fire for over three days, who don’t want to leave their section of line because there's still work to do, there’s homes to save and they're very passionate about it." 

Biermann said firefighters who are hitting "roadblocks" are being identified, taken out of the field and asked to rest.

In Fairfield, some of which was evacuated Wednesday due to the advancement of the Atlas Fire, officials tracking wind conditions said that flames have not reached city limits, and may actually be heading in the opposite direction. But that could change at any time so residents have been asked to keep their bags packed and stay ready to evacuate on a moment's notice. 

The community of Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County also was told to clear out Wednesday, and the streets were quickly lined with cars packed with people fleeing.

"That's very bad," resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires toward the town of Sonoma proper, where 11,000 people live. "It'll go up like a candle."

The ash rained down on the Sonoma Valley, covering windshields, as winds began picking up toward the potentially disastrous forecast speed of 30 mph. Countless emergency vehicles sped toward the flames, sirens blaring, as evacuees sped away. Residents manhandled canvas bags into cars jammed with possessions or filled their gas tanks.

County spokesman Scott Alonso said Thursday that 25,000 residents have been evacuated. Of them, an estimated 3,800 are living in shelters. 

At the start of the week, Sonoma County had opened 40 shelters, but is now down to 24, with the hope of "consolidating and enhancing" the mental health and medical services offered to people impacted by the fires, Alonso said. The evacuation centers can accommodate another 4,000 people.

"The damage and devastation is real. The fire threat is still very real in this county," Alonso stressed. "It’s a very emotional time for a lot of folks. They’ve lost everything."

The Bay Area awoke to smoke-filled air Thursday and even San Francisco's layer of fog had been replaced by smog. The poor air quality forced the cancellation of the Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness, which includes the Twin Peaks Mile and SF Bay Half marathon.

"We're seeing elevated levels of particulate matter that are higher than we’ve ever seen since we began measuring them in 2000," said Lisa Fasno with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Officials have issued a Spare the Air alert on Thursday. 

As the fires grow, officials voiced concern that separate blazes would merge into even larger infernos.

Flames have raced across the wine-growing region and the scenic coastal area of Mendocino farther north, leveling whole neighborhoods and leaving only brick chimneys and charred appliances to mark where homes once stood.

The Redwood/Potter Fire burning in Mendocino County has torn through 32,100 acres and is 5 percent contained; the Sulphur Fire has torched 2,500 acres in Lake County and is 45 percent contained; and the Cascade Fire in Yuba County has burned 10,171 acres and is 45 percent contained, officials said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano on Thursday said hundreds of people were still reported missing. But officials believe many of those people will be found. Chaotic evacuations and poor communications over the past few days have made locating friends and family difficult.

Giordano said approximately 1,000 missing persons reports were filed in the wake of the fast-moving blazes that knocked out power lines and cell towers, effectively creating a dead zone in the North Bay. Amid a lack of communication, Sonoma County officials have safely located 603 people, he said. Roughly 400 people remain outstanding.

While officials work to reconnect loved ones, the recovery phase has commenced. Identifying the deceased is "going to be a slow process" because of the active fires, Giordano admitted.

"So far in the recovery, we have found bodies that were almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones," he said.

At least five people have been arrested in Sonoma County on suspicion of trying to loot, according to Giordano. Two of those people were arrested Wednesday night after being found in the evacuation zones.

Helicopters and air tankers were assisting thousands of firefighters trying to beat back the flames. Until now, the efforts have focused on "life safety" rather than extinguishing the blazes, partly because the flames were shifting with winds and targeting new communities without warning.

"We are not out of this emergency," Emergency Operations Director Mark Ghilarducci said Thursday. "We're not even close to being out of this emergency."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Solano County Communities on Edge as Wildfire Moves Closer]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 14:00:56 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Solano_County_Communities_on_Edge_as_Wildfire_Moves_Closer.jpg

Residents in Solano County are bracing for possible evacuations as the North Bay wildfires inch closer to their homes. Jodi Hernandez reports.]]>
<![CDATA[CPUC Launches PG&E Probe in Wake of North Bay Firestorm]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 00:52:12 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/north-bay-fire-wed-EM.jpg

The state’s Public Utilities Commission has launched a probe into PG&E’S vegetation management and maintenance practices in the wake of the deadly firestorm in the North Bay.

Late Thursday, the CPUC’s head of safety formally ordered the company to “preserve any factual or physical evidence” related to the fire, including all “failed poles, conductors and associated equipment from each event.”

Earlier Thursday, PUC President Michael Picker revealed the agency, along with Cal Fire, is probing whether PG&E's practices fueled the firestorm.

“We’re also looking into PG&E activities in this area with a specific focus on maintenance of facilities and vegetation management practices.”

The probe comes as NBC Bay Area has been reporting on the company’s vegetation management program, specifically its cutback on power line safety patrols in 2013. The savings ended up being spent in urban areas, where fewer outages would help more people, and also could lead to bigger bonuses for company executives.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said Thursday he hopes to convene a hearing on PG&E’s vegetation management practices. He welcomed the probe, which came as he had written a letter urging state regulators to make sure the utility preserves fire related evidence.

“I think the preservation of evidence is crucial in determining what that root cause is and where responsibility falls,” he said before the PUC sent the preservation order letter. “I think in this case we need to make sure that the PUC puts PG&E on notice.”

The preservation letter comes as the utility has been chastised for failing to alert regulators about problems and for not preserving evidence.

In the case of the Butte fire in Amador and Calaveras couties, PG&E failed to alert regulators that the massive blaze was caused by an at-risk tree falling onto its power lines. The fire claimed two lives back in September 2015.

In the 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno, state regulators cited the utility for “gross negligence” for failing to maintain evidence related to a gas system control room video.

Attorney Frank Pitre, who went up against the utility over the Butte fire and San Bruno blast, welcomes the investigation and says the order to preserve evidence is a good first step.

“I think that an order like that would be welcome for the benefit of the state of California and especially to provide answers to those people who have been victimized by this fire.”

Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Emergency Alerts Scrutinized After Fires Wreck NorCal Homes]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 09:24:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860391702.jpg

Communities in wildfire-prone Northern California have an array of emergency systems designed to alert residents of danger: text messages, phone calls, emails and tweets. But after days of raging blazes left at least 23 dead, authorities said those methods will be assessed after some residents complained those warnings never got through.

The fast-moving fires, strengthened by fierce winds and nearly absent humidity, began to burn through the state's fabled wine country Sunday night. Counties used a variety of ways to send out warnings, but the alert systems rely on mobile phones, landlines or the internet to rouse residents.

"People were in bed, asleep at midnight, and these fires came down on these communities with no warning within minutes," said state fire agency Chief Ken Pimlott.

"There was little time to notify anybody by any means," he added.

Sonoma County used various systems in an attempt to alert residents of the approaching flames but also decided against using what's known as a Wireless Emergency Alert, a widespread message sent to cell phones in the region, sometimes compared to an Amber Alert issued for missing children.

Because of its broad reach, officials concluded the message could panic people not in danger, triggering unnecessary evacuations that would snarl traffic and delay emergency vehicles, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque.

"They would have reached many people not affected by the fire," she said. "It would have delayed our response."

In emergencies where a few minutes or even seconds can save lives, the notification systems have inherent blind spots. Not everyone will get the message. Sonoma County uses a service that sends out text messages or emails when an evacuation is ordered, but residents have to sign up to receive them. The county also uses a mobile phone app that can receive messages, but again it requires a resident to opt-in to participate.

The county can also trigger automated emergency calls to landlines in an area threatened by fire, but that would only reach homes with those phones.

Sonoma County sheriff Rob Giordano urged residents at a press conference Wednesday to sign up for one of the text message alert systems, called SoCoAlert.

Residents can also recieve emergency alerts via text message by signing up for Nixle, a private service that sends alerts to users based on zip code. 

Nixle will send emergency alerts over text, voice call and email, the Mercury News reported. 

On Sunday night, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office sent its first alert via Nixle, to warn residents of several fires. About 10 minutes later, law enforcement sent out the first mandatory evacuation orders.

However, nearly 80 cellphone towers were knocked out or badly damaged, officials said.

Some evacuees escaped only when they realized the fire was nearly at their doors.

David Leal was at his home in Santa Rosa about 11:30 p.m. Sunday when strong winds began stirring and he smelled smoke. Growing increasingly anxious, he called a fire dispatcher but was assured that there was no need to worry unless he saw flames. He looked outside and didn't, so he and his wife went to bed.

At 2 a.m., they were jarred awake when a sudden blast of wind knocked a lamp off a nightstand. Leal looked out at neighbors who were packing up to get out. There was never a phone call, or a knock on the door.

"We didn't know what was going on, but just instinct led us to agree on the decision to evacuate," he said.

State Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa said he received an alert Sunday night to evacuate, but by that time he had already decided to get out. His power had kicked off at 10 p.m.

He looked up a hillside by his home and "it was the most incredible fire coming at us," Dodd said. "A lot of it is common sense."

Sonoma County Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Crum was on duty Sunday night when he smelled smoke in the parking lot of the department's headquarters in Santa Rosa. Ducking inside, dispatch calls started coming in about fire in the nearby hills.

He and about a dozen other deputies raced to two rural neighborhoods with sirens blaring and warning residents on their loudspeakers of the fast-approaching blaze. Deputies went door-to-door urging residents to flee.

"Unfortunately, some of them were disbelieving and wanted to argue," Crum said.

When the fire got too close, they raced down the hill to warn others to flee.

"They didn't need any convincing," Crum added. "By that time, you could see the flames approaching."

Sonoma County also posts evacuation notices on a website, Facebook, and Twitter.

"Various counties use different ways to push information out to the public. And to my knowledge they were used by the counties where they could be used," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

"I think it's still too premature to determine what actually worked and what didn't," Ghilarducci said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said his office did the best it could to notify people of evacuations after the blaze broke out Sunday, but he acknowledged the limitations in the systems.

"The world has changed. People don't have landlines anymore," Giordano said. "The other thing to keep in mind, the fire was unbelievably fast."

Blood reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Paul Elias in Santa Rosa, Don Thompson in Sacramento and Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Crews Continue to Battle Atlas Fire in Solano County]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:15:08 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/Crews_Continue_to_Battle_Atlas_Fire_in_Solano_County.jpg

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez is along the front lines of the Atlas Fire in Solano County and provides the latest.]]>
<![CDATA[Air Quality Prompts School Closures in Bay Area]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:00:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Air_Quality_Prompts_School_Closures_in_Bay_Area.jpg

Many Bay Area school are canceling classes due to air quality concerns from the North Bay wildfires. Christie Smith reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Walnut Creek Oktoberfest Canceled Due To North Bay Fires ]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:45:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathWednesday4.jpg

Organizers announced Thursday that they were canceling Walnut Creek's annual Oktoberfest, citing air quality concerns caused by the deadly North Bay Area fires and guidance from health officials.

Hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Walnut Creek Downtown, and Labadie Productions, the city's iteration of Oktoberfest was slated to take place this coming Saturday. It's unclear if the festival will be rescheduled. 

"Our hearts go out to the victims of our neighbors who have suffered such loss and devastation," the three hosts said in a joint statement announcing the cancellation.

They encouraged would-be attendees to donate instead to fire relief through the Safeway Foundation, which usually partners with Oktoberfest and is now matching customer donations up to $500,000. The grocery chain's fundraiser is just one of many active campaigns dedicated to fire relief and providing aid to victims. 

An homage to the festivals that take place each year in Germany, Oktoberfest is an annual tradition in Walnut Creek and other parts of the Bay Area. Attendees typically wear costumes and dine on festive foods. In recent years, Bay Area festivals have become a hybrid celebration of both German food and drink — especially beer — and Halloween. 

Most of the other Bay Area Oktoberfest celebrations took place in late September this year. The Peninsula Oktoberfest, also slated for this weekend, has not announced a cancellation. 

The air quality in the Bay Area has been especially poor since Sunday, with little sign of letting up as the fires continue to ravage the region's wine country.

That air has been blowing into the East Bay, masking the sky in a noxious opaque haze. Walnut Creek's decision comes on the heels of schools across Contra Costa County shuttering classes. The National Weather Service has issued "Red Flag" warnings for large swaths of the Bay Area, advising people to keep indoors and refrain from burning materials. 

Find extensive wildfire coverage here

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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Wildfires Impede Search For Missing People]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 14:17:01 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-860301330.jpg

Searches for the missing amid California's storm of wildfires have been marked mostly by confusion.

Even establishing a decent estimate of the unaccounted-for has proved too difficult, with authorities citing wildly disparate figures within a single day Wednesday, though all were in the hundreds.

Some of the missing are only struggling to reach loved ones because of communication problems. Others have been counted twice, inflating the numbers.

"We get calls and people searching for lost folks and they're not lost, they're just staying with somebody and we don't know where it is," said Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht.

But authorities say others will almost certainly be added to the death toll, now at 27.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said his investigators were beginning to work the missing-persons cases one at a time, but they're limited to looking in the "cold zones" they could reach.

With many fires still raging out of control, authorities said locating the missing was not their top priority.

"We can only get so many places and we have only so many people to work on so many things," he said. "When you are working on evacuations, those are our first priority in resources."

As a result, friends and relatives turned to social media, posting pleas such as "Looking for my Grandpa Robert," "We are looking for our mother Norma" or "I can't find my mom." It is an increasingly familiar practice that was seen after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the Las Vegas massacre.

Frances Dinkelspiel, a journalist in Berkeley, turned to social media for help finding her stepbrother Jim Conley after tweeting authorities and getting little help. But it was a round of telephone calls that ultimately led her to him.

A Santa Rosa hospital initially said it had no record of him, but when the family tried again, it was told he had been transferred elsewhere with serious burns.

It was a frustrating experience, Dinkelspiel said, but "I'm glad he's in a hospital and isn't lying injured on the side of the road."

Dozens of names are on a dry erase board at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, which the Red Cross had turned into an evacuation center with dormitories, cold showers and three meals a day. Dozens of evacuees hung about, waiting for word for when they could return to their homes.

Debbie Short, an evacuee staying at the Finley Center, was a good example of a person listed as missing who was not. She was walking past the dry erase board when she noticed her name on the board, likely because a friend had been looking for her.

A Red Cross volunteer erased her name from the board.

A sobbing Rachael Ingram searched shelters and called hospitals to try to find her friend Mike Grabow, whose home in Santa Rosa was destroyed. She plastered social media with photos of the bearded man as she drove up and down Highway 101 in her pickup.

Privacy rules, she said, prevented shelters from releasing information.

"You can only really leave notes and just try and send essentially a message in a bottle," she said.

Ingram said she hopes Grabow is simply without a phone or cell service.

"We're hearing the worst and expecting the best," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fire Survivor Gnawed By Regret Over Elderly Neighbors]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 02:29:56 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_17285076872313.jpg

As his house filled with smoke from one of California's devastating wine country fires, Ryan Nelson's thoughts went to his elderly neighbors — one of whom has multiple sclerosis.

He ran over and pounded on their doors and windows, but wasn't able to get their attention. Now he fears they didn't make it out and wonders whether he could have done more to help.

"We're in the middle of the city, so that's never crossed anybody's mind here in terms of everything being a total fire loss," Nelson said. "That's why I didn't kick his door in. I just thought I'd come back to the house."

Nelson was in his Santa Rosa neighborhood on Wednesday going through the ruins of his house to try to find his grandfather's rifles, including an M-1 carbine from World War II, that he kept in a gun safe.

He found only pieces. His neighbors' home was also a total loss.

Nelson knows the man only as Manjeet and said he has never met or seen his wife, who had multiple sclerosis. Manjeet, who was in his 70s, has no car and is fairly "reclusive," Nelson said, seen occasionally walking to the nearby Trader Joe's or elsewhere in the neighborhood in a blue or white turban and sandals. He rarely answered the door if Nelson knocked.

"Nobody ever sees him or talks to him, but when you do see him he's got everything in the world to talk about," Nelson said.

Nelson said he awoke to the sound of a frightened dog scratching at the door.

The dog followed him as he went to alert neighbors, but he lost track of her and doesn't know whether she survived and was rescued.

Nelson said he underestimated the fire.

"My regret isn't doing more to try to save anything, it was more I feel like I could've forced entry into their house and pulled them out of bed or dome something more to help him get out," Nelson said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jonathan Copper
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<![CDATA[North Bay Fires: List of Areas Affected By Power Outages]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 16:24:24 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/101017aerialviewfire12_366202.JPG

Power outages throughout the North Bay are affecting thousands of PG&E customers in the wake of wildfires ripping through the region.

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, PG&E reports 49,000 wildfire-related outages in the North Bay:

  • About 44,000 customers in the Santa Rosa area
  • About 5,000 customers in the Napa area

View PG&E's outages map here.

Since the fires began on Sunday, 255,218 PG&E customers have lost electricity. The utility said 80 percent of customers have had their power restored.

Full North Bay wildfires coverage here.

<![CDATA[Community Google Doc Connects Fire Evacuees With Shelter]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 01:00:09 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AftermathWednesday8.jpg

As hotels and evacuation centers continue to fill with people, a public Google Doc is becoming a lifeline for evacuees seeking free shelter from the devastating and deadly wildfires ravaging Northern California. 

More than 100 Bay Area residents in safe locations have added their name to the spreadsheet, offering up their available houses, rooms and even comfy living-room couches. 

The list continues to grow as it circulates on community message boards and on social media. People have recently begun adding other services, including free transportation. 

So far, a handful of people said they found shelter through the list.

Ryan Nadeau, who lives in San Francisco, created the document. The tech worker is traveling through Ibiza, Spain, and described feeling “helpless” and “guilty” watching the fires unfold. He posted the document on his Facebook, and it spread from there, with tech industry friends making edits and turning it into an easy-to-navigate spreadsheet. 

He described it as a useful alternative to Airbnb Open Homes, a program that the house-sharing platform activates during some natural disasters. Currently, Airbnb is facilitating free shelter until Oct. 30. 

“Open Homes is great, but it’s just for a couple weeks,” Nadeau said. “People are going to need much longer than that if they’ve lost everything. Hopefully, this will allow people to find shelter for as long as they need it.” 

The Google Doc is also publically accessible to anyone with an internet connection, so users don’t have to create an account to access it. 

“A couple times it’s brought tears to my eyes watching people populate this in real time from so far away,” Nadeau said. 

Matt Sulkis, who listed his San Francisco home, said it seemed like the most direct way to reach people who need help. 

“ A lot of us are local and grew up here, and we figured it was one less step,” he said. “We wanted to get something out there quick.”

The document is just one of many ways the broader Bay Area community has been rallying around victims of the massive infernos. People have also been flocking to donation centers, crowdfunding sites, and community groups to offer aid. 

So far, More than a dozen California fires have torched a combined 140,000 acres since Sunday, destroyed thousands of structures and sending more than 20,000 people fleeing from homes in more than six counties. 

At least 24 people perished in the blazes, and officials expect the death toll to rise. Hundreds are still unaccounted for, and possibly thousands more will return to their homes to find only ash and charred wreckage remaining. 

“It looks like a nuclear blast hit,” said John Fornachan, who lost a home in Santa Rosa that had been in his family for more than 100 years. “Everything is just wiped out.”

“We’re going to have to start from scratch,” he continued. 

Have something to add? Contact Gillian.Edevane@nbcuni.com. Access the Google Doc here or in the hyperlinks above. Find more fire coverage here.  Find ways to help here. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bay Area Sports Teams Join Forces to Support Wildfire Relief]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:07:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/DIT+NAPA+DRONE+THUMB.jpg

Bay Area sports teams have joined forces to donate $450,000 for North Bay fires relief efforts.

The Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks and San Jose Earthquakes announced the donation on Wednesday and are encouraging their fans to contribute.

The teams have established a YouCaring site for fans to donate whatever they can to support North Bay fire victims.

The fires have ravaged Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Mendocino and Lake counties, destroying at least 3,500 homes and businesses and forcing at least 20,000 people to evacuate. Officials have confirmed 21 fatalities. Here are other ways you can help with North Bay fire relief efforts.

<![CDATA[Free Breathing Masks, Charging Stations for Fire Evacuees]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 05:15:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/1011-2017-breathing-mask.jpg

Our NBC Bay Area Responds team is providing free breathing masks and recharge stations to North Bay wildfire evacuees.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[200 Female Inmates Are Fighting Fires in California]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 11:35:28 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Women-firefighters-CA1.jpg

Before they head out, the women pack plenty of water: at least two canteens and a CamelBak hydration system each, along with extra safety glasses, snacks, and ready-to-eat meals in case the shift runs long. They also bring “ponies,” short lengths of hose to attach to a hydrant or other apparatus. The backpack weighs nearly 40 pounds in the end.

Sandra Welsh is a firefighter. But unlike most California firefighters, she is only paid $2 per day and doesn’t get to go home at the end her shift. Because she's also a prison inmate.

“We are the ones that do the line. We are the ones that carry the hose out. We’re the line of defense,” Welsh said in a recent interview with NBC News. Welsh, an inmate at Malibu Conservation Camp #13, is one of about 200 incarcerated women incarcerated around the state who fight fires in California.

Her group is on standby as firefighters battle the Canyon 2 fire in the Anaheim Hills. But other women are part of the fight against the fires currently devastating the state, which have claimed 21 lives and destroyed 3,500 structures over the past few days. 

"We have female crews from other camps working on the Canyon Fire in Anaheim and also up in Napa," said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the corrections department. "The crews from the Malibu camp are on standby and also have to provide back-up fire protection for L.A. County."

The status of the crews could change quickly depending on conditions, he said.

About 3,800 inmates, both women and men, fight fires in California, making up about 13 percent of California’s firefighting force. The fire program saves taxpayers $124 million per year, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

In the fire program, the women do the same work as the men.

“We basically fight fires and it gives us a chance to better ourselves mentally and physically,” Latoya Najar, an inmate at the Malibu camp, told NBC News last month.

Working in crews of 14, the women use hand tools and chain saws to cut containment lines that stop fires from spreading. 

“Every day is a difficult day,” Najar said. “This will show you that you can do anything you put your mind to.” 

Malibu Conservation Camp #13 in Southern California is one of 43 conservation fire camps for adults run by the corrections department, and one of three such camps for female inmates. Inmates in the camps work hundreds of fires each year. Women at the Malibu camp, for example, have been called out on 177 fires so far this year, Sessa said. 

Sandra Welsh decided to volunteer in the program for the sake of her two children.

“This prison trip has taken a lot out of their lives and I wanted them to have something to hold onto,” Welsh, who is also at the Malibu camp, told NBC News. “My mom’s a firefighter. I might be an inmate firefighter, but I’m a firefighter.”

Inmates must volunteer to be in the program, and there are many benefits that motivate the women to sign up, said Sessa of the corrections department.

"They get paid better than any other prison job," he said. The pay is $2 per day day in camp and $1 per hour for time on the fire line.

Being housed in a camp is an "improvement" over the confines of a traditional prison behind an electric fence, he said. 

Another incentive is that inmate firefighters earn two days off their sentence for each day they're in the fire camp, as compared to other California inmates who can earn just one day for each day of good behavior. 

Still, at least one California politician has called the program's low pay "slave labor."

Gayle McLaughlin, the former mayor of Richmond, Calif., and a candidate for lieutenant governor in the state, said she does support the fire programs.

"But they must be paid fairly for each day of work – and $1 an hour is not fair pay," she wrote in September on her campaign website. "No matter how you may want to dress it up, if you have people working for nothing or almost nothing, you’ve got slave labor, and it is not acceptable."

Not all inmates are eligible to volunteer for the fire program.

To participate, inmates must be convicted of a non-violent crime, have a record of good behavior and pass physical examinations. If an inmate has a history of sexual offenses, arson or any history of violent escape, they’re automatically disqualified from the firefighting program. Qualified volunteers are trained by Cal Fire and then receive additional wildfire training in the camps. Training focuses on endurance because shifts can be as long as 16 hours, inmates say.

When she first came close to a fire, inmate Helen Chung was terrified.

"I said, 'Oh my god, we're actually in the fire,'" she told NBC News for its report.

But she says attitude is everything.

"You have to be very positive and make the most of your situation and your circumstances," Chung said. "But these are challenges that I’ve overcome and I’m proud to be here."

Other inmates also find the work rewarding.

"You get to save people’s houses,” said Melissa Logan, an inmate who fought fires at the Malibu camp but is now housed at the California Institution for Women in Chino. “You get to help people. It’s really gratifying and empowering when you’re driving by and people are holding up signs saying ‘Thank you, firefighters’ and they’re crying because you just saved their homes."

Inmates in the fire program are less likely to be rearrested after release than other inmates.

In the general prison population, three quarters of prisoners are arrested again within five years of release, according to studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But these rates in the firefighting program are 10 percent lower, according to the corrections department.

"This is not a vocational program," Sessa said. "It is not designed to teach inmates how to be full-time firefighters. But they learn many life skills that they will say help them succeed in life when they leave prison… leadership, discipline, teamwork, responsibility."

Photo Credit: NBC News
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<![CDATA[Wine Country in Flames: Death Toll Rises]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:32:35 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-859436442.jpg

THURSDAY, OCT. 12: The fires have killed 27, destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses, scorched nearly 300 square miles and forced at least 20,000 people to evacuate since Sunday, officials said. Meanwhile, firefighters are still struggling to contain the fast-moving flames.

For our latest coverage on the Northern California wildfires click here.

Firefighters in Northern California are still struggling to contain more than a dozen fast-moving wildfires scorching the state's world-famous wine country as officials warn that strong winds could further threaten the fight against the blazes. 

Twenty-two blazes across California — primarily spread across eight counties in Northern California — have killed at least 23 people, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott said. The death toll includes 13 in Sonoma County, two in Napa County, two in Yuba County and six in Mendocino County.

"Make no mistake, this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event," Pimlott said.

Fires across the state have destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses, scorched in excess of 170,000 acres — or roughly 265 square miles — and forced at least 20,000 people to evacuate since Sunday, officials said Wednesday.

The latest mandatory evacuation Wednesday afternoon included all of Calistoga, a city of about 5,300 in Napa County.

"This is just pure devastation, and it's going to take us a while to get out and comb through all of this," said Pimlott. He added that the state had "several days of fire weather conditions to come."

"We've had big fires in the past," Gov. Jerry Brown said. "This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over."

The National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a Red Flag Warning — ideal conditions for fire ignition and spread — for the North Bay mountains and East Bay hills. The alert remains in effect through Thursday afternoon. 

Due to low humidity and strong winds, communities in Yuba, Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Humboldt, Mendocino, Butte, Nevada and Calaveras counties are experiencing "heavy fire activity," according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

The largest of the blazes burning over a 200-mile region hit Napa and Sonoma counties, both home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. The Atlas Fire has burned over 42,000 acres in Napa and Solano counties and is 3 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire has scorched 28,000 acres in Napa County and is zero percent contained; the Nuns Fire has burned 7,626 acres in Sonoma County and is 2 percent contained; the Partrick-Carneros Fire has charred over 9,500 acres and is 2 percent contained, the Pocket Fire has burned 1,800 acres in Sonoma County, officials said. 

At least three other fires are also charring acreage in areas north of Sonoma and Napa counties. The Redwood/Potter Fire has charred 29,500 acres in Mendocino County and is 5 percent contained; the Sulphur Fire has spread to 2,500 acres in Lake County as is 40 percent contained; the Cascade Fire in Yuba county has grown to 12,349 acres and is 20 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said Wednesday there has been "very aggressive" fire behavior with a "rapid spread." "We had a lot of winds that pushed the fire in a lot of directions," he said, posing significant challenges to first responders.

Unfortunately, Thursday promises to be more of the same due to the high fire risk. Biermann warned people that wine country will experience more "extreme fire behavior and growth" to the multiple blazes.

Area hospitals have reported treating more than 100 patients with fire-related injuries. Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said Wednesday morning that officials had received 670 missing persons reports. Of them, 110 people had been found. 

"We are not switching operations to anything but life saving right now," he said. "It's all about life saving and evacuations."

By the afternoon hours, the number of missing persons in Sonoma County dropped to 380, Giordano said.

County spokesman Scott Alonso said that the growing number of missing person reports is, in part, due to a lack of cellphone connectivity in the affected areas. Seventy-three cellphone towers between Santa Rosa and the Oregon border are out of commission, he said, which makes it a challenge for people to find their loved ones. 

Those figures are likely to climb in the coming days as more information is reported.

Mandatory and volunteer evacuations were widespread in Napa and Sonoma counties and stretched into Solano County late Monday night and into Tuesday.

"I think they underestimate how powerful and how dangerous (fires) can be," Giordano said. "That's why I say if you're in an advisory, you got a place to go, go. You don't need to be here."

By Wednesday, the mandatory orders had reached Calistoga — where Oakland police went door to door to help people get to safety in time — and covered a broader swath of Sonoma County. 

Supervisor Diane Dillon, whose district includes Calistoga, said roughly 2,000 of the city's 5,000 residents were impacted by the early morning evacuation order. Of them, most had already left their homes, while others were ready with their bags packed. 

Several evacuation centers have opened for residents to take shelter.

Chris Childs from the Napa County CHP office asked for people's "continued patience." 

"It's a tough message," to be told that "you can't go back to your homes," he said. 

At one point, an estimated 3,200 people were staying in 28 shelters across Napa and Sonoma counties.

"We understand that being displaced from your home is frustrating," said Belia Ramos, chairwoman of the Napa County board of supervisors. It comes with a set of "complex emotions," she said, but unfortunately, officials are unable to provide residents with an estimate for when they may be able to return home. 

"It's simply not safe," she said, adding that during a tour to part of the burned area she saw downed power lines and parts of residences that were smoldering. Life safety continues to be the foremost priority, Ramos said.

David Leal, 55, and his wife and stepson salvaged a few decorative items from their Santa Rosa home, including a wind chime, tiles from the backsplash in the kitchen, a decorative sun and a cross.

"Our plan is to keep those things, and when we rebuild, they’ll be mementos of what we’ve lived through, and of, just, resilience," Leal said. "It’s hard not to get emotional."

In the meantime, Leal got a post office box, so the family can get mail, a new laptop and some clothes. They’re living out of their two vehicles for now.

"We’ll be back home again sooner than later, and with our chins held high," he said, choking back tears. "And hopefully we’ll be amongst our neighbors and friends as they do the same."

Leal, a U.S. Navy veteran, evacuated with his family, two dogs and cat to nearby Petaluma late Sunday after seeing fierce, hot winds and flames whipping in the distance.

“We didn’t have time to think about what to grab. We grabbed what we saw,” he said. He got his external hard drive, which was lying out, but left his laptop.

Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, Solano and Yuba counties. Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the state Tuesday, said at an event near Sacramento that the federal government stands with California as it takes on the blazes.

Congressman Mike Thompson stressed "how serious and devastating this fire is on the people in our area." He said Tuesday that the federal government has been "incredibly responsive." Federal assistance and public grants are being made available to affected areas. 

"The resources that are needed are coming," Thompson promised. He also urged residents to pay attention to first responders' instructions. 

He continued: "Please listen to them. Please heed all their warnings and take all their directions."

President Donald Trump said he spoke Monday night with Gov. Brown to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."

In some torched neighborhoods, fire hydrants still had hoses attached, apparently abandoned by firefighters who had to flee. 

The fires sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles away.

A thick, smoky haze cloaked wine country, where neighborhoods hit by the fires were completely leveled.

A number of wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties also were burned.

One key Napa County vintner says at least five wineries in his trade group are destroyed or seriously damaged in a region synonymous with excellent food and wine.

The Napa Valley Vintners association earlier Tuesday had put the number at four. But board chairman Michael Honig said the latest count was five. He said damage was to facilities, and the group does not know about vineyards.

Cal Fire urged people to refrain from flying drones because it hindered air assaults on flames. Officials also described the fire as a "life safety event," and said that crews are not yet in firefighting mode. The goal is to evacuate people and ensure their safety.

Among the more prominent structures damaged in the fires were Cardinal Newman High School and the Hilton Hotel in Santa Rosa.

The destructive blazes and high winds, which fanned the flames and toppled power lines, have left tens of thousands of people across the North Bay without power, according to PG&E. Roughly 53,000 customers are without power, with the majority of them in Sonoma and Napa counties, PG&E reported Wednesday.

Most schools in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties were closed through the end of the week.

Santa Rosa officials also issued a curfew order for affected burn areas at 6:45 p.m. until sunrise. Evacuees are instructed not to return to their homes until evacuation orders are lifted, they said.

The wildfire ripped through the historic Stornetta Dairy off Highway 12 in Sonoma County.

In Napa, the fire destroyed a water pump station in the Silverado Country Club area, prompting the city to issue a boil-water notice for customers on Hagen Road, Woodland Drive, Syar Drive, Holly Court and Old Coach Road. Boil water notices were also issued for some residents in the Fountain Grove area of Santa Rosa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Facebook, Apple, Google Pledge Millions in Fire Relief Aid]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 16:56:07 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/north-bay-fire-wed-EM.jpg

Amid a series of deadly blazes ravaging Northern California, the nation's leading technology companies  — including Google, Apple and Facebook — have pledged more than $2.5 million combined to help fire relief efforts. 

All companies have headquarters in the Bay Area. 

Facebook, which has a history of donating to disaster relief funds, announced on Tuesday that it would be donating $1 million to local nonprofits, including the Community Foundation of Sonoma County. Additional recipients have yet to be announced. 

"I'm thinking of all our neighbors in harm's way and I hope everyone stays safe," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the donation. 

Along with other social networks, Menlo Park-based Facebook has become a hub for people to share their stories in the aftermath of the raging fires, which overtook densely-populated suburbs within Santa Rosa and flattened neighborhoods across the Northern Bay Area. 

At least 20 people have perished in the spate of fires, while hundreds more remain missing or unaccounted for in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Lake, Nevada, Butte, Calaveras, Shasta, and Yuba counties.

Users have been marking themselves safe using Facebook's Safety Check feature, while more than 3,000 people offered help on community message boards, according to the company. Site users thanked Zuckerberg for the site's feature on his most recent post, crediting Facebook with helping families connect during tragedies. 

Others implored him to continue his philanthropic efforts outside of the U.S. 

"Please carry out more campaigns that encourage people to help other poorer countries, such as Mexico, for example, affected by environmental or other disasters at war," wrote Facebook user Leila Barbosa. 

The entrepreneur, whose company donated $1.5 million to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, came under fire for what many called an insensitive "virtual reality tour" through the flood-wrecked island. He has since apologized. 

Meanwhile, Apple also pledged $1 million to fire relief efforts. The Cupertino-based company also plans to match employee donations two-for-one.

"Our thoughts are with our Bay Area friends & neighbors affected by wildfires," CEO Tim Cook Tweeted, warning people to "stay safe."

Apple did not say which nonprofits would benefit from the donations.

Google representatives said that the company would also be contributing to relief efforts across California with a $500,000 donation. The Mountain View-based company will be working with its longtime partner, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, to distribute money to local nonprofits. 

Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]]>
<![CDATA['Heartbroken': Smoke, Fires Ravage California's Wine Country]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 00:03:47 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/GettyImages-859499196_master.jpg

Workers in Northern California's renowned wine country picked through charred debris and plotted what to do with pricey grapes after wildfires swept through lush vineyards, destroying at least two wineries and damaging many others.

The wind-driven wildfires came as Napa and Sonoma counties were finishing highly anticipated harvests of wine grapes. Monday normally would have found workers picking and processing the ripe grapes to make chardonnay and other wines.

Instead, melted and blackened wine bottles decorated the ruined Signorello Estate winery in Napa Valley. People at Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted photos of debris and haze, saying they were "heartbroken to share the news" that the winery had burned.

A maintenance worker watched and hoped for the best Monday as flames crept down a hillside by the Gundlach Bundschu Winery.

"It's right behind the main office. It's working its way down the hillside. What can I say? It's slowly working its way in," Tom Willis said.

The Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association, said Monday that most wineries were closed because of power outages, evacuation orders and employees who couldn't get to work. The organization said it did not have firm numbers on wineries burned or how the smoke might affect this year's harvest or the industry in general. But it said most grapes had already been picked.

About 12 percent of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. But they are the highest value grapes, leading to the highest value wines, she said.

It's hard to predict correctly, but she said chances are good this year's crop won't carry much smoke damage.

"Even if wines now were heavily affected by smoke, it doesn't carry over to the next season, only in the fruit itself," she said.

Gloria Ferrer, Ravenswood and Kenwood were among well-known wineries closed for the day because of the fires, according to social media posts. Chateau Montelena Winery, which helped put California on the global wine map when it won a French wine-tasting competition in 1976, escaped damage.

Wineries that escaped damage grappled with the lack of power, which they need to process the grapes.

"Some of our growers did pick for us last night. So we had to unload the fruit into our cold barrel room and wait until tomorrow to process it," said Alisa Jacobson, vice president of winemaking at Joel Gott Wines.

"I think we'll be OK, but it's not an ideal situation. But more importantly, all our employees seem to be doing OK," she said.

She said she was stunned by the speed of the fires, falling asleep around 10 p.m. Sunday only to wake during the night to the smell of smoke. By 3 a.m. people were being evacuated.

Lise Asimont, director of grower relations for the Family Coppola wineries, was among the people being urged to leave her Santa Rosa home. She said explosions that made her think of war woke her around 2 a.m. She opened the front door to a sky snowing ash.

Authorities told her family to prepare to flee, but Asimont was also worried about her grapes, four truckloads of cabernet sauvignon machine-picked in Lodi on Sunday with no way of getting to Coppola facilities Monday because of a closed highway.

She called a wine maker with LangeTwins winery and vineyards, who had a tank available to crush the grapes and was happy to be able to help. In turn, she passed on the favor to another winery.

"There's a lot of people helping each other, which is amazing," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Who Survived Vegas Massacre Loses Home to Wildfire ]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:52:37 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Michella+and+Bailey+Flores.jpg

When Michella Flores hopped off the plane in Oakland, she thought the worst was over. The Santa Rosa woman had just escaped the Las Vegas massacre at a country music festival that left 58 dead and another 500 wounded — the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history. 

She had survived by running as fast as she could, taking shelter in a nearby hotel's conference room. The next morning, with the sounds of gunfire etched in her memory, she was desperate to leave Sin City.

"After that, I couldn’t wait to be home," Flores, a flight attendant, said. "I was obsessed with it. That was all I cared about; all I wanted was to be home with my family and my dog."

But her reprieve would be short-lived. Exactly one week later, the Sullivan Street house she shared with her parents erupted in flames, burning to the ground as a spate of wildfires wreaked havoc on the North Bay. Almost everything her family owned — photo albums, clothing, furniture, irreplaceable Christmas ornaments — was destroyed in the blaze.

"I haven’t had a chance to sit down and process everything, really," she said. "I don’t think it’s hit me yet because I’ve been so focused on looking forward and doing what needs to be done." 

And there is a lot that needs to be done in the coming weeks, even though her family has moved out of the evacuation center where they were temporarily holed up.

Flores and her parents, who are in their seventies, have been sleeping in a temporary rental. She will need to look for an affordable long-term place to stay, find daycare for her beloved dog, and muster up the energy to complete the seemingly endless array of documents that fire victims are required to fill out to receive assistance.

"I’ve always been the person that keeps the priorities in mind, and knowing what needs to be done," she said. "That’s who I am. Breaking down isn’t even an option right now. I don’t think of it because I know it just can’t happen. There’s just too much to do."

Her parents, who had moved to Sullivan Street after their first home was foreclosed upon during the Great Recession, were renters. They did not have insurance. 

"We’re not going to be able to afford to stay in the Bay Area," Flores said, matter-of-factly. "That’s just the way it is. It’s killing my mother; she’s in love with Sonoma County. Santa Rosa has been our home for more than 32 years. That’s something I worry about, how this is all going to affect her." 

Flores, who previously worked as a firefighter and a police dispatcher, credits her professional history with helping her get through the tragedies. Immediately throwing herself into "work mode," she even helped battle the flames as they tore apart her house. Her experience as a first responder trained her to compartmentalize rather than fall apart, she said.

She hasn't lost her dry sense of humor, either. On the phone, she even manages to crack a few jokes about a load of her work uniforms that were left in the washing machine when the fire erupted. 

"Yeah, they got washed, alright," she quipped, letting out a small chuckle. 

Throwing pity parties is simply not her style. It has never been, according to her sister, who lives in Virginia. 

"She’s resilient and amazing, and she’s done amazing things with her life," Krista Flores said. "But I worry about my sister. She’s just always been so busy. She doesn’t take time to take care of herself, and I’m afraid for when it all hits her." 

Michella Flores, who still hasn’t taken a day off work since her horrendous October began in Vegas, thinks the realization of what happened to her will come sooner rather than later. She is dreading staying overnight in a hotel at the end of this month for work. Once there, she’ll be alone, with no one else to look after. 

"I’m imagining that’s when it’s going to hit me, and I’ll deal with it then," she said. "But I’ll only be able to deal with it for a moment. The next morning I’ll have to be perky for the passengers. I can’t very well sit in the middle of the aisle, telling them my woes. ‘Oh my god, I was shot at, my house burned down’....they don’t want to hear that."

Instead, she turns to her dog for comfort, and her spirits have been lifted by a community that has rallied around her parents and provided support. A GoFundMe page, created by her sister, has been flooded with donations and well wishes from across the country. 

"The outpouring has been so great," she said. "I’ve been amazed by people who have been donating. I almost feel unworthy, because of everything happening elsewhere. You know, you look at Puerto Rico and some people don't even have clean water. But I’m lucky, my family is alive, I’m alive. Things could be worse." 

When asked what would be the best outcome for her family, she said they would like to stay in Santa Rosa. But she’s not holding out hope, and she doesn’t expect anyone to hand them anything.

"The world isn’t perfect, but in a perfect world, of course, we would like to stay," she said. "Even though it’s smoky and it looks like a bomb hit the town, I still don’t want to leave. Santa Rosa is still my town. It’ll always be our home." 

Find the GoFundMe page for Michella Flores and her family here. 

Comments, corrections or tips? Contact author Gillian Edevane at Gillian.Edevane@nbcuni.com

Photo Credit: Flores Family
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