NorCal Wildfires Leave at Least 11 Dead, Torch 1,500 Structures, Destroy Entire Neighborhoods

Hospitals were evacuated, schools closed and buildings flattened as a result of the fires in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties

What to Know

  • About 15 wildfires erupted across Northern California, scorching about 73,000 acres. At least 1,500 structures have been wiped out.
  • At least 10 people have died and two people have suffered serious injuries as a result of the blazes, according to Cal Fire.
  • An estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said.

Thousands of residents of wine country were sent fleeing from their homes Monday as more than a dozen wind-driven wildfires erupted across Northern California, wiping out at least 1,500 structures and sending the smell of smoke as far as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

At least 11 people have died and two people have suffered serious injuries as a result of the blazes. Seven deaths occurred in the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, two deaths occurred in the Atlas Fire in Napa County and one death was reported in the fire that ignited in Mendocino County, Cal Fire said. One more death was reported in Yuba County, the local sheriff's office said.

A Sonoma County spokesman said late Monday that the county has received more than 100 missing-persons reports.

An estimated 20,000 people have been evacuated, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said. He added that the estimates of destroyed structures are very conservative.

Pimlott said the fires are burning across an eight-county swath of Northern California, including Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. Cal Fire estimated that a total of 73,000 acres, or 114 square miles, have been scorched as of Monday afternoon. [[383833041, C]]

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in response to the blazes, including the 6,000-acre fire south in Orange County. The flames spread rapidly as a result of wind gusts topping out around 50 mph during the overnight hours.

"It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before," said Marian Williams, who caravanned with neighbors through flames before dawn as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards and ridges at her small Sonoma County town of Kenwood.

Laurie Thompson said she had "just enough time to grab a few things" before fleeing from the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Swift gusts whipped flames into the area, leaving some homes in a heap of smoldering rubble. 

"Homes were just destroyed," Thompson said. "Blocks are gone." [[450097893, C]]

John Gianfermi returned to one of those leveled Coffey Park homes Monday morning. As he talked, he picked out a washing machine, folding chairs, and what looked like a bed frame in the ruins. A Buddha had survived the flames, but he thought his photo albums and other family possessions were gone.

Gianfermi said he had started to smell smoke Sunday night and noticed that the wind was very strong.

"A neighbor pounded on our door and said, 'You've got to go now,'" he said. [[450153703, C]]

He, his wife, and two teenagers got into his truck and fled in a neighborhood exodus, eventually heading to his sister's house. They returned Monday morning to see what, if anything, was left, and while his wife and children waited in the truck about a mile away, he walked the rest of the way.

"Better that I see it than my wife and my kids," he said.

But everyone got out alive, no one was hurt, and the family could buy new clothes, he said.

"You don’t think that that’s going to happen to you," he said.

The Tubbs Fire burning in Napa County off Highway 128 and Bennett Lane in Calistoga has scorched 35,000 acres, according to officials. The Atlas Fire south of Lake Berryessa off Atlas Peak Road has burned at least 25,000 acres while the Partrick Fire, which ignited west of Napa, has torched roughly 3,000 acres. 

The Nuns fire, burning in Sonoma County north of Glen Ellen, has torched 5,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. At the southern tip of Sonoma County, the 37 Fire, which started near Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway, has incinerated 1,500 acres.

At least 10,000 acres in Mendocino County also have been scorched after the Redwood Complex Fire, which includes the Redwood and Potter fires, ignited west of Mendocino National Forest, Cal Fire reported. [[450139473, C]]

Evacuations have been ordered across the North Bay for residential neighborhoods, shopping centers and hospitals, such as Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa. Flames consumed mobile homes next to Kaiser while hospital employees rushed patients to safety. Staff moved some in private cars when they ran out of ambulances.

The fires forced all Santa Rosa schools and Napa Valley Unified School District schools to close for the day.

Santa Rosa officials on Monday issued a curfew for affected burn areas from 6:45 p.m. until sunrise. [[450080263, C]]

In Napa County, Kim McPherson said she had heard that her house was gone.

"Shock," she said. "Disbelief."

But she said she was grateful that she and others were alive and uninjured.

A man whose parents live in the Fountain Grove neighborhood of Santa Rosa described driving over to wake them up, then waking up their neighbors. His parents' house was still standing, but all around them was devastation. Firefighters from around the area had responded to Santa Rosa to help, he said.

"This is insane," he said. [[450079593, C]]

Dreama Goldberg, who is eight months pregnant, got out safely with her husband, 7-year-old stepdaughter, roommate and cat.

“We feel very fortunate for that,” she said. “It was really scary.”

Goldberg, who is a dance instructor in Santa Rosa, said her house was destroyed but already her friends in the dance community are rallying around the family.

“We’re going to start from scratch,” she said. [[450082643, C]]

A number of areas in Sonoma County are under evacuation orders including the region west of Highway 101 in the Piner Road area to downtown Forestville, Cloverdale KOA, Palomino Road, Vanoni Road to Gill Creek Road, Arnold Drive to the State Hospital and west of Jack London State Park, according to officials. 

Evacuation centers in Sonoma County have opened at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, Sebastopol Vets Hall and Sonoma Valley High School, according to officials.

Evacuation orders in Napa County include the Wooden Valley area, Montecito area, Old Sonoma Road to Buhman Avenue, Dealy Lane, Henry Road, Coombsville Road and Wild Horse Valley Road. [[450060803, C]]

Centers for the evacuated have opened at Crosswalk Church, Napa Valley College Gym and the Napa County Fairgrounds, officials said.

The Solano County Sheriff late Monday issued mandatory evacuation orders for Joyce Lane and Twin Sisters Road in Fairfield.

NBC Bay Area has compiled a running list of evacuation orders and evacuations. Those impacted by the fire can also check the Cal Fire website or Nixle for further updates on evacuations. 

For those with large animals, Vintage High School farm is taking animals that need shelter. The Napa County Animal Shelter will hold smaller animals.

The animals and birds at Safari West, a 400-acre African animal preserve in Santa Rosa, were not harmed by the fires. [[450057663, C]]

High winds overnight drove the blazes to spread rapidly across the region, according to officials. The strong gusts also toppled power lines, knocking out power for some and leading to spotty cellular coverage.

Smoke from the fires has drifted across all parts of the Bay Area, as far south as San Jose. People across the Bay Area are advised to limit their outdoor activities and close their windows.

A red-flag warning is in effect through Tuesday morning for the North Bay and East Bay hills, meaning there is an elevated risk for fire danger because of dry conditions and gusty winds. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Deady wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties sent residents fleeing for their lives and reduced dozens of homes to smoldering ash. At least 1,500 total structures have been torched, and fire officials say that estimate is conservative. #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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