Officials: Deadly wine country wildfires only 10 percent contained — at best

Oct. 10 (UPI) — Fire crews are working feverishly Tuesday to contain a series of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country that have so far caused the deaths of 10 people and led to a state of emergency.

Fifteen separate fires are burning in the region — accelerated by dry conditions and high winds. They have closed schools and forced evacuations in northern California’s Napa and Sonoma counties, authorities said.

More than 70,000 acres have been destroyed and 1,500 homes and other structures burned, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire said. At least 100 people are missing in Sonoma County, county spokesman Scott Alonso said. A fire station in Santa Rosa was among buildings burned.

The fires inside the eight-county area are only 10 percent contained, at best, Cal Fire said. The largest, the Atlas Fire in Napa County, had consumed 25,000 acres by Tuesday. About 30 people were rescued from Atlas Peak, a 1,700-foot tall mountain — many of them laborers working to complete the autumn grape harvest.

Seven people died in Sonoma County, two in Napa County and one in Mendocino County. Thousands of evacuees are now in temporary shelters.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. He later added Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties. Humboldt, Shasta and Calaveras County reported wildfires as well.

The California Highway Patrol said it’s using helicopters to help evacuate residents. In some areas, crews landed aircraft and went door-to-door to advise residents lacking working telephones or cellphones, of the evacuation. Elsewhere, emergency workers used text messages to advise residents to evacuate.

The local wine industry is a $13 billion business that contributes over $50 billion to the national economy, the Napa Valley Vintners Association said.

Throughout Napa County, occasional loud booms could be heard, a sign that gas lines and propane tanks were exploding.

Wildfires are also burning elsewhere in California. At least six homes were destroyed by a fire in Anaheim, near Los Angeles, hundreds of miles south of the wine country fires.

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