Eleven people have perished and numerous people reportedly have been injured as fires in California's wine country have demolished several counties, forcing evacuations, burning thousands of acres and damaging infrastructure and homes.
The Sonoma County, Cal., Sheriff’s Department said it has received about 150 missing persons reports.
“We are confident that many of these people will be found safe and reunited with loved ones, but unfortunately, we are preparing for further fatalities,” the department stated. “Our hearts continue to go out to those residents who lost their homes in this devastating fire.”
According to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), significant winds overnight fanned more than a dozen fires across Northern California. Fifteen new wind-whipped wildfires in nine counties have already burned 73,000-plus acres in the past 12 hours, the agency said.
“Firefighters have been challenged with winds gusting in excess of 50mph causing extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions.”
California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. issued an emergency proclamation Oct. 9 for Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties due to the effects of multiple fires, including the Cherokee, LaPorte, Sulphur, Potter, Cascade, Lobo and Canyon fires. The governor also requested a presidential major disaster declaration to support the state and local response to fires burning in northern California following the emergency proclamation issued for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.
“These fires have already burned an estimated 1,500 homes and commercial structures,” CAL FIRE stated. “Several damage assessment teams have been activated to get a full account of the destruction.”
The strong winds were expected to decrease, but red flag warnings due to wind gusts and high fire risk remain in place across many parts of the state.
According to the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), social media posts reported that several wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties were damaged or destroyed, but the reports had not been independently verified.
“We had strong winds, and there’s just fires exploding in a lot of places,” said Gary Sack, a CFBF field representative whose territory includes most of the affected areas.
With nearly all of the fires still out of control, farmers and other agricultural professionals said it was far too soon to assess the damage, according to CFBF.
“This is an ongoing emergency situation,” Napa County agricultural commissioner Greg Clark said. “There’s very limited access to the areas that are on fire. I have not heard of any secondhand or firsthand information from anyone that has experienced loss, but it’s safe to say that there is loss of woodlands, rangeland, grazing lands (and), in some instances, vineyards.”
The primary focus at this point is life and safety, Clark said, adding, “Once they get the fire under control, then we can start to have a better idea of the impacts on property.”
Livestock in the area were being moved to shelters, equestrian centers and the Napa County Fairgrounds, with the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo, Cal., expected to serve as overflow.
CFBF said grape grower David Beckstoffer was watching his family’s business closely. His vineyards stretch from St. Helena at the northern end of the Napa Valley to Carneros in the south. “I understand there’s a fire right in the Dealy Lane/Henry Rd. area there, which we have a vineyard very close to,” he said. “We’ve been told our vineyard is fine, but I know the fires are right around there.”
CFBF reported that Sonoma County was dealing with not only the Tubbs Fire but also the Nunns Fire, which is burning in the Sonoma Valley near Glen Ellen.
“From what the news is saying, most of the damage is east of us,” Steve Dutton, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said, adding that he had heard news reports of damage to several wineries but was unable to check much of the fire area.
The grape harvest in Sonoma County is nearly done, he said, with 85-90% of the crop in.
“There are grapes that have been picked today or were picked during the night, while no one knew this was happening, that may or may not be getting delivered,” Dutton said.
In Butte County, Colleen Cecil, executive director of the county farm bureau, told CFBF that she is hearing reports of cattle ranchers losing seed and hay barns. The county’s main wildfires were the Cherokee and La Porte fires, which had charred 7,500 acres between them as of Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s still too soon to determine what damage is, but I think that feed loss is probably going to be significant,” Cecil said.
Just last weekend, she said, the farm bureau had hosted a Sierra Oro Farm Trail event. On Monday, however, she learned that some of the farms near the town of Bangor, which had been part of the trail, were forced to evacuate.
Cecil said she also heard from one rancher via text message that “while his house was safe, all of his employee housing had been lost."
Residents across the state are urged to remain prepared for wildfires as extremely dry conditions continue.