California wildfire rages through Napa Valley as Glass Fire brings residents ‘fire fatigue’
Firefighters battling an explosive blaze that’s spurred mass evacuations in California’s wine country have made progress against the wildfire, but residents forced to evacuate are anxiously awaiting the fate of their homes after fleeing yet another destructive fire.
“Firefighters have hopefully gained the upper hand with winds having died down significantly from Monday,” Sonoma County Communications Manager Paul Gullixson said at a briefing on Tuesday.
The wildfire has destroyed 113 structures, including 52 homes in Napa County and 28 in Sonoma County, and more than 10,000 structures remain threatened. Officials have not yet determined the cause of the blaze.
The fast-moving wildfire that erupted Sunday has forced the complete evacuations of communities such as Calistoga and the eastern part of Santa Rosa. Over 70,000 residents have been forced from their homes.
Those who have not heeded warnings to evacuate have described harrowing scenes as the flames have burned through hilltops and raced down toward homes and wineries in the area. The Napa County Sheriff’s Office shared photos of the fire continuing to rage along hillsides.
“The trees go up like matches,” Joe Ortega, 61, of Calistoga, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It looks like a bomb went off.”
The Glass Fire has spread rapidly and is now burning through land that was saved from the other recent wine country fires, according to Cal Fire Assistant Chief Billy See.
It’s the fourth major wildfire in the region in three years and comes ahead of the third anniversary of a 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people.
Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.
Some of the land now being used as fuel for the Glass Fire has not burned for a century, while crews are now using old containment lines to fight the current fire, relieved slightly by easing winds.
Sonoma Sheriff Mark Essick said Tuesday deputies have made five arrests of people entering evacuation zones, but that none have been for looting, KTVU reported. He also acknowledged “some significant fire fatigue” in the community during a news conference Tuesday.
“Many people are feeling the effects, many people are evacuating, and evacuated multiple times, and I just want everyone to know that we continue to support you,” Essick said.
Valerie Lukens, who has evacuated for other blazes over the years, told KPIX-TV she’s raised three children in Santa Rosa and goes on “autopilot” when red flag warnings are issued.
“You start packing up your stuff and pulling out the right boxes, piling up what you need for your go bag and getting your cars gassed up, you don’t even think about it anymore,” she said Tuesday. “It’s just this mindless numb routine.”
Patrick Ryan, who lives in Sonoma County just outside Santa Rosa, told the Associated Press he stayed up the whole night trying to fight the flames and save his house, which survived.
“Surreal, let me just put it that way. It brings everything about that night in 2017 right back again,” Ryan said.
Some who lost homes in 2017 when wildfires destroyed 5,000 homes in the region are once again finding their rebuilt lives have been burned to the ground.
The Crozat family lost six homes in the Tubbs Fire between Gene Crozat, his widow, Teri, and the homes of their four children. They found themselves in the same situation this week.
“The homes that my mom, my siblings and our families have been living in burned in the Glass fire, leaving three of the original five families homeless again,” Jaime Crozat told the Press Democrat.
The Glass Fire is one of nearly 30 wildfires burning around California.
The blaze tore through many iconic wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties and the five-starred Meadowood Resort, home to a three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
The state has already seen more than 8,100 wildfires that have killed 29 people, scorched 5,780 square miles and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.
Further to the north, in what has already been a historically devastating wildfire season for California, the Zogg Fire in a heavily forested area of rural Shasta County has killed three people and destroyed nearly 150 buildings.
Zogg incident commander Sean Kavanaugh said winds from the north have subsided, giving firefighters an opportunity to get resources around the large fire.
“The weather has given us a break. We’re going to take the opportunity where we can, with the change in the weather, the calmness,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.