SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Northern California’s wine country was on fire again Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already scorched region, destroying homes and prompting orders for nearly 70,000 people to evacuated. Meanwhile, three people died in a separate fire further north in the state.
In Sonoma County, residents of the Oakmont Gardens senior living facility in Santa Rosa boarded brightly lit city buses in the darkness overnight, some wearing bathrobes and using walkers. They wore masks to protect against the coronavirus as orange flames marked the dark sky.
The fire threat forced Adventist Health St. Helena hospital to suspend care and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The fires that began Sunday in the famed Napa-Sonoma wine country about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of San Francisco came as the region nears the third anniversary of deadly wildfires that erupted in 2017, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.
“Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her property in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa at about 1 a.m. She is rebuilding a home damaged in the 2017 fires.
Gorin said she saw three neighboring houses in flames as she fled early Monday.
“We’re experienced with that,” she said of the fires. “Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who’ve lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West.”
More than 68,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties have been evacuated in the latest inferno, one of nearly 30 fire clusters burning across the state, said Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nichols. Many more residents have been warned that they might have to flee, even though winds eased significantly Monday afternoon, giving firefighters an opportunity to make some progress, he said.