California’s famed wine country, already suffering an economic blow brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, is on fire again.
The state’s losses kept adding up Monday as two new wildfires burned out of control, killing three people. The famous Chateau Boswell winery burned down, as well as a community for formerly homeless people.
For people still haunted by fires that tore through the area three years ago, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of people, the wildfires that exploded Sunday brought fresh terror.
“We’ve evacuated and we are watching the news and watching my district burn again,” Susan Gorin, a Sonoma County supervisor, told The New York Times Monday morning. She had been evacuated to a hotel in Novato. “I fear that it’s heading into those areas that lost homes and were rebuilt, and I fear they will burn again.”
Facts of the fires
The two fast-moving blazes — the Zogg Fire in Shasta County and the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties — are only 7% and 2% contained, respectively. Combined, they had burned more than 67,000 acres by Monday night, prompting new evacuation orders for thousands of people. As of Wednesday morning, the fires had increased in size to more than 100,000 acres combined, according to Cal Fire officials.
The Zogg Fire, which started Sunday afternoon near the rural community of Igo, is about 200 miles north of the Glass Fire. The Zogg Fire has killed three people in Shasta County, according to the Shasta County sheriff.
Firefighters have been forced to jump from fire to fire to fire across California in the past several weeks. Even once these fires are under control, Cal Fire does not expect a slowdown.
“We still have a lot of this season to go,” said Shana Jones, Cal Fire’s unit chief for Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties. She urged people not to ignore evacuation warnings. “A garden hose is not going to protect your home,” she said. “You need to leave.”
In the Oakmont area of Santa Rosa, residents of Los Guilicos Village — a community of tiny homes for formerly homeless people and those suffering from mental illness and addiction — were forced to evacuate at around 9 p.m.
Among them was Carmen Almejo, 53, who left with her dog, a Chihuahua named Carmencita. All she brought was a sweatshirt for herself, one for her dog, some dog food and water.
“When we were going in the van, we could see the flames and it was scary,” Almejo said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
As day broke Monday, residents learned that much of the village had burned to the ground. Almejo said she spent the morning taking long walks with Carmencita to calm her nerves.
Cal Fire officials are still investigating what caused the Zogg and Glass fires.
Fueling the fires
The new burst of fires started under very hot, dry and windy conditions as the West Coast struggles to recover from one of its worst seasons on record. Wildfires this year have left at least 40 people dead, destroyed more than 7,000 structures and scorched more than 5 million acres in California, Oregon and Washington. Some experts have linked the devastating fire season to climate change, saying it is part of a long-term trend of more frequent and disastrous blazes in the West.
In a news conference Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency in Shasta County. He said a “substantial” number of structures, including wineries, have been damaged. Speaking of the history of fires in the area, he said there was “a lot of consternation in and around that region that has been hit over and over and over again.”
Impact on freight
Besides the chance of smoke reducing visibility on portions of Interstate 5, U.S. Highway 101 and many state highways, truckers may run into delays due to road closures.
As of Wednesday morning, Caltrans reported no closures on I-5 due to the Zogg Fire. However, State Route 36 is closed from Bowman Road near Rosewood to just west of Van Duzen Road near Dinsmore.
Due to the Glass Fire, State Route 12 has been shut down from Mountain Hawk Drive in Santa Rosa to Trinity Road, just north of Glen Ellen.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for portions of the San Francisco metropolitan area due to windy conditions coming back Thursday and Friday. This includes the vicinity of the Glass Fire. The air will remain very dry across Northern California, and the region is in a severe drought. Additional fires may spark easily.