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Fire in California Wine Country Forces Resort Town to Flee

David R. Baker and Mark Chediak
·4 mins read

(Bloomberg) -- A wildfire that jumped across California’s famed Napa Valley forced the evacuation of a wine country resort town and threatened thousands of homes in a region devastated by blazes just three years ago.

The Glass Fire north of San Francisco reached more than 42,500 acres as of Tuesday morning, nearly quadrupling in size over 24 hours, and is 0% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. A second fire that erupted in Shasta County has killed at least three people.

The blazes broke out after a weekend of hot weather with dry winds in Northern California, which has already been buffeted by a record wildfire season. The gusts have now faded in that region but are gaining strength in the southern part of the state. Officials on Monday and Tuesday began deploying firefighters and equipment to Southern California in hopes of quickly stopping any new fires there.

In Napa’s wine country, residents of Calistoga were told to leave late Monday night, with more evacuations Tuesday in the area of Angwin. At least 68,000 people are under evacuation orders in neighboring Sonoma County, according to the sheriff’s office. Officials urged people to listen to warnings and leave immediately when asked.

“A garden hose is not going to protect your home,” Cal Fire Unit Chief Shana Jones said Tuesday at a press conference. “You need to leave.”

She also warned residents not currently under evacuation orders to plan ahead, in case more fires strike.

“We still have months to go for fire season, and that means that this could happen again,” Jones said. “I pray to God it does not.”

California has been battered for weeks by rounds of extreme weather that state officials say have been fueled by climate change. Last month, a record-breaking heat wave triggered the state’s first rotating power outages since the 2001 energy crisis -- and was followed just three weeks later by another one. More than 8,000 wildfires have burned a record 3.8 million acres this year, choking cities with smoke, killing at least 29 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.

On Tuesday, more than 18,700 firefighters were battling 27 major blazes across the state. The 25 counties that have suffered fires this year account for nearly three-quarters of California’s population and over two-thirds of state employment, according to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

About 37,000 households and businesses are now without electricity because of the latest round of fires, according to PG&E Corp. The state’s biggest utility cut service to about 195,000 people in an attempt to keep its equipment from sparking blazes over the weekend, and said late Monday that it has largely restored power to those customers.

Shares of PG&E -- which went bankrupt last year after its equipment ignited catastrophic fires -- were little changed Tuesday after tumbling the most in three months on Monday. The company said in a statement that it has no information indicating that its equipment was involved in the start of either the Glass Fire or the Zogg Fire in Shasta County.

The causes of the blazes remain under investigation.

The Glass Fire broke out early Sunday in the hills east of Napa Valley, and embers flew across the valley floor, carrying the fire to the hills on the western side. The fire is now raging northeast of Santa Rosa, the area devastated by the 2017 Tubbs Fire that was among the most destructive in California history. Properties damaged in the famed vineyard region included the Chateau Boswell estate, the Meadowood resort and the Castello di Amorosa winery.

At least 80 residences were destroyed in Napa and Sonoma counties, according to Cal Fire, while more than 10,700 structures are under threat.

Cal Fire Incident Commander Billy See said the Glass Fire was tearing through an area that managed to avoid flames during the Tubbs Fire, even if it threatened many of the same communities.

“It’s burning in all the acreage that was saved in 2017,” See said at Tuesday’s press conference. “So when it came over the ridge into Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa, this was all unburned vegetation.”

About 180 miles north, the Zogg Fire burned at least 40,300 acres, prompting more evacuations.

California’s peak wildfire season traditionally runs from September through November. It has grown longer and less predictable in recent years, with blazes coming as late as December.

(Adds comments from Cal Fire press conference starting in the fifth paragraph.)

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