Death Toll In NorCal Fires Climbs To 15, More Than 150 Missing As Looters Ransack Homes

Update (3:10 pm ET): The death toll from the fast-moving wildfires that have raced across eight counties in Northern California since Sunday has risen to 15, with more than 150 people reported missing, according to the Washington Post. And state officials said that toll is likely to rise as the fires' rapid spread took some people by surprise.

But in one hopeful sign, the dry winds that have helped spread the flames have slowed, granting fire fighters a much-needed reprieve.

Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director for Cal Fire, said winds slowed to single-digit speeds, down from the 50 to 60 mph gusts reported Monday. The National Weather Service expects temperatures in the North Bay Area, which includes at least three counties affected by the fires, to hover between the lower to mid-70s for the rest of the week, with wind gusts of up to 20 mph.


“That’s given us a good opportunity to make progress on these fires,” Berlant said. “We’re hoping to continue to see less wind and cooler temperatures. That combination is a welcome sight compared to what we dealt with just 24 hours ago.”

The improving conditions allowed fire fighters to contain the blazes Tuesday. However, the fires could stil spread. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning - meant to denote conditions that could help bolster wildfires - for the North Bay Mountains and East Bay Hills.

Meanwhile, it's rapidly becoming apparent that many Napa Valley wineries have suffered catastrophic damage in the fires. Four wineries in the region are reporting "total" losses, while nine others have reported damages.

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As Santa Rosa residents scramble to flee the path of no fewer than 15 major wildfires raging across eight Northern California counties, police in the Sonoma county seat have instituted a sunrise-to-sunset curfew as they crack down on unscrupulous looters who’ve been raiding abandoned homes.

State officials said that 11 people have been confirmed dead. And in a sign that the toll could rise substantially, emergency responders in Sonoma County say they’ve fielded 100 calls from residents reporting missing family members. Meanwhile, more than 100 people were being treated at Napa- and Sonoma-area hospitals for fire-related injuries or health issues, including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

Amy Hollyfield, a reporter with a local ABC News affiliate, said she’s spoken with several area residents who say their homes were broken into and robbed after nearby flames forced them to evacuate.

Some individuals are even voluntarily guarding their neighborhoods from looters. The LA Times reports that one off duty detective in Santa Rosa has been waiting on his lawn with his sheriff’s badge hanging around his neck.

Troy Newton first helped warn his neighbors to flee after spotting a “red snake of fire” near his middle class neighborhood.

After sundown Monday, Newton was lying on his side on the lawn outside his home, his sheriff's badge dangling from a lanyard around his neck.


By then, he'd taken on a new responsibility: guarding his evacuated neighborhood from looters and vandals.


"After 25 years as a cop, I know that there are going to be people coming in here to rob our homes," he said. "So I'm gonna sit right here until morning."

In a sign that wine production in the state is facing serious disruptions, Napa Valley Vintners association says most wineries as employees have evacuated and power outages have caused widespread blackouts.

To be sure, fires haven’t been confined to the northern part of the state. The Anaheim Hills fire in Southern California has scorched between 5,000 to 6,000 acres.

But, so far, Santa Rosa has emerged as the worst-hit city as whole neighborhoods have burned to ground, leaving behind a post-apocalyptic scene.

Destroyed landmark buildings in the city included the Fountaingrove Inn, a 124-room hotel; a nearby event center, the Fountaingrove Round Barn; and classrooms at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat reported. One of Santa Rosa's fire stations was also lost in the fire, according to a post on the Mountain View Fire Department's Facebook account, according to CNN.

One disturbing video depicted the charred remains of the city’s Hidden Valley neighborhood.

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated across Northern California because of the fire. More than 1,500 buildings have been destroyed, and the state’s famous wine country may never be the same. Gov. Jerry Brown placed Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties under a state of emergency early yesterday.

And already, heartbreaking stories about fire-related casualties have begun to emerge.

A Napa couple who died in their home in the Atlas Peak fire had recently celebrated 75 years of marriage, KTVU-TV reported late Monday.

Their granddaughter Ruby Gibney told the station that their home "was quickly ravaged by the fire, and they were unable to get out in time and tragically died." The couple were identified by the station as Sara and Charles "Peach" Rippey. They were 99 and 100 years old, respectively. The Atlas fire, which is blazing across Napa, has claimed more than 50 structures, including homes and barns, according to Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said during a news conference.

Most of the Northern California fires ignited Sunday night, driven by winds of more than 50 mph and dry conditions, Director Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Monday. The high winds led to "extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions," according to Cal Fire.

CNN reports that winds have decreased throughout the area - 6 to 13 mph was forecast around Santa Rosa – helping to slow the fires ferocious pace and allowing firefighters to contain some of the blazes. "Winds and the fire weather threat will decrease Tuesday in the north, but a threat will remain in Southern California," according to the National Weather Service on Tuesday. Months of little rainfall also helped create the dry conditions that have allowed fires to spread across 60,000 acres.