Hurricane force winds returned to Northern California on Saturday, revitalizing the massive Tubbs fire that’s destroyed much of Santa Rosa. With the fire headed toward the few neighborhoods in the city of 140,000 that haven’t already been destroyed, state authorities ordered thousands more residents to evacuate as residents in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods began venturing back into the city to see what, if anything remains of their homes.
An estimated 3,000 people in Santa Rosa and at least 250 people in Sonoma evacuated their homes before dawn, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, the death toll for what was the deadliest week for wildfires in California history has climbed to 40, while 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed.
Fortunately, the winds that have stoked the fires started to die down Saturday afternoon. And with temperatures dropping on Sunday, firefighters have finally been able to go on the office and make meaningful advances in their attempts to contain the flames.
Officials said Sunday they are making good progress on the Tubbs and Atlas fires, which have devastated much of Sonoma and Napa counties. Both were fires were more than 50% contained by mid-morning Sunday, the LA Times reported. Fifteen fires continue to burn across A 100-mile swath of the state. So far, they’ve ravaged more than 220,000 acres.
Meanwhile, the Nuns Fire, which continued to rage in Sonoma County, has burned 47,106 acres and is 25 percent contained. There were no reports of new evacuation orders early Sunday in the areas affected by the fires, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
More than 10,000 firefighters from California and other states are fighting the fires, said Dave Teter of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and officials are readying more crews in Southern California, where red flag warnings are in place through Sunday. The offensive to contain the fires has involved 880 fire engines, 134 bulldozers, 224 hand crews and 138 water tenders, Teter said. At first light Saturday, 14 helicopters were in the air conducting water drops.
Authorities warned that the biggest threat remains the low humidity, with the dry air continuing to transform grass and vegetation into fuel. Northerly winds are expected to move across the region at about 15 mph overnight with some 25 mph gusts. Of course, they’ll be far more intense than the 50 mph Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert that helped the fire spread shortly after its outbreak a week ago. Temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-40s overnight, with temperatures expected to hover in the mid-80s Sunday.
Authorities scrambled early Saturday to evacuate thousands of residents from the Oakmont neighborhood of Santa Rosa, with firefighters receiving the call around 3:30 a.m. Winds had helped revive the fire early in the day, though authorities managed to get it under control after the winds died down. When firefighters arrived, police were helping to evacuate the area.
"I don't think I've ever seen that many cop cars Code 3," CalFire spokesman Jeff Allen said, meaning they were flashing their lights and blaring their sirens.
Two new victims of the Atlas fire in Napa have been identified: George Chaney, 89, and Edward Stone, 79. The two men owned a house in the 2300 block of Atlas Peak Road, where officials found their bodies Thursday, county spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said – yet another example of how the fire’s ferocity initially took many by surprise, making it impossible for some to flee in time.
Meanwhile drone footage of Santa Rosa reveals the stunning extent of the devastation wrought by the fires on one of the most densely populated patches of Sonoma County.
In one eerie twist, the Associated Press reported that one spot remained untouched by the fire in Napa: the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, a pet cemetery on Atlas Peak Road. The park was still covered in lush, bright green grass when firefighters returned, while much of the surrounding area had been totally incinerated.