As many as 10 wind-whipped fires burned a destructive path across the North Coast early Monday, destroying homes and businesses in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley while forcing entire neighborhoods to flee in the middle of the night. At least five fires in Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties were threatening residential communities, Cal Fire officials said.
The sound of explosions, mostly bursting propane tanks, punctuated the rush as authorities raced to evacuate hospitals, senior centers and apartment complexes in northwest Santa Rosa while fleeing residents packed the roads.
Just about every fire resource in Sonoma County has been deployed, and at least 25 additional Cal Fire strike teams deployed from across the area to arrive, said Windsor Fire Chief Jack Piccinini, speaking from a central command post near the Kmart store in north Santa Rosa.
“We don’t have enough help. The fire is so big,” Picinini said. “Everyone in Sonoma County is spread out fighting these fires, but they don’t have enough resources to handle something like this. The only thing we can do is hope the wind will come down.”
Cal Fire Division Chief Greg Bertelli urged people close to the fire zones to err on the side of caution and evacuate early.
“Don’t try to stay and sit it out, it’s important to try to help each other and evacuate,” Bertelli said. “Life safety, other things can be replaced, but take yourself, your loved ones.”
The fire burning in Santa Rosa was just one of a series of wildfires burning through swaths of Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties, breaking out in a series starting about 10 p.m. Sunday.
“These blazes have taken place at an individual’s most vulnerable time, when they are home and in bed,” State Sen. Mike McGuire said.
The fire burning in Santa Rosa is believed to have begun late Sunday night near Highway 128 in Napa County and moved down Mark West Road toward Santa Rosa. The fire leveled entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, where three-story homes were burning along Thomas Lake Harris Drive. The city’s new fire station in the area, Fire State 5, was destroyed.
The hills surrounding Santa Rosa glowed red early Monday and evacuees fleeing the fire clogged West College Avenue at 3 a.m., as officials opened additional shelters.
Multiple fires burning in densely populated areas at night propelled by winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour severely strained firefighters, McGuire said.
“Of great concern is Kenwood, Glen Ellen and greater Santa Rosa,” he added.
Darkness made it difficult to determine how many acres had burned and impossible to fight the fires from the air. McGuire said that hundreds of firefighters were en route from throughout the state and that aerial attacks would begin at first light, with winds expected to ease by 9 a.m.
In Kenwood, fire destroyed homes on both sides of Highway 12. Another branch of a wildfire was spreading from Geyserville and heading toward Cloverdale, Sonoma County sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said.
“Up here in the hills, there is lots of fire, lot of smoke, and we have to be very careful we don’t get ourselves strapped,” Crum said. “There are a lot of one-way in, one-way out roads.”