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Fires scorch Sonoma Valley

High winds that arrived Sunday night swept across the North Bay, downing power lines that ignited fire in dry vegetation. By the early morning hours, a number of fires – two major ones in Sonoma County – swept through the Wine Country, forcing residents out of their homes, shutting down rural roads and major highways, and calling out fire responders from multiple counties to deal with the rolling disaster.

Wind gusts were reported exceeding 70 mph by U.S. Weather sources. Hurricane-force winds start at 74 mph.

By noon on Monday, some 65,000 acres were reported burned in the North Bay in 14 separate fires across eight counties, with at least 1500 structures destroyed, according to Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott.

Hard hit was Santa Rosa, which was apparently hit by the fast-moving Tubbs Fire that started near Calistoga, in Napa County. Multiple homes were reported lost in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, a senior mobile home park on Mendocino Ave. was gutted, and both Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health hospitals were evacuated.

Luther Burbank Art Center, a popular entertainment venue adjoining Sutter and Highway 101, was affected by fire but largely intact. But Trader Joe’s and K-Mart on Cleveland Avenue were both said to be burned to the ground.

The fire burning across 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. “Of great concern is Kenwood, Glen Ellen and greater Santa Rosa.”

ABC7 news teams reported from Glen Ellen the entire stretch of Sylvia Drive between Dunbar Road and Highway 12 was devastated by what came to be known as the Nuns Fire.

Amid the ruins of nearly a dozen homes reporter Cornell Barnard spoke with resident Kimberly Hughes. "At 10:30 the winds were howling," she recalled, speculating that the winds knocked down power lines that started fires in the area. "The winds were so ferocious it blew the fires all over the place."

At 1 p.m., the Nuns Fire was said to involve 5,000 acres. Rumors that the Dunbar School had been burned could not be confirmed. Also in Glen Ellen, the fire reportedly reached London Ranch Road on the outskirts of Jack London State Historic Park, but the park was apparently undamaged.

But several Sonoma Valley wineries were said to be affected, including Chateau St. Jean and Landmark on Highway 12. Fires crested the hills over Gundlach Bundschu southeast of Sonoma, but that winery apparently escaped. Nearby Nicholson Ranch at Napa Road and Highway 121 was reported lost.

The west side of Sonoma Mountain between Bennett Valley and Rohnert Park was under evacuation orders, as the Nuns Fire made its march from Glen Ellen over Sonoma Mountain overnight. Flames were visible by morning coming down the western side, Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Director Brian Masterson said, noting the scene was “surreal.”

At midday, mandatory evacuation was ordered for the Sonoma Valley area of Mission Highland just north of the City of Sonoma, and Norrbom Road and Gehricke Road areas. That evacuation suggested that the City of Sonoma was directly threatened as well.

On the south end of Arnold Drive at Highway 121, fire crested Cougar Mountain behind the Sonoma Raceway on Monday morning.

Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, issued a statement that read in part, "Our facilities team and a number of local fire companies have been battling grassland fires on Cougar Mountain and elsewhere around our property, and at this point it does not appear any of the raceway’s structures or other facilities are at immediate risk."

Though it had been closed earlier this morning, by 9 a.m. Highway 37 eastbound was open from Novato to Vallejo, and Highway 121 was clear from 37 to the Arnold Drive crossing at Watmaugh Road.

But many roads in the Valley and elsewhere remained closed due to fire and emergency conditions. These include Broadway south of Watmaugh in Sonoma, Arnold Drive in Agua Caliente, and Calistoga Road in Rincon Valley, up to Mark West Springs Road.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sononanews.com.