SANTA ROSA, Calif. – The wind known as Diablo resumes, the air is dry, there is no rain and the murderous fires that have burned the wine country of Northern California remain almost completely unconfined. Authorities warned on Wednesday that some of the large fires could merge, while thousands were told to evacuate or prepare to leave their homes.
In the midst of these sinister bulletins, the enormous PG & E utility company acknowledged that the extreme winds that struck Sunday night and early in the day dropped trees in power lines in conditions conducive to fire forest. “The historic wind event that swept the PG & E service area on Sunday night and Monday morning resulted in winds of over 75 km / h in some cases,” said Ari Vanenen, spokesperson for PG & E, in a statement released after the San Jose Mercury News reported on a possible link between forest fires and the power grid.
“These destructive winds, along with millions of trees weakened by years of drought and recent growth of vegetation due to winter storms, have contributed to the impact of some trees, branches and debris on our power lines in the bay North. ” Vanrenen said the company was up to date in maintaining its infrastructure and surrounding vegetation but that excess rain last winter, followed by a drought, created a lot of dry brush.
Cal Fire Fire Department officials said they had not yet determined the cause of the fires that killed at least 23 people in the counties of Napa, Sonoma, Yuba and Mendocino. Conflagrations led tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The evacuations continue, including an order Wednesday afternoon covering the entire city of Calistoga in Napa County. Approximately 4,400 people are housed in shelters and will not be able to return home for several days, officials said.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office reported that of the 600 missing persons, 315 were found to be safe. Another 285 are still missing, but many have lost mobile phones or Internet access and may not have been able to reach friends or family. At the state level, 8,000 firefighters are working to contain 22 forest fires that cover 170,000 acres – a larger collective area than the city of Chicago. The worst are in the counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, where 4,500 homes and businesses were burned during the last census.
Fire has also weighed on federal resources. In the aftermath of catastrophic hurricanes, California forest fires represent only one of 22 disasters that the Federal Emergency Management Agency manages across the country. Eighty-five percent of the 9,900 full-time FEMA employees are working “on the ground”, far from the offices entrusted to them, said agency spokesman Mike Cappannari.
In some regions of the wine country, smoke and mist are so thick that the sun is a weak orange sphere in the sky. Most stores are sold with air filtration masks. People pumping gas, shopping for groceries or walking dogs look like carpenters or surgeons, depending on the type of mask they were able to pick up.
Families crowd in the interstate highway areas, their cars filled with personal belongings. Highway 101 crosses hills that dominate the California coastline and entire hills are marked in black. In Santa Rosa it is possible to follow the direction of the wind through which the buildings have been reduced to ashes and which have remained intact.
Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said a major fire in Napa County, known as the Atlas Fire, was confined to 3%. The same modest progress had been made against the fire of Tubbs, who invaded the town of Santa Rosa in the midst of the winds after midnight Monday morning and sacrificed whole districts.
In Santa Rosa on Wednesday, Ameir Kazemi watched the smoldering remains of his company, the Mohawk Sign Company. It has been a Santa Rosa institution for 50 years, and Kazemi, 33, has owned it for a decade. Now it’s a pile of ashes and charred wood. Monday at 3:45 pm, Kazemi’s friends began calling him home, warning him that wildfire had jumped on the highway. He wanted to rush to the store, but he could not leave his pregnant wife.