Easing winds give crews hope after California fires kill three | US & Canada

Easing winds gave California firefighters a break on Tuesday as they battled a destructive wildfire that was driven by strong winds through the region known as wine country north of San Francisco and another rural blaze that killed three people.

Breezes replaced the powerful gusts that sent the Glass Fire raging through Napa and Sonoma counties on Sunday and Monday, scorching more than 170 square kilometres (66 square miles).

At least 95 buildings have burned in wine country including homes and winery installations. A wildfire burning farther north in rural Shasta County has destroyed another 146 buildings.

The fire in wine country pushed through brush that had not burned for a century, even though surrounding areas were incinerated in a series of blazes in recent years.

As the winds eased on Monday evening, firefighters were feeling “much more confident”, said Ben Nicholls, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

“We don’t have those critical burning conditions that we were experiencing those last two nights,” he said.

Charred wine bottles rest at Castello di Amorosa, which was damaged in the Glass Fire [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

Dozens of fires burning

The Glass Fire is one of nearly 30 wildfires burning around California. The National Weather Service warned that hot, dry conditions with strong Santa Ana winds could continue posing a fire danger in Southern California through Tuesday afternoon.

In a forested far northern part of the state, more than 1,200 people were evacuated in Shasta County for the Zogg Fire, which has burned at least 160sq km (62sq miles).

Three people have died in the fire, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said on Monday. He gave no details but urged people who receive evacuation orders: “Do not wait.”

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

Residences are widely scattered in Shasta County, which was torched just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire – infamously remembered for producing a huge tornado-like fire whirl.

The Pacific Gas & Electric utility had cut power to more than 100,000 customers in advance of gusty winds and in areas with active fire zones. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

By Monday night, the utility said it had restored electricity to essentially all of those customers. However, PG&E said about 24,000 people remained without power in areas affected by two fires in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties.

So far in this year’s historic fire season, more than 8,100 California wildfires have killed 29 people, scorched 14,970sq km (5,780sq miles) and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.

Smoke rises over a vineyard as the Glass Fire burns [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

Thousands under evacuation orders

The Glass Fire began on Sunday as three fires merged and drove into vineyards and mountain areas, including part of the city of Santa Rosa. About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, including the entire 5,000-plus population of Calistoga in Napa County.

Some people were injured and Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies had to rescue people who ignored evacuation orders, officials said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who lives in Santa Rosa, said she was stuck in two hours of heavy traffic on Monday night to reach safety.

Gorin’s home was damaged in another fire three years ago and she was rebuilding it. She saw three neighbouring houses in flames as she fled.

“We’re experienced with that,” she said of the fires. “Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who’ve lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West.”

Gorin said it appeared the fire in her area was sparked by embers from the Glass Fire.

Flames from the Glass Fire consume the Glass Mountain Inn in St. Helena [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

‘Not out of the woods yet’

Ed Yarbrough, a wildfire evacuee from St Helena in Napa County, watched firefighters douse flames across from his house on Monday.

“I can see in the distance that it looks like it’s intact,” he said but said spot fires were still being doused.

“So I know we’re not really out of the woods yet, and the woods can burn,” he said.

The fires came as the region approaches the anniversary of the 2017 fires, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.

“Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with Cal Fire.

Officials did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the blaze engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery in St Helena and at least one five-star resort.

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