Residents should have bags packed, “nose pointed out driveway,” Cal Fire says
Hundreds of wind-driven, lightning-stoked wildfires tore through Northern California on Wednesday, touching every Bay Area county except San Francisco, rousting residents from bed, destroying dozens of homes from the outskirts of Vacaville and threatening thousands more from the Wine Country to the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Carmel Valley.
By late Wednesday afternoon, firefighters rushed to protect the historic Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton above Silicon Valley, shut down Interstate 80 as another blaze hopped the freeway in Fairfield, and stood ready to protect the rustic mountain town of Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains.
“There’s not even close to enough equipment here,” Scotts Valley firefighter Jeff McNeil in Boulder Creek said on Wednesday afternoon. “The state is on fire. We’re stretched very thin.”
19 Augut, 2020
A major wildfire roared through Solano County Wednesday, jumping Interstate 80 in the late afternoon just north of Fairfield, briefly forcing cars to stop as firefighters fought the blaze from a frontage road.
The afternoon drama came at the end of a long and destructive day in the North Bay, where a lightning-caused fire prompted evacuation of several thousand residents in multiple neighborhoods in Fairfield and Vacaville, and burned dozens of homes in the hills outside those cities, forcing some rural residents to flee in the early-morning dark as flames blew onto their homesteads.
The lightning-caused fire, which ignited Monday morning near Hennessey Ridge Road in Napa County, is part of series of blazes that have burned as many as 100 structures, mainly in the dry hill and mountain areas of Solano and Napa.
The fire continued to burn out of control in the late afternoon. Evacuations were ongoing Wednesday throughout the day under a blanket of red clouds and amid falling flakes of ashes. The fire had not penetrated Fairfield proper as of late afternoon, and had reached into only a corner of Vacaville in the Browns Valley area, officials there said.
But U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, said the firefighters are over-matched at the moment, and are focusing on protecting lives and property while hoping for cooler weather soon to help contain the fire.
“We have a very dangerous situation, extreme temperatures, high winds, and a lot of fuel,” Garamendi said. “It’s a huge blaze. There isn’t enough equipment to contain it. It’s a matter now of saving lives and property until weather changes.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in the day said he has called on Texas, Arizona and Nevada to provide mutual aide fire crews.
Fire officials, who said at a press conference they are working with depleted resources, acknowledged the series of fires got out of control early Wednesday. Firefighting conditions remained rough heading into the evening, a CalFire official said.
“With the hot, dry conditions, and the difficult terrain, we can’t put crews in some areas,” spokesman Will Powers said.
EVACUATION WARNING IN FIVE NORTH BAY COUNTIES
Emergency officers issued a special plea Wednesday to people living near fire areas in Solano, Yolo, Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
The main Vacaville-area evacuations occurred early Wednesday, some of it before daybreak, when the Hennessey Fire headed east overnight from its origination in the hills between Napa and Solano, burning through cattle ranches in the hills around Pleasants Valley Road.
Those evacuations were followed by an even larger order for more than 10,000 residents to leave a swath of Sonoma County, including along the Russian River in the Guerneville and Rio Nido areas. A separate fire, the Walbridge Fire, was burning in that area. Other evacuations are taking place west of Healdsburg in the northern reaches of Sonoma’s wine country.
Evacuations were ordered just before 3 p.m. in Fairfield for residents in the Rancho Solano, Sanctuary and Rolling Hills neighborhoods. “Rancho Solano and Sanctuary neighborhoods, there is an immediate threat to life. This is a lawful order to leave now. The area is lawfully closed to public access,” the Fairfield Police Department said.
Minutes later, winds pushed it down a slope just outside the north end of Fairfield, and briefly jumped the eight-lane I-80, forcing traffic to a halt.
Lightning strikes during freak storms earlier this week caused an estimated 60 fires in all in the five counties, officials said, although only a handful of them were considered significant. In total, the cluster, called the LNU Lightning Complex, had burned 72 square miles by Wednesday morning.
Cal Fire officials reported four civilian injuries as of early Wednesday, but provided no details.
The fire came so fast in the Pleasants Valley Road area that several families barely escaped, and one was trapped for hours in a field before they could find an opening to get out.
Alex Vlasache, who lives on a ranch a few miles west of Vacaville, said “a great gust of wind” blew the fire onto their property at about 1 a.m. He, his wife and two children didn’t have time to open the pen for their cattle. As they drove off, fire whipped over the top of their camper like “a tunnel of inferno.”
“I thought we weren’t going to make it, but I saw a dirt field and we hoofed it over there,” he said. They waited there until flames abated, then fled again. They spent Wednesday morning in their camper in a furniture store parking lot awaiting word on where they should go next.
RUSHING OUT OF FLAMES’ WAY
At 1:30 a.m., ash and embers were falling around on his 11-acre property off of Pleasants Valley Road as Tim Clement frantically hooked up his family’s travel trailer. Clement said he had about 10 minutes for his wife, Michelle, and their two kids, Jason, 12, and Victoria, 10, to flee, as sheriff’s deputies drove around the neighborhood telling people to leave over a loudspeaker.
They left with just a handful of clothes out of their dirty clothes pile, their two dogs, their rabbit and their two cats.
“They’re not allowing us to go back, but just hearsay from two different neighbors that went back, they said the little area that we live in there was around 20 houses. Only one was standing. And it wasn’t mine,” he said.
Vacaville high school teacher Ryan Price said his neighborhood was smokey when he went to bed Tuesday night, but the fire seemed far enough away from his home. He was awakened at 3 a.m. by someone pounding on his front door. It was his brother in law.
“He looked panicky, and he said, ‘Hey, they’re evacuating everybody. You gotta get out of here,’ ” Price said. He, his wife, Kristin, their three children, Johnny, 12, Marcella, 15, Sophia, 11, left with their two dogs and their cat and drove to a relative’s house across town.
When they got there, Sophia started crying because she forget her goldfish, Sally. Price said he drove back into the evacuation zone and grabbed it for her. “The fish is OK, man,” he said.
Neighborhoods north of Fruitvale Road, between Browns Valley and Gibson Canyon roads, were evacuated, police say. Also being evacuated are North Alamo, North Orchard and Cheyenne Estates.
Vacaville Fire Chief Kris Concepcion said the flames burned “just barely” into the city in the Browns Valley area early Wednesday, but firefighters and homeowners preparation saved houses.
Wildfires Rage In California As Emergency Crews ‘Stretched Thin’, Grid Faces Further Rolling Outages