Monday 23 September 2019

People refusing wildfire evacuation order warned: 'You are on your own'

A firefighter monitors a flare-up at the head of a wildfire in Sonoma, California. Photo: AP
A firefighter monitors a flare-up at the head of a wildfire in Sonoma, California. Photo: AP

Noel Randewich

Firefighters faced another round of dry, windy conditions yesterday as they battled wildfires that have killed at least 31 people in Northern California and left hundreds missing in the heart of wine country.

The most lethal wildfire event in California's history has killed people while they sleep in their beds and prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of residents, warning anyone deciding to wait it out: "You are on your own."

The toll from the more than 20 fires raging across eight counties could climb, with more than 400 people in Sonoma County alone still listed as missing.

With winds of up to 100kmh and humidity of just 10pc set to create "critical fire weather conditions" and "contribute to extreme fire behaviour" yesterday afternoon and today, according to the National Weather Service, a force of 8,000 firefighters was working to reinforce and extend buffer lines across the region where the flames have scorched more than 190,000 acres.

With 3,500 homes and businesses incinerated, the so-called North Bay fires have reduced whole neighbourhoods in the city of Santa Rosa to smouldering ruins dotted with charred trees and burned-out cars.

The cause of the disaster is under investigation, but officials said power lines toppled by gale-force winds last Sunday night may have sparked it.

The Napa Valley town of Calistoga faced one of the biggest threats and its 5,000-plus residents were ordered from their homes.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said anyone refusing to heed the mandatory evacuation would be left to fend for themselves if fire approached, warning: "You are on your own."

Sonoma County accounted for 17 of the North Bay fatalities, all from the Tubbs fire, which now ranks as California's deadliest single wildfire since 2003.

Some people killed were asleep when flames engulfed their homes, fire officials said. Others had only minutes to escape as winds fanned fast-moving blazes.

Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, said the loss of phone towers likely contributed to difficulties in warning residents.

Irish Independent

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