California wildfires update: More wind, more evacuations, more destruction

(Originally published at 7:14 a.m. PDT October 12, 2017)

After a day of relative calm and progress, high winds — some gusting to 50 mph overnight — prompted red flag warnings in Northern California and will hinder firefighters trying to gain an edge in what will likely go down as the most deadly and destructive wildfire event in state history.

The latest figures on this week’s wildfire outbreak, per CAL FIRE as of late Wednesday:

  • 22 wildfires have burned more than 170,000 acres
  • 3,500 homes and structures have been destroyed
  • 21 people have died, and that figure is expected to rise
  • More than 8,000 firefighters are working fires across the state, primarily those in Northern California’s wine country. This includes crews on 550 engines, 73 helicopters and 30 air tankers.

This New York Times analysis, from the air and ground adds to grim picture emerging from wine country, where the number of structures destroyed stands to climb.

While progress has been made on containment for many of the smaller fires, several major fires continue to expand, forcing even more evacuations Wednesday night and into Thursday, including the 5,000 people who live in Calistoga.

“Forecasted conditions have worsened. In the interest of life safety, it has become necessary to expand and implement the CAL FIRE Mandatory evacuation for the entire city of Calistoga,” city officials said. 

Among the largest incidents, as of Wednesday night’s update:

  • Atlas Fire: 43,000 acres and 3 percent contained
  • Tubbs Fire: 27,000 acres and 10 percent contained (at least 11 people were killed in this incident, making it the single deadliest blaze in this outbreak, according to CAL FIRE.
  • Redwood/Potter Fires (Mendocino Lake Complex): 30,000 acres and 5 percent contained

Here’s a list of the 20 most damaging fires in California history. Atop the list is the Tunnel Fire a 1,600-acre blaze that rekindled in October 1991 and tore through Oakland Hills, killing 25 people and destroying 2,900 structures. We wrote about the two of the top five, the Cedar and Witch fires, in a post earlier this week. Four of the top five started in October, when fuel loads are driest and Santa Ana wind events are inevitable.

On Thursday night, perimeters expanded on some fires with the return of high winds. The National Weather Service re-issued red flag warnings through Thursday for much of Northern California.

The bulletin today:

“Although the wind will not be as strong as Sunday and
Sunday night, the dry northerly winds could rapidly spread
current and new wildfire activity…”
Easing winds and a shift in a direction should reduce some fire dangers by the afternoon.
But it stands to be a busy weekend.
“A stronger wind event will impact the area late Friday night into Sunday. The strongest winds winds look to occur late Friday night and Saturday. Winds for the valley will taper off Saturday night but increase once again for many mountain and foothill areas before tapering off on Sunday. Most critical areas of concern where the strongest winds are expected will be across exposed ridges and through wind-aligned drainages.”

 

Author: Jason Pohl

In addition to writing for Wildfire Today, Jason Pohl reports on public safety-related issues for The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY.

2 thoughts on “California wildfires update: More wind, more evacuations, more destruction”

  1. Regarding that top 20 list. Perhaps I’m missing something but what about such fatality fires in California like Griffith Park (1933), Hauser Creek (1943) Rattlesnake (1953), Inaja (1956), Loop (1966) and Canyon (1968)? And in the 1970 fire season there were 16 lives lost.

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