Dozens dead. Hundreds missing. Countless homes and businesses lost. Infrastructure damage that is unparalleled in the state’s history of wildfires. Search-and-rescue teams in Northern California will continue to comb through burned homes for hundreds of people still missing in the state’s deadliest wildfires.
The foes have definitely killed at least 41 people. The weather has been a benefit at least. Light winds are expected to continue, a condition that has helped 11,000 firefighters control the flames which in the past week have consumed more than 245,000 acres (86,200 hectares) in the state – an area more than five times the size of Washington, D.C. The affected area includes Napa and Sonoma counties in California’s wine country.
“We’re in a far better position today than we were several days ago,” Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said in a phone interview early on Tuesday, referring to the Napa Valley. Tens of thousands of people who fled the flames in Sonoma County and elsewhere have been allowed to return home. About 34,000 were still displaced.
More evacuees hoped to return home on Tuesday, though officials said the death toll may rise with at least 80 people still missing. The Tubbs fire around Calistoga was 82 percent contained and the Atlas fire to the southeast was 77 percent contained on Tuesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the state’s firefighting agency.
The Nuns Fire, located in Sonoma County and now the state’s largest fire, was 68 percent contained. Fire officials, employing more than 960 fire engines, 30 air tankers and 73 helicopters, hoped the blazes would be fully contained by Friday. Precipitation is also expected to arrive later in the week, bringing relief from dry conditions.
Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, which had to evacuate last week, reopened on Tuesday morning, the Sonoma Sheriff’s Department said. Kevin Klotter, who owns Valley Quail Vineyard in Redwood Valley, about 15 miles (24 km) north of Ukiah, said Tuesday his house and two barns on the 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) property were destroyed but he had managed to harvest 22 tons of grapes from 4 acres (1.6 hectares) of vineyard on Friday.
“Miraculously, the vineyard survived,” he said, adding that insurance was paying for a motel in Ukiah for him and wife Bree and then will pay for a recreational vehicle to put on his property as a temporary residence while they rebuild at an estimated cost of $700,000.
Daniel Mufson, 74, a retired pharmaceutical executive and one of scores of Napa Valley residents who lost their homes in the fires, described his sense of bewilderment.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out what the next steps are. We’re staying with friends, and dealing with the issues of dealing with insurance companies and getting things cleaned up,” Mufson, who is also president of the community-activist coalition Napa Vision 2050, said in an interview.
At least 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the wildfires that erupted a week ago, with possibly 100,000 suffering some form of damage. Entire neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa were reduced to ashes.
The wildfires are California’s deadliest on record, surpassing the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles, which had 29 fatalities. Most of the 1,863 people listed in missing-persons reports have so far turned up safe, including many evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes.
About 30 vintners sustained some fire damage to wine-making facilities, vineyards, tasting rooms or other assets, according to the industry group Napa Valley Vintners.
Only about a half-dozen winemakers reported significant losses, spokeswoman Patsy McGaughy said. Vineyards, which mostly occupy the valley floor, appear to have been largely unscathed as the fires in Napa County burned mainly in the hillsides, McGaughy said.
About 90 percent of Napa’s grape harvest had been picked and escaped exposure to smoke that could have tainted the fruit. Still, the toll taken on the region has thrown the wine industry into disarray, and McGaughy said the 2017 Napa vintage will likely be smaller than previously expected.
“This is a human tragedy, there are people who have lost their lives, lost their homes, lost their business,” McGaughy said, adding that Napa’s celebrated viniculture would recover.