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Fast-moving fires in California send tens of thousands of residents in wine country fleeing

APTOPIX California Wildfires
Posted at 1:59 PM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 15:59:20-04

Several new fires in Northern California torched thousands of acres in a day, including the fast-moving Glass Fire, which destroyed a winery.

The Glass Fire sparked in Napa County early Sunday morning just before 4:00 a.m. (7 am. ET) and had already burned through 11,000 acres of as Monday morning, moving into Sonoma County, Cal Fire said.

Flames tore through vineyards and structures near St. Helena, roaring over hills and jumping across both the Silverado Trail and the Lodi River, despite fire crews efforts to contain it, according to CNN affiliate KPIX.

"It's a cremation," Craig Battuello, whose family has raised grapes in St. Helena for more than a century, told the station. Flames also engulfed California's famed Chateau Boswell Winery along the Silverado Trail in the St. Helena area, KPIX reports.

Fueled by dry conditions and high winds, two other wildfires also erupted in the area Sunday night: The Boysen Fire just west of St. Helena and the Shady Fire near Santa Rosa, according to KPIX.

There have been more than 8,100 wildfires in the state this year and firefighters continue to fight at least 25 major blazes, Cal Fire said in a news release Sunday.

"Since August 15, when California's fire activity elevated, there have been 26 fatalities and over 7,000 structures destroyed," the release said.

'We left with nothing'

It took about 14 hours for the Glass Fire to burn through more than 2,000 acres, according to an incident report from Cal Fire. By Monday morning, two additional fires had started and merged with the Glass incident, Cal Fire said.

The fire is threatening thousands of structures, according to the incident report.

Fire has prompted tens of thousands of evacuations in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa Fire PIO Paul Lowenthal told KPIX.

Many have also been forced to leave Napa County, where thousands are under some form of evacuation notification, Napa County spokeswoman Janet Upton told CNN Sunday night.

Among those forced to evacuate the blaze was Jan Zakin, who lives in the evacuation zone on North Crystal Springs Road, CNN affiliate KGO reported.

Zakin told the affiliate that she had to flee quickly as flames surrounded her home.

"We woke up in the middle of the night and saw flames," Zakin told KGO. "I was in my underwear. There was a car on fire blocking access out. My dog ran away; I still haven't found her. We left with nothing, just literally with nothing. We're so lucky to be alive."

Her dog was found hours later, badly burned, and is being treated by a vet, KGO reported.

Another evacuee told KGO that the fires and evacuations are becoming an unwelcome part of life.

"It gets tiring, it's becoming a lifestyle," Magaly Otero, who was forced to evacuate due to the LNU Complex fire weeks ago, told the affiliate. "It's a beautiful place but it's not right."

Residents were heeding evacuation warnings Sunday, Napa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Henry Wofford told CNN

"We activated the high-low siren on our vehicles because we knew we needed to get people out of there quickly," Wofford said.

"When they hear that high-low siren coming from cars as we drove through their neighborhoods they know it's time to evacuate," he said. "The motto is, 'if I can hear it, it's time to go.'"

St. Helena Hospital, located in the foothills, also had to evacuate for the second time this summer due to fire risk, Upton told CNN.

Zogg Fire chars at least 15,000 acres

In Shasta County, the Zogg Fire had charred about 15,000 acres by Monday morning after doubling in size overnight, prompting mandatory evacuations in several areas.

Officials did not say how many homes or people were under the evacuation order due to the blaze.

Firefighters have been battling the August Complex Fire in several neighboring counties for more than a month. That fire has burned more than 870,000 acres since being sparked by lightning in August.

Multiple roads have been closed as fire operations continue throughout the region.

Weather conditions remain dry

The National Weather Service has put much of California under a Red Flag Warning through Monday. In Butte County, town of Paradise was bracing for the worst as the North Complex Fire burns nearby, but the town appears to be in the clear for now.

Cal Fire official Shane Lauderdale said Monday that they are "very, very happy" because "fire activity was minimal" in that area and "everything stayed within the control lines" through the latest wind event.

The more than 3 million acres burned in wildfires this year in California is 26 times higher than the acres burned in 2019 for the same time period, according to Cal Fire.

In Southern California, the NWS tweeted, "Due to hot temperatures, dry conditions, and gusty Santa Ana winds, a Red Flag Warning will be in effect on Monday for the LA/Ventura mountains and Santa Clarita Valley. There will be the potential for rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior, so be alert."

Planned power outages

Concerns about high winds and continued dry conditions have led PG&E to shut off power in some areas in an effort to prevent more wildfires, which can be sparked by electrical equipment.

On Sunday, the utility said the planned shutoffs in northern California had decreased from 100,000 to 65,000 because of "favorable changes in forecast weather conditions."

Napa County, where the Glass Fire is burning is on the list of counties expected to experience shutoffs.

"Once the high winds subside Monday morning, PG&E will inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event, and then restore power," according to the release. "PG&E will safely restore power in stages as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring power to nearly all customers who are safe to restore within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed."

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