SONOMA — Rising winds fanned Wine Country wildfires again Saturday, forcing hundreds more people to flee from their homes and threatening to undo the efforts of crews who have spent days trying to corral the flames behind firebreaks.
Just a day after firefighters reported making significant progress, the winds kicked up and pushed flames into the hills at the edge of Sonoma, a town of 11,000. About 400 homes were evacuated in Sonoma and a portion of Santa Rosa that included Oakmont, the retirement community that evacuated earlier this week, authorities said.
Dean Bordigioni, winemaker and proprietor at the Annadel Estate Winery awoke at 3 a.m. to see flames erupting over the ridge above his property. "Things went to hell last night," he said. "They've got a good fight going on."
Nearly a week after the blazes began, the zone containing scattered fires had swollen to an area as wide as 100 miles. The flames have left at least 35 people dead and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, making them the deadliest and most destructive group of wildfires California has ever seen.
On Saturday, an unknown number of additional structures burned down in a rural area, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Judy Guttridge, who was evacuating for the second time this week, said her daughter saw flames advancing over the side of a hill around the same time Bordigioni did and told the family to get out.
"I have good insurance, everything," she said. "All the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids are fine. I'm OK with that."
Firefighters spent much of the last week digging defense lines to keep the flames from spreading. On Friday, they tried to fortify the edge of Sonoma using bulldozers and other heavy equipment.
But if winds push the flames over that barrier, neighborhoods including some of the town's costliest homes stand in the path, along with a historic central plaza built centuries ago when the area was under Spanish rule.
The renewed strength of the winds was "testing the work that we accomplished," Berlant said. The greatest risk was that winds would blow embers across the firebreaks and ignite new blazes.
Winds gusting up to 40 mph were expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening.
The latest estimates were that about 100,000 people were under evacuation orders as the fires burned for a sixth day. Some people who have been evacuated all week demanded to get back into their homes.
Douglas and Marian Taylor stood outside their apartment complex Saturday in Santa Rosa with their two dogs and a sign that said "End evacuation now."
Their building was unharmed at the edge of the evacuation zone with a police barricade set up across the street. The couple said they are spending about $300 per day to rent a motel and eat out, and they want to return home because the fire does not appear to threaten their home.
At an evacuation center at the fairgrounds in the city of Petaluma, volunteers sifted through mounds of donated baby wipes, diapers, pillows, shoes and clothing.
Randy Chiado and his wife, Barbara, evacuated Monday from the Oakmont section of Santa Rosa. They stayed for several days with a friend in Santa Rosa but left Saturday when flames approached again and sought refuge at the fairgrounds.
MENTAL HEALTH CRUNCH
WHAT HAPPENED: Memorial Hospital announced this week it would close the only inpatient psychiatric care unit in Sonoma County in 60 days.
WHERE WILL PATIENTS GO: Patients with acute mental health crises may be sent out of the county for treatment; if there are no beds available elsewhere, they could end up at the county jail.
WHAT'S AHEAD: County officials say they are trying to set up an alternative, non-hospital facility.