Fires burn across Sonoma and Napa counties as thousands flee devastating flames

'It was very spooky. It was like an apocalypse,' says Fountaingrove resident Laura Mills, one of the thousands forced to flee uncontrolled fires burning in Sonoma and Napa counties.|

Two massive fires burned more than 50,000 acres across Sonoma and Napa counties, leveling neighborhoods and businesses from north Santa Rosa to the Sonoma Valley and Calistoga early Monday, forcing massive overnight evacuations of homes and hospitals as firefighters battled to gain an upper hand against the flames. The firestorms were among an estimated 10 blazes burning uncontrolled across the North Bay and into Lake and Mendocino counties.

Here are the latest dispatches from the region:


Santa Rosa has imposed a curfew in the mandatory evacuation areas from 6:45 p.m. until sunrise, said acting Police Chief Craig Schwartz. Anyone found outside in those areas during the curfew will be stopped by authorities and possibly arrested if they refuse to leave, Schwartz said at a news conference.

“It has been a horrific and terrifying night for a great many people,” Schwartz said. “Stay out of the mandatory evacuation areas for your own safety.”

The Tubbs fire has claimed the lives of 7 people so far but officials expect that number to rise.

“It’s just too early - we can’t even get into a lot of the spots, “ said Sheriff Rob Giordano at the news conference. “So I don’t expect that to stay that way very long.” ?Additionally, authorities said two people died in Mendocino County and two died in Napa County as a result of fires there.

Officials have urged patience as authorities focus on life-saving efforts until further details emerge. ?“I’m as frustrated as a lot of you at the scarcity of information that we have at this point,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey. “I want to know how many people have died, how many people have been injured, how many people are in shelters, how many people have been evacuated, how many structures have been lost. It’s frustrating. On the other hand ... our personnel have been out there doing the job of saving lives and that’s gotta come first.”

5 p.m.

From his vantage point in a subdivision on Faught Road south of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville said multiple factors were helping firefighters to begin gaining ground on the blaze.

Strong winds had begun to lessen, and Sonoma County firefighters were now joined by crews from other regions.

“The chaos and the weather, the wind, we were way behind the curve, and nature was in control,” Tuberville said. “Now that the fire has slowed down, we are able to start putting the wildland fire out, which stops forward progress, and really start saving homes.”

Tuberville said there were no damaged homes near him. Still, he could see flames backing down from the parkland hills in the woodland’s understory.

Emergency personnel were in the area checking on residents in the rural area.

Highway 101, closed from Steele Lane to Shiloh Road earlier in the day, was reopened around 4:30 p.m., officials said.

Sonoma Supervisor James Gore, whose north county district has been heavily impacted by the fires, said he had relatives who lost their homes who would need to stay to stay with his family.

“It’s horrible,” Gore said. “The other thing is that it’s a frenzy out here. I’m trying to remind people, like on social media and other things, to watch their own actions and be careful about themselves. I’ve seen two accidents out here in the last couple of hours. … People are on their phones, they’re trying to get signals. There’s a lot of traffic. Everyone’s stressed out.”

Gore said he heard of a couple who were at one point stuck in the mountains outside Geyserville trapped on a boat in the middle of a pond with fire all around them. The couple’s daughter contacted Gore through Facebook pleading for help and a helicopter to rescue them, after which Gore helped reach out to emergency dispatchers, he said.

“I just got word that they’re safe,” he said. “Small victories. Small reassurances.”


1: 45 p.m.

The toll of injuries and fatalities in Santa Rosa was still taking shape Monday afternoon, as emergency responders continued to fight the fire and ensure residents had left neighborhoods threatened by fires.

By noon, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s emergency room staff had treated more than 60 people, including two with extensive burns listed in critical condition, spokeswoman Vanessa deGier said. The injuries were moderate for 15 people, and another 43 were listed as having minor injuries.

Memorial Hospital took in evacuated patients from neighboring hospitals, including Kaiser and Sutter Medical Center on the north side of town. Patients included expectant mothers in active labor and newly born infants, deGier said.

In Napa, Queen of the Valley Hospital had treated 40 patients, mostly suffering from smoke inhalation. One severely burned person was transferred to a burn center, and another four people were treated for minor burns.

At Petaluma Valley Hospital, medical staff treated six people for a variety of fire-related conditions, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, asthma and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick said the coroner’s team had responded to several reports of possible fatalities, but none was yet confirmed. In many cases, deputies have been unable to enter still-smoldering properties to investigate.

Law enforcement agencies from across the Bay Area sent officers and deputies to join with Sonoma County teams, helping to evacuate and guard neighborhoods. Essick estimated at least 140 personnel from agencies outside of Sonoma County were on the ground to help.

Deputies were responding to several reports of possible looters, and officers were spread out to help guard the neighborhoods, he said.

Monday afternoon, Essick drove through Larkfield to survey the damage, and was stunned by the sight.

“The neighborhoods ... there is nothing, just chimneys,” Essick said.


1 p.m.

Cellphone coverage has been intermittent throughout Monday as flames have knocked out communication equipment in the region.

“Due to wildfires, some wireless customers in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Humboldt counties and their surrounding areas may be experiencing issues with their wireless services,” said Leland Kim, media relations director for AT&T. “We are working to restore service as quickly as possible.”

There was no indication as to when service would be restored or how many customers are affected.

“We don’t have that information at this time,” Kim said.

T-Mobile customers reported similar issues, but officials with that company did not know when problems would be remedied.

“Crews will work to restore as soon as it’s safe to do so,” a T-Mobile representative said in a statement. “Timeline is completely dependent on when the sites are safe to access.”


12:30 p.m.

By noon, the overall devastation began to take shape, spread through large areas of the city.

“A majority of the north, northeast, northwest portions of Santa Rosa are devastated. The volume of residential neighborhoods and commercial complexes burning and continuing to burn is incomprehensible,” Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said.

Blocks of homes in Coffey Park subdivision in northwest Santa Rosa were gone, he said. The fire was burning along Piner Road headed toward Fulton Road, but that arm of the fire hadn’t crossed south of Piner Road.

To the south along Cleveland Avenue, numerous businesses were gone. “Trader Joe’s, all the commercial buildings in that area are destroyed,” he said.

Fire continued burning atop Fountaingrove, including at Keysight Technologies.

Lowenthal, who lost his Larkfield home, said “there wasn’t much standing,” along Old Redwood Highway corridor from Larkfield south toward Santa Rosa. A large firefighting effort had been set up at Cardinal Newman High School but he wasn’t sure about the extent of damage.

To the east, numerous homes in Sky Farm off Highway 12 were gone.

“There were multiple fingers. It wasn’t like one wall of fire. You could see fire moving around, different knobs, different hills,” he said. “It’s incredible that it got to where it did go in that short amount of time.”


11:45 a.m.

“It’s possible we have fatalities,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

State officials said the extent of injuries and scope of the damage were still under investigation more than 12 hours into the life of several destructive wildfires, but preliminary estimates suggested at least 1,500 structures had been destroyed, including homes and businesses, with many more threatened, according to Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott.

Cal Fire and state emergency officials held a press conference Monday morning from the Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento County.

“Imagine a wind-whipped fire burning at explosive rates ... burning department stores, impacting hospitals,” Pimlott said.


11 a.m. Monday

At daylight, aircraft were finally deployed to help battle the wildfires and help firefighters on the ground gain a better sense of the size of the infernos.

The Tubbs fire had spread across an estimated 30,000 acres, covering an area from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, including Larkfield, Wikiup toward Windsor and south down Hopper Avenue to Cleveland Avenue and into Coffey Park residential areas to Piner Road, said Todd Derum, Cal Fire division chief for Sonoma County.

The Nunns fire burning in the Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley areas was estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 acres. It had merged with the Adobe fire, burning in the hills ringing Glen Ellen and stretching from Nunns Canyon to Bennett Valley after jumping Highway 12.

Many homes burned, but Derum had no estimate of the numbers.

Derum said the fires may have started with Sunday’s dry, powerful northeast winds and dry conditions, which he called “a common denominator.”

Derum said he’d heard several calls for medical aid for people with burns. He’d heard of no deaths as of late Monday morning.

Efforts to command the Tubbs fire fight started in north Santa Rosa, but had to move to a nearby firehouse when the fire got too close, burning Kmart on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa where fire officials initially gathered.

Later Monday, state and local fire officials planned to set up their headquarters at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

“The wind has pushed so hard so fast. There are so many fires most of our efforts are very similar to the Valley fire - just getting people out of the way,” Derum said.


10:45 a.m. Monday

Santa Rosa police ordered additional mandatory evacuations in two eastern neighborhoods: Rincon Valley and Oakmont.

In Rincon Valley, the area impacted were streets north of Montecito Boulevard and east of Brush Creek Road, stretching all the way to the city’s eastern limit.

All of the Oakmont community was ordered to evacuate.

“This is a life-threatening event,” officials said in a statement broadcast on Nixle.


10 a.m. Monday

Confronted by an advancing 300-acre fire burning through the Sonoma Valley, authorities Monday morning evacuated the Sonoma Developmental Center, a facility for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled on a wooded Arnold Drive campus, according to Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin.

Apart from a few medically fragile patients who remained on site, most of the 240 residents were being sheltered at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building on First Street West, Gorin said.

“This is just awful. It looks like my entire district is burning,” said Gorin, who has been in Colorado to be present at a grandchild’s birth, and was making arrangements to return to Sonoma County Monday night.

Gas fires were still burning at the ravaged sites where homes once stood.

The old Chateau St Jean Winery building appears to be standing but homes behind it were burned. The french style building stands at the base of a mountain that was thick with smoke.

Bijan Kazemi, who lives at Adobe Canyon Road where at least a half dozen homes burned, decided not to evacuate and spent the night saving his house.

“I called friends from Marin. I had fire hoses and water stored and a generator. My girlfriend went into town and begged a firetruck to come to our house,” he said, crediting two young volunteer firefighters from Bodega Bay for saving his house.

“I’m going to find you Emily and Justin and thank you,” an exhausted Kazemi said Monday morning as he combed through the smoldering rubble of Treehaven Court where all the houses were gone.


9 a.m. Monday

In Kenwood and Glen Ellen, fire destroyed homes on both sides of Highway 12.

Longtime resident Cindy Lock, who lives near the Morton Warm Springs resort in Glen Ellen, was checking on the homes of friends, some of whom have resided in the area for decades.

“It’s devastating, it’s overwhelming,” Cindy Lock, who lives near Morton Warm Springs in Glen Ellen.


8 a.m. Monday

Burning over a massive portion of the region from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, the latest estimate put the Tubbs fire at 20,000 acres, Lowenthal said. The fire had no single front but rather was spreading its fingers uncontrolled into north Santa Rosa. Since its origin somewhere near Highway 128 in Napa County, the fire moved down Mark West Road and into Santa Rosa, leveling entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, where three-story homes were burning along Thomas Lake Harris Drive. The city’s new fire station in the area, Fire State 5, was destroyed.

Strong winds blew throughout the night, ripping branches off trees, downing power lines and causing emergency vehicles to rock on the wheels.

“Trees were toppling over and debris was making visibility next to nothing,” Lowenthal said.

Law enforcement officers were arriving from across the region to assist in the emergency response, which still involved evacuations in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Kenwood and Glen Ellen.


7 a.m. Monday

Another wildfire burning in the Sonoma Valley made its march from Glen Ellen over Sonoma Mountain overnight, with flames visible by morning coming down the western side, Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Director Brian Masterson said, noting the scene was “surreal.”

The encroaching blaze led authorities to issue evacuation orders for eastern Rohnert Park, including the G and H sections.

“ On the eastern end of the community, we have a lot of open field, we’re worried that if the wind picks up it can go quick,” Masterson said.


Pre-dawn firefight and evacuations

Other regional fires had already depleted regional fire resources, particularly a blaze of several hundred acres in Napa County, and Sonoma County fire officials said they were urging state authorities to send more help. At least five fires in Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties were threatening residential communities, Cal Fire officials said.

“We’ve been wondering, ‘Where in the heck are they?’” Windsor Fire Chief Jack Piccinini said about 6 a.m. “I’ve asked, ‘Are units coming?’ and was told no, they’re going to the Atlas fire (in Napa County). That’s painful news to us. We’re still spread so thin.”

Highway 101 in Santa Rosa was completely shut down in both north and south directions, from Steele Lane to Mark West Springs Road.

The sound of explosions, mostly bursting propane tanks, punctuated the rush as authorities raced to evacuate hospitals, senior centers and apartment complexes in Santa Rosa while fleeing residents packed the roads.

“Most of Coffey Park is gone, from about Dennis Lane to Piner Road,” said CHP Officer Jon Sloat, who saw his parents’ home burn. “Larkfield is gone. The Luther Burbank Center For the Arts was on fire last I checked.”

Cal Fire Division Chief Greg Bertelli urged people close to the fire zones to err on the side of caution and evacuate early.

“Don’t try to stay and sit it out, it’s important to try to help each other and evacuate,” Bertelli said. “Life and safety. Other things can be replaced, but take care of yourself, your loved ones.”

The fire burning in Santa Rosa was just one of a series of wildfires burning through swaths of Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties, breaking out in a series starting about 10 p.m. Sunday.

“These blazes have taken place at an individual’s most vulnerable time, when they are home and in bed,” State Sen. Mike McGuire said.

The fire burning in Santa Rosa is believed to have begun late Sunday night near Highway 128 in Napa County and moved down Mark West Road toward Santa Rosa. The fire leveled entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, where three-story homes were burning along Thomas Lake Harris Drive. The city’s new fire station in the area, Fire State 5, was destroyed.

The hills surrounding Santa Rosa glowed red early Monday, and evacuees fleeing the fire clogged West College Avenue at 3 a.m. as officials opened additional shelters throughout Sonoma County.

“Of great concern is Kenwood, Glen Ellen and greater Santa Rosa,” McGuire said.

Darkness made it difficult to determine how many acres had burned and impossible to fight the fires from the air. McGuire said that hundreds of firefighters were en route from throughout the state and that aerial attacks would begin at first light, with winds expected to ease by 9 a.m.

Another branch of a wildfire was spreading from Geyserville and heading toward Cloverdale, Sonoma County sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said.

“Up here in the hills, there is lots of fire, lots of smoke, and we have to be very careful we don’t get ourselves strapped,” Crum said. “There are a lot of one-way in, one-way out roads.”

Both Sutter and Kaiser evacuated patients from their Santa Rosa hospitals as the fire approached. Traffic was backed up at multiple intersections in the Larkfield and Wikiup areas. Many people had abandoned their cars in the streets to flee the flames.

In Santa Rosa, the fire burned through the Sky Farm subdivision above Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood and raced down the hill toward the Larkfield-Wikiup area. The fire tore through homes surrounding Cardinal Newman High School. Santa Rosa’s historic round barn, at the gateway to Fountaingrove, was also burned, as was the Journey’s End mobile home park to the north of Kaiser Permanente’s hospital in Santa Rosa and multiple homes along Hopper Lane.

Rohnert Park police announced evacuations about 6:30 a.m. for the G and H section neighborhoods with officials urging people to head south.

The owner of Custom Sofas for Less, 5850 Redwood Drive in Rohnert Park, has opened his store as a temporary shelter for those who have been evacuated.

“The open sign is on,” said Michelle Nazzal of Santa Rosa, wife of owner Damian Nazzal.

“We literally could see flames from our apartment,” she said. “We just decided to leave. I thought it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

No air support would be available until first light.

“It’s real bad,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville said. “This is an example of nature in control, and we are doing what we can, but we’re not being that effective at stopping the fire.”

By 3 a.m., flames had jumped Highway 101 on the fire’s westward march. By 7 a.m., businesses in northwest Santa Rosa, including the Arby’s restaurant, McDonalds, and Kmart were seen burning.

An emergency evacuation center was full at the Finley Community Center in west Santa Rosa, located at 2060 W. College Ave. Cars filled the parking lot shortly before 3 a.m. Monday, and traffic was stopped trying to turn into the center.

The Finley Center was crowded with hundreds of evacuees as of 4 a.m. Many seniors from nursing homes from the hillside region were being brought to the center.

Ted Regan, who lives near Calistoga Road, said he saw the glow from the foothills behind his house about 2 a.m.

“It got brighter and brighter and then we saw flames. That’s when we said, ‘It’s time to go,’” Regan said.

He, his wife, two adult sons, two dogs, four cats and two birds all got in his car and left immediately.

Rachel McKenzie, who lives on Tuliptree Road, started to evacuate at 2 a.m. with her 12-year-old, Bryce Ward, and her husband, Kevin Ward. They left with their reptiles and dog as they fled their house. Pulling out, their neighbor’s house was fully engulfed in flames.

“It was totally chaotic,” McKenzie.

Her neighbor later called her and said her house burned down.

Laura Mills, who lives on Wedgewood Way in Fountaingrove, was forced to evacuate with her husband at 2 a.m.

“It was very spooky. It was like an apocalypse,” Mills said of the bumper-to-bumper traffic as she left her house.

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