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Glass fire in Sonoma, Napa counties tops 36,000 acres, destroys 113 structures as thousands evacuated

Burning a path between wildfire scars that already have left an enduring mark on a traumatized region, the Glass fire cut across the Mayacamas Mountains into Sonoma County with explosive speed early Monday, tearing at the edges of residential neighborhoods and showering the region with ash and chunks of charred debris under a familiar orange-hued sky.

Less than 24 hours after the fast-growing blaze began on Howell Mountain east of Napa Valley, fire officials believe it threw embers across to the valley’s western side Sunday night, igniting two new branches of wind-driven fire that would need just six hours to travel about four miles into Santa Rosa, Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nicholls said.

Merged into the Glass fire, they collectively had consumed 36,236 acres as of 5 p.m. Monday and remained wholly uncontained. Cal Fire said 113 structures were destroyed in Napa and Sonoma counties, and 8,543 structures threatened Monday night. It was not clear how many of the structures were homes.

More than 68,000 people had been forced to flee homes in east Santa Rosa and unincorporated Sonoma County, city and county officials said. Another 30,000 or more were under warning to be ready to leave if fire conditions and activity warranted it, officials said.

On the other side of the fire in Napa County, the entire city of Calistoga was added late Monday to a large territory on both sides of the Napa Valley under evacuation.

In Sonoma County, the Glass fire destroyed homes in the Skyhawk and Oakmont subdivisions, and along Calistoga and Los Alamos roads, all on the eastern side of Santa Rosa, although the scale of the losses within the city had not been calculated by Monday night.

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner said the wildfire was particularly punishing to the north side of Highway 12, among rural homes and ranchettes off Los Alamos Road and Cougar Lane, near Hood Mountain and the ridgeline down which the flames descended on their way toward the Sonoma Valley floor.

Destroyed homes and structures also were visible Monday near Highway 12 and Melita Road, including houses along Somerville and Kertsinger roads, north of the highway. Some power poles in the area showed signs of obvious fire damage, leading them to crack and make roadways treacherous or impassable.

South of Highway 12, the fire made its way into Trione-Annadel State Park, threatening homes along Channel Drive and sending puffs of smoke skyward south of Melita Heights, a neighborhood on the far northern edge of the scenic park.

One spot from the fire burned along the edge of the Cobblestone trailhead, a popular uphill entrance on the eastern flank of the park, where burn marks stretched toward the west and into the park. Flames were visible near Violetti Road.

Resting in the northern reaches of the park with his engine crew Monday evening, in an area through which flames had spread around daybreak, Sonoma County Fire District Capt. Jason Jones described running a hose some 3,000 feet up to a group of water tanks so he and the other firefighters could watch and wait for flare-ups.

“What we’re trying to do is hold it at the fire line to try to keep it from progressing to the west,” Jones said.

But the evening was calm compared to the night before, when it was likely dozens of homes had burned, he said.

Fire officials had worried aloud earlier in the day about the possibility the flames would be pushed farther into Annadel and south toward Bennett Valley, and even into Rohnert Park.

“The fire is manipulated by the slope and the wind, and every spot on that fire acts a little differently, based on those conditions,” Gossner said. “So Calistoga Road is a concern. Oakmont is still a concern. Annadel State Park into Bennett Valley is a concern, and really the concern is all of those giving us challenges at one time. That’s going to be very difficult to deal, with knowing that we only have so many resources.”

But the high winds that helped fan the fire when it first started near Angwin early Sunday and facilitated its drive over the mountains into Santa Rosa the following night had diminished by Monday afternoon, allowing 1,466 firefighters a better chance to make progress.

“We are night and day compared to what we were last night,” Cal Fire’s Nicholls said during a late Monday afternoon news briefing. “Last night we knew that we had the wind coming. We’d had the wind the night before. So we don’t have those critical burning conditions that we were experiencing the last two nights.”

Nicholls said crews still had “a long road ahead of them” as they worked to establish lines around the fire, though Gossner even by midday expressed some confidence in the viability of Calistoga Road and Highway 12 as western and southern boundaries.

The Glass fire developed during critical, red-flag fire conditions that included high winds and hot, dry conditions that are expected to continue this week, though not with the same winds.

But the extreme conditions allowed embers to leap across Napa Valley and over the Mayacamas range along the one remaining path of unburned forest with no modern history of wildfire. It wove a path between the burn scars of the Tubbs and Nuns fires, which almost exactly three years ago blackened a combined 93,371 acres and destroyed nearly 7,000 structures in Sonoma and Napa counties during the 2017 North Bay firestorm. Those fires killed 24 people.

“That beautiful area was ripe for a fire,” said Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin, who lost her Oakmont home in the Nuns fire and is evacuated from her temporary home now.

Similar conditions existed in the hills of west Sonoma County when the Walbridge first hit in mid-August, burning more than 55,000 acres of rugged, timberland and dense chaparral largely untouched by flames for most of a century.

That fire, part of the LNU Lightning Complex fire, is still described as 98% contained.

The Glass fire broke out at 3:50 a.m. Sunday on the eastern rim of the Napa Valley, east of Silverado Trail between Calistoga and St. Helena. Firefighters believe gusty winds drove embers from that blaze across the vineyards on the valley floor and into the trees on the slopes of Spring Mountain, on the west side of the Napa Valley above St. Helena, where it began burning into Sonoma County.

The secondary blaze, initially called the Shady fire, ignited about 7 p.m. Sunday near the 3100 block of Spring Mountain Road. The fire was first spotted by an engine company stationed outside St. Helena for the Glass fire, according to Gossner.

Another spot fire — initially called the Boyson fire — was reported 20 minutes later on St. Helena Road, according to a Cal Fire spokesman.

Fueled by powerful winds, the fire burned over the Mayacamas range, through the St. Helena road corridor, into the Hood Mountain area and crested a ridge heading down the Los Alamos drainage by 9:45 p.m.

The fire came over the ridge above Skyhawk around 11:15 p.m. and, within about 20 minutes, flames were visible on the hill, spotting downslope. By about 1:50 a.m. the first houses in Sky Hawk began catching, and the first of several homes to be destroyed was engulfed nine minutes later.

Nicholls said the primary area in Sonoma County burned by the Glass fire “was one of the last remaining areas in the county that did not have recorded fire history, so there was a much greater accumulation of vegetation on the landscape than we have in other areas in the county,” contributing to extreme fire behavior as flames came over the ridgeline into Santa Rosa.

But Gossner also noted that some of the fire spread also into the existing burn scars, where “it burned just as well … because that has been filled in with light, flashy fuels like grass and some new shrub, so every year brings a new challenge.”

Fueled by strong gusting winds, fire behavior grew more aggressive by 1 a.m. Embers ignited spot fires across Highway 12 near Oakmont and the fire crested the ridge above the Skyhawk subdivision.

By 8 a.m., flames had reached the county’s Los Guilicos complex off Pythian Road. Sixty residents of Los Guilicos Village, a permanent shelter and service center for formerly homeless individuals, had by then been evacuated. Four of their units would be destroyed by daybreak.

Chris Grabill, the director of the camp, which is operated and managed by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and its executive director, Santa Rosa Councilman Jack Tibbetts, made quick work of getting residents off the campus as they recognized the danger and saw Highway 12 filling with traffic.

“Anyone who started freaking out and getting that panic paralysis, there was always someone else to say, ‘Hey, this is really hard, but we have to go,’” Grabill said. “I think it really helped that people had been through hard things together on the street before.”

Firefighters and Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies had to rescue people who had delayed evacuating in the Los Alamos canyon late Sunday, sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said.

Officials urged all to heed evacuation warnings and especially orders to spare firefighters and law enforcement who must be focused on saving homes.

Firefighting resources were thin late Sunday in the North Bay and across Northern California where three major fires broke out in Napa, Butte and Shasta counties earlier in the day.

Four local strike teams that had been sent to help fight fire in Napa County were quickly sent back to Sonoma County when the first reports of a spot fire came in about 7 p.m.

Fire activity Sunday increased on the 6-week-old August Complex fire — California’s largest fire at nearly 900,000 acres — burning in the Mendocino National Forest, destroying homes around Ruth Lake in Trinity and Humboldt counties.

Still, a “significant” number of firefighters and other resources who were assigned to the August complex were sent south to help battle fire in Sonoma and Napa counties “to try to get an early attack” on the Glass fire, according to Brian Ferguson, Cal OES spokesman.

Multiple air tankers were utilized Sunday, as well, and fire officials were grateful for overnight guidance from overhead air surveillance for their ground attack, though thick smoke grounded fixed-wing aircraft on Monday.

“When there are new starts, we pull resources off to get to these fires really before they can get established,” Ferguson said.

With 18,000 firefighters currently assigned to fires throughout the state, Ferguson said the state was working hard to enlist additional resources, noting that crews from Texas had flights scheduled and were to get to the fire line sometime Tuesday.

“The state has more firefighters out now than we ever had in our history,“ Ferguson said.

The county twice late Sunday issued an “all call” requesting any firefighter in the area to report to the Safeway parking lot at Calistoga Road and Highway 12, drawing an additional five strike teams. Gossner said additional engines crews showed up during the second call for crews to respond to the unfolding disaster.

“I can’t stress enough — there are never enough resources to do what you need on a fire like this,” Gossner said. “As much as we scraped to get resources, you only have so many but you use them to the best of our ability.”

Staff Writers Tyler Silvy, Nashelly Chavez, Will Schmitt, Kerry Benefield, and Lori A. Carter contributed to this report.

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