More than a dozen wildfires race through Northern California, death toll expected to rise

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Photo CHP Golden Gate Division

Fourteen fast-moving wildfires racing through Northern California Monday have destroyed at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings, forced thousands to flee and killed at least 10 people with authorities now saying more fatalities are likely.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Department issued a news release at 4:38 p.m. confirming seven deaths. One person was killed in Mendocino County and a couple died in their home at the Silverado Resort in Napa. 

A Cal Fire spokeswoman in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit said power is still out in the St. Helena and Calistoga areas and there is no cell phone service.

According to the couple's granddaughter Ruby Gibney, Charles, also known as Peach, and Sara Rippey were unable to escape from their home, located on Atlas Peak Road, and died in the blaze. Gibney tells KTVU Peach had just turned 100 and Sara was 99. The couple had recently celebrated 75 years of marriage. 

The Atlas Fire started around 9:20 p.m. Sunday off Atlas Peak Road south of Lake Berryessa.

More than 100 people have been treated for injuries, including burns and smoke inhalation at hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties, officials said.

As he fled through the ember-strewn streets of his neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Jeff Okrepkie knew it was probably the last time he would see his home of the past five years standing.

His worst fears were confirmed Monday morning, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smoldering heap of burnt metal and debris.

"We live in the valley, where it's concrete and strip malls and hotels and supermarkets," Okrepkie said. "The last thing you think is a forest fire is going to come and wipe us out."

The flames were burning "at explosive rates" because of 50 mph winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The large fires were burning and spread over a 200-mile region north of San Francisco from Napa in the south to Redding in the north. 

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Monday for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties to free up critical funds to help respond to and recover from the devastation.

But California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Pimlott says the fires are still so out of control that it's difficult for authorities to assess the damage. %INLINE%

It was unusual to have so many fires take off at the same time, fire officials said, though October has generally been the most destructive time of year for California wildfires.

The ferocity of the flames forced authorities to focus primarily on getting people out safely, even if it meant abandoning structures to the fire. The fire area covered more than 100 square miles (160 square kilometers) over eight counties.


LIST: Fires destroy wine country landmarks, businesses 

In Napa County, the Tubbs Fire and the Atlas Peak Fire have charred more than 60,000 acres, with the Redwood Fire in Mendocino County burning more than 12,000 acres so far, Cal fire officials said.

All over the region, authorities have ordered evacuations at schools and shut down heavily traveled freeways. Emergency workers and staff at a state home for the severely disabled outside of Sonoma evacuated patients.

Thousands of firefighters from around the state poured into the region to battle the blazes. Winds of up to 50 miles per hour are hampering progress. 

The fires have razed homes but also taken down department stores and eateries and destroyed at least one winery.

Both the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa, and the Silverado Resort in Napa were heavily damaged.   

Kim Hoe, a 33-year-old tech worker from Penang, Malaysia, was staying at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which was gutted by flames. He said the power went out around 1 a.m., and he and his colleagues started packing up when someone knocked on the door and told them to run.

"We just had to run and run. It was full of smoke. We could barely breathe. It was dangerous," Hoe said.

They returned in the morning to find the hotel had been destroyed along with most of their possessions. Hoe was relieved he had taken his passport and a few essential items.

In Santa Rosa, Ron Dodds showed up early Monday to get his uncle.  "People are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing," he said. "It's a scary time. It looks like Armageddon."

At Journey's End Mobile Park in Santa Rosa, one man said incredulously, "I've never seen anything like this but on television."

Santa Rosa lost a Kmart, restaurants and an unknown number of businesses and homes. The blaze shut down schools and forced more than 200 patients at two city hospitals to evacuate.

Authorities have imposed a sunset-to-sunrise curfew in the city of Santa Rosa and say they are on the lookout for looters as firefighters battle blaze. 

Some of the largest blazes were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. They sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) away. What caused the blazes was not known.

Fires also burned in Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties -- all north of the state capital.

The inferno blackened miles along one of the main gateways into wine country, State Highway 12 into Sonoma County. Wooden fence posts and guard rails burned fiercely. Thick smoke roiled from one winery, JR Cohn.

Here's a list of working fires in the North Bay counties of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Calaveras. For complete updated information on evacuations check Cal-Fire's incident information page

Napa Co. fires:
Tubbs—  25,000 acres ,
Patrick— 3,000 acres
Atlas Peak – 25,000 acres

Sonoma Co. fires:

Pocket—1,000 acres  

Nuns – 5,000 acres

37 – 1,500 acres; 15% contained

Fort—20 acres; 100% contained

Mendocino Co. fires:
Redwood Complex (includes Redwood Fire and Potter Fire) – 19,000 acres

Yuba Co. fires:
Cascade— 7,200 acres; 5% percent contained

Butte Co. fires:

La Porte— 3,500 acres; 5% contained  
Honey— 75 acres
Cherokee— 7.500 acres; 25% contained 


Lake Co.  fires:
Ridge— 87 acres ; 75% contained
Sulphur— 2,000 acres

Nevada Co. fires:

McCourtney—200 acres 
Lobo – 900 acres 

Calaveras Co. fires:
Point; 130 acres; 25% contained