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Where Everything Grows

Historic wildfires rip through California wine country

Thirteen people have died and many more are missing or injured as fires spread.


This article was originally published on and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

It’s peak wildfire season in California, and Monday was one of the worst days in state history. More than 60 blazes are currently underway statewide.

More than a dozen wildfires  Sunday night in and around Napa and Sonoma counties — also known as “wine country,” just north of San Francisco — prompting rushed evacuations of . In an attempt to speed the flow of relief and firefighting equipment and make the National Guard available, Gov. Jerry Brown has .

The Northern California firestorm has quickly burned nearly 100,000 acres, and is encroaching on neighborhoods in several places. At around 3 a.m. Monday, a Cal Fire official  that there was “no hope of containment right now.”

An aerial photograph shows some of the homes destroyed in Santa Rosa early Monday as the wind-driven wildfires raced through California's wine country.
California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division

In total, the fires have  and destroyed  as of Tuesday morning, making them some of . More than 100 people have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation at regional hospitals, , and more than 150 people are still missing. Nationwide, this year’s fire season has cost more than $2 billion, the .

Smoke from the fires is visible from across the Bay Area, with many residents  and even . The National Weather Service says that winds at higher elevations in some parts of Sonoma County , with several areas reporting gusts greater than 50 mph.

Several of the worst wildfires in California history , near the end of California’s months-long dry season. It’s this time of year when a combination of strong offshore winds and low humidity can quickly fan a  into a raging inferno.

These winds are usually formed by a strong inland high pressure center, which pushes air down mountainsides and through canyons, causing it to warm up and dry out — a perfect environment for fast-growing fires. In Northern California, they are generally called “Diablo winds,” after Mt. Diablo in the eastern Bay Area. A  said that climate change is making these wind events more frequent and more severe in California. According to the Bay Area branch of the National Weather Service, conditions will begin to improve .

One particularly frightening fire in Northern California, the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, jumped the 101 freeway, forcing a hospital to evacuate its patients. Officials report evacuation centers that have been set up have already filled to capacity. Aerial images of Santa Rosa on Monday showed widespread devastation of entire neighborhoods.

“People are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing,” Santa Rosa resident Ron Dodds . “It’s a scary time. It looks like Armageddon.”

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