Two major wildfires in Northern California have rapidly spread, forcing about 300 people from their homes. The County Fire is only 3 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and is continuing to grow. The fire is threatening more than 100 structures so far.
The County Fire started Saturday afternoon, grew by 12,000 acres Sunday night and scorched more than 44,500 acres as of Monday morning. Smoke from the fire has blanketed skies over San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma and San Mateo counties.
In Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Shell station employee Sergio Garcia told the AP, “The sky is very dark, even in the middle of the day. It’s a little scary.”
“You can see the smoke and you can see an orange-red glow from the flames,” Autumn Edens of the Yolo County town of Guinda, near where the fire began, told AP. “It looks like a movie. I’ve never seen a fire like that up close, and it’s an intense feeling.”
On Monday, the National Weather Service Sacramento said on Twitter, “Due to a wind shift yesterday, smoke from the #CountyFire has moved into the Sacramento Valley and continues to impact the Bay Area as well.”
Over the weekend, San Francisco Bay Area residents woke up to orange skies and a dusting of smoke and ash.
The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management issued an air quality advisory and respiratory alerts on Sunday, cautioning children, the elderly and people with heart or lung conditions to avoid exertion. The smoke was expected to linger through Monday and possibly longer.
A second wildfire is also burning to the northwest of the County Fire. The Pawnee Fire broke out more than a week ago and has consumed about 14,700 acres. CalFire says it is 75 percent contained.
Air crews and firefighters were dropping water and flame retardant on both wildfires and digging firebreaks. Residents in some areas affected by the County and Pawnee fires have been told to leave their homes.
In Northern California’s wine country, the fires have brought back memories and fears of last year’s devastating wildfires. Savannah Kirtlink told AP, “A lot of friends and family were texting today and saying they were having some PTSD.” Kirtlink had to evacuate her Napa home as the flames raged in December and told the news service that she empathized with those residents having to leave their homes now. “I’m imagining what they’re going through,” she said.
Much as with last year’s wildfires, winds are blowing the flames in a southwesterly direction. Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the San Francisco Chronicle that windblown embers are making containment more difficult.
“These fires are extremely aggressive and extremely fast moving,” McLean said. “It’s not a joke. People need to be prepared.”
He added: “We are getting long-range spotting as embers are being thrown way ahead of the fire. This fire has definitely grown a lot faster than the previous fires there.”
A man in the town of Colusa who was helping to bulldoze firebreaks ahead of the County Fire told the Chronicle: “We couldn’t catch up to the wind, it was blowing it so fast. We got right in the middle of it. We were in some big, big fire. The best word I can come up with is hectic.”
As the Chronicle reports:
“After years of drought, the trees, brush and grass are still ‘stressed out,’ despite the rainstorms the region has received since 2017, and that has resulted in aggressive fire activity, McLean said.
” ‘The rain is not helping as individuals think it does,’ McLean said. ‘We need to have several years of significant winter storms to reach that plateau of where we need to be.’ ”