Winds grew stronger Thursday in California’s wine country, threatening to escalate a massive wildfire that has burned for days and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
More fire crews and equipment were deployed in and around Calistoga, a town of 5,000 people known for hot springs, mud baths and wineries in the hills of Napa County about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
Winds gusting to 30 mph were forecast to push through the hills Thursday night and Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The area was also experiencing high temperatures and thick smoky air.
Fire and public safety officials warned that more evacuations are possible. They asked the public to remain vigilant, stay out of evacuation zones and quit demanding that officers let them back into off-limits neighborhoods.
“It’s been a long fire season and we’re still at the heart of fire season here in California,” said Billy See, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.
By the end of the week, “hopefully Mother Nature will play nice for a bit so my folks can get a little more aggressive on the ground,” he said.
More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the Glass Fire, which has charred 92 square miles (238.28 square kilometers) in Napa and Sonoma counties with almost no containment. It has destroyed nearly 600 buildings, including 220 homes and nearly the same number of commercial structures.
Gov. Gavin Newsom toured wildfire damage in Napa County on Thursday, visiting an elementary school that saw several buildings reduced to charred rubble.
With firefighters stretched thin by dozens of fires in recent weeks — and the potential for increasingly bad fire seasons in the future — Newsom promised to work for more funding to avoid and combat future blazes.
“I’ve got four young kids in elementary school. I can’t imagine for the kids, the families seeing these images, what’s going through your mind,” Newsom said. “We’re in it for the long haul. We’re not just here for a moment. We have your backs and we’re very sorry you’re going through all this.”
It’s the fourth major fire there in three years and comes ahead of the third anniversary of an Oct. 8, 2017, wildfire that killed 22 people.
Three fires, driven by gusty winds and high temperatures, merged into one on Sunday, tearing into vineyards and mountain areas, including part of the city of Santa Rosa. About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, including the entire population of Calistoga.—AP