Authorities said the blaze destroyed 1500 homes and businesses, sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighbourhoods.
As he fled through the ember-strewn streets of his neighbourhood 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 on Monday morning, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smouldering 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.”
A neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif., was razed by one of several fast-moving wildfires in the region Monday. pic.twitter.com/SibyOQohgV
— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) October 9, 2017
“It was an inferno like you’ve never seen before,” said Marian Williams, who caravanned with neighbours before dawn as one of the wildfires reached the vineyards and ridges at her small Sonoma County town of Kenwood.
Williams could feel the heat of her fire through the car as she fled. “Trees were on fire like torches,” she said.
The flames were burning “at explosive rates” because of 50mph (80km/h) winds, said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Fourteen large fires were burning north of San Francisco, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.
Flames ravage a home in the Napa wine region in California. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
A tent structure built for the 2017 Safeway Open burns on a golf course at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
Fire burns from an open gas valve near the pool area at the Journey’s End mobile home park in Santa Rosa. Picture: APSource:AP
STRANGE FIRE BEHAVIOUR
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 160 square kilometres over eight counties.
— Stephen Boatright (@stevieboatleft) October 9, 2017
Some of the largest blazes were in Napa and Sonoma counties, home to dozens of wineries that attract tourists from around the world. Those fires sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 96km away. Fires also burned in Yuba, Butte and Nevada counties — all north of the state capital.
Fire ravages homes in Anaheim Hills0:38
A brush fire has broken out in Anaheim Hills, California, scorching several homes and forcing evacuations in the area.
- October 10th 2017
- 3 hours ago
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The inferno blackened kilometres 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.
The fires also damaged the Silverado Resort in Napa and a Hilton hotel in Santa Rosa, the largest city in the fire area, with a population of about 175,000.
— roxs (@RoxannaTorrez) October 9, 2017
‘WE COULD BARELY BREATHE’
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 1am, 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.
Vincent Yeoh, from left, Ai Peng, Estella Fong, all from Malaysia, cover their mouths from smoke. Picture: APSource:AP
Resident Louis Reavis views his burned classic Corvette at his home in Napa. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
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.
Firefighters rushed to a state home for the severely disabled when flames reached one side of the centre’s sprawling campus in the historic Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen. Emergency workers leapt from their cars to aid in the evacuation. Crews got the more than 200 patients from the threatened buildings, one firefighter said, as flames closed within a few metres. Residents throughout the area described a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames.
An firefighter monitors flames as a house burns in the Napa wine region in California. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
‘ARMAGEDDON WAS ON’
Mike Turpen, 38, was at a bar in Glen Ellen early Monday when a stranger wearing a smoke mask ran in and yelled that there was a fire. Turpen raced home through flames in his Ford F-250.
“It was like Armageddon was on,” Turpen said. “Every branch of every tree was on fire.” He woke later to find all his neighbours’ homes on fire, but stayed behind to try to defend his own rental home.
By late morning, Turpen, wearing shorts, a kerchief mask and goggles, was the last man standing for miles along one abandoned road. His yard and all those around him were burned, smoking and still flaming in a few spots. But his home was still standing.