California wine country ablaze as new wildfires force evacuations

Senior home residents among those evacuated as firefighters battle destructive new wildfires in wine country north of San Francisco.

The causes of both new fires are under investigation [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

Firefighters in the US state of California battled destructive new wildfires in wine country north of San Francisco on Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already badly scorched state.

The new fires erupted on Sunday in the famed Napa-Sonoma wine region and in far Northern California’s Shasta County, forcing hasty evacuations of neighbourhoods.

One blaze, since named the Glass Fire, ignited on Sunday morning near Calistoga about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of San Francisco and was fanned through the area’s famed vineyards by dry wind gusts. More than a thousand firefighters have struggled to contain the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

In wine country, flames engulfed the distinctive Chateau Boswell Winery north of St Helena, The Black Rock Inn in the small community of St Helena and multiple homes in the city of Santa Rosa, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Residents of a senior home were among those evacuated.

The Adventist Health St Helena hospital suspended care and transferred all patients elsewhere, according to a statement on its website.

The wine country blaze had burned 44 square kilometres (17 square miles) as of early Monday, according to Cal Fire.

It was the latest inferno in a historically destructive year throughout the US West. In California alone, wildfires so far have scorched about 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres), far exceeding any single year in state history. Since August 15, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed more than 7,000 structures.

Early on Monday, new evacuation orders were issued in Sonoma and Napa counties, including parts of the cities of Santa Rosa and St Helena.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through to the end of Monday, forecasting low humidity and gusts of wind up to 89km/h (55mph) through certain canyons.

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas, especially because climate change has made California much drier. A drier California means plants are more flammable.

Evacuations were also ordered in Shasta County as that blaze, called the Zogg fire, spread.

The causes of both new fires were under investigation.

During the weekend, the Pacific Gas & Electric utility turned off electricity to targeted areas where the winds raised the potential for arcing or other power equipment damage that could spark new fires.

So far this year, more than 8,100 California wildfires have scorched 14,970sq km (5,780sq miles), destroyed more than 7,000 buildings and killed 26 people.

Most of the losses occurred after a frenzy of dry lightning strikes in mid-August ignited a massive outbreak of fires.

Conditions were also hot, dry and windy in parts of Arizona, where the Sears Fire in Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix has grown to more than 36sq km (14sq miles) since it erupted on Friday afternoon. Authorities reported zero containment.

Source: News Agencies