Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through California wine country Monday, killing at least 10 people and injuring at least 100, destroying 1,500 homes and businesses and sending thousands fleeing as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighbourhoods.
The fires broke out nearly simultaneously and then exploded overnight, sending residents fleeing as embers rained down and flames raged around them. Two hospitals in Santa Rosa, the largest city in the region with 175,000 people, were forced to move patients.
Fires from ruptured gas lines dotted the smoky landscapes of blackened Santa Rosa hillsides. Fire trucks raced by smouldering roadside landscaping in search of higher priorities.
The flames were fickle in some corners of the city. One hillside home remained unscathed while a dozen surrounding it were destroyed.
Little to salvage
One of the homes that was reduced to ash had a Mercedes Benz in the garage. Two cars parked across the street were untouched.
The flames were unforgiving throughout the city, torching block after block with little to salvage.
Hundreds of homes in the Fountain Grove area were levelled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned aluminum wheels into liquid. One neighbourhood of older homes was scorched, leaving only brick chimneys and downed power lines.
Residents who gathered at emergency shelters and grocery stores said they were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the flames. They recalled all the possessions they had left behind and were lost.
Firefighters rush to save disabled people
Firefighters rushed to a state home for severely disabled people 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 the evacuation.
Crews got the more than 200 people from the threatened buildings, one firefighter said, as flames closed within a few metres.
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 stayed 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.