Watch CBS News

Deadly Wildfires Ravage Northern California As Thousands Forced To Evacuate

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (CBSNewYork/AP) — An onslaught of wildfires across a wide swath of Northern California broke out almost simultaneously then grew exponentially, swallowing up properties.

Authorities said that at least 17 people are dead, with at least 185 injured, and more than 2,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed in the fire, which has consumed at least 115,000 acres. All three figures were expected to surge in the coming days as more information is reported.

Late Tuesday, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office raised its total number of bodies found to 11. Six other bodies have been found in Mendocino, Napa and Yuba counties.

Coverage From CBS San Francisco

How You Can Help

CBS San Francisco reported a new death was reported earlier Tuesday in Yuba County where a person was killed as they attempted to flee the deadly flames. Officials expected the wildfires toll to continue to rise.

An elderly couple in Napa County were among the dead and Queen of the Valley hospital said early Tuesday that they have treated at least 50 people. At a morning news conference, county authorities identified the couple as 100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife Sara.

Sonoma County has confirmed nine deaths, Mendocino County three deaths, Napa County two and in Yuba County a single death.

Gov. Jerry Brown late Tuesday evening declared a state of emergency in Solano County because of the 25,000-acre Atlas Fire. On Monday, Brown declared states of emergency for Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Orange counties because of the multiple fires around the state.

The governor's requested for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response to the Northern California fires was approved earlier Tuesday.

President Donald Trump said the federal government will be there for the people of California as they deal with devastating wildfires.

Trump said he spoke with Brown Monday night to "let him know that the federal government will stand with the people of California. And we will be there for you in this time of terrible tragedy and need."

Vice President Mike Pence visited emergency officials in Sacramento Tuesday.

"President Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for the State of California to assist in the response to wildfires," Pence said.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department officials said they have treated approximately 90 individuals as a result of the wildfires. A total of 12 patients came in with burns from the fires. Five were treated and released; three remain in the ICU and surgery units; four patients were transferred to burn centers.

Dozens of residents of the affected areas also remain missing. Sonoma County said it has received more than 100 missing-person reports as family and friends scramble to locate loved ones, CBS San Francisco reported.

It possible that many or most of the missing are safe, but simply can't be reached because of the widespread loss of cell service and other communications, CBS San Francisco reported.

As CBS News' Danielle Nottingham reported, fire crews said they were getting a better handle on the 15 wildfires ravaging North Bay wine country. But entire neighborhoods have been wiped out.

"It's chaos here," said evacuee Rodrigo Valencia. "It looks like somebody dropped a bomb or something."

Valencia and other residents of one Santa Rosa community returned Tuesday to see the devastation after the fast-moving flames tore through.

"We have nothing. We left everything," said evacuee Lisa Wahnon, "and we wanted to see if there's a little piece of our lives left there."

Wahnon found only a small concrete slab with her and her son's hand imprints.

Meanwhile, what used to be Tyler Shinn's living room had been reduced to rubble.

"What you see on me is everything I have left," Shinn said. "But my family made it."

Residents who gathered at emergency shelters and grocery stores said they were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the flames, CBS San Francisco reported. They recalled all the possessions they had left behind and were lost.

"All that good stuff, I'm never going to see it again," said Jeff Okrepkie, who fled his neighborhood in Santa Rosa knowing it was probably the last time he would see his home of the past five years standing.

His worst fears were confirmed Monday, when a friend sent him a photo of what was left: a smoldering heap of burnt metal and debris.

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, who now runs an outdoor sporting goods store in Santa Rosa, was forced to flee in minutes along with his wife, two daughters, and a son just over two weeks old.

"I can't shake hearing people scream in terror as the flames barreled down on us," Lowry said.

His family and another evacuating with them tried to take U.S. 101 to evacuate but found it blocked by flames, and had to take country roads to get to the family friends who took them in.

A 90-mile stretch of the highway is framed by the flames and a major concern overnight, said Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Highway 12, which winds through the heart of wine country, was also rendered unusable by the flames.

"Sonoma and Napa counties have been hit very hard," Alexander said.

And the fires here in Sonoma and Napa counties were still not contained Tuesday. But a break in the weather was giving fire crews hope.

"Our moistures are higher," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox. "We also had much less wind, which means fire fighters were able to get in front of the fire and protect structures."

The wildfires also brought air quality issues to the entire San Francisco Bay Area for the second day Tuesday.

The National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday that particulate matter from smoke was making the air unhealthy for San Francisco, much of the Peninsula and the entire North Bay, CBS San Francisco reported.

For a second straight morning, a thick haze and the smell of smoke was prevalent in downtown San Francisco, including the studios of KPIX-TV, CBS5 San Francisco.

Kristen Magnuson was bicycling along the Embarcadero. "It burns a little bit in my lungs," Magnuson told KPIX 5. "I was coughing a bit and then had to blink a lot more than usual."

Mehek Sharma said smoke is an issue even inside her San Francisco office.

"I just feel this heaviness in my throat right here. I just feel like it's a bit hard to breathe," Sharma said "Everyone refused to open the windows because it was too hazy and people were feeling it in their throats."

People in the Bay Area again posted pictures of the smoke and haze on social media.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, the California wildfires have also led Tri-State Area residents to cancel travel plans and reach out to loved one is harm's way.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday, a Delta Airlines flight from San Francisco was filled with passengers.

"As the acres and acres burn, it's pretty emotional for everyone," one traveler said.

"We are very worried, because we live right by," added Barbara Fracchia, a passenger from San Francisco. "We can have a fire at any time. All you see is wet, red; red from smoke."

CBS2 also spoke by phone with the founder of the Dakota Shy vineyard, Todd Newman, who has been holed up in his winery estate on the Silverado Trail in St. Helena. He has no power, and has been surrounded by heavy smoke from flames two miles away.

"The night it started they came in pounding on doors at 4:15 a.m. saying: 'Evacuate now! Evacuate now!'"

Newman was intent on staying put, with an escape plan to protect his life's work. But he quickly realized what he was up against.

"The winds were going 40 mph and the walls of fire were 30 feet high, so it's not like even if we wanted to we could have protected it," he said.

Newman said his home and vineyards remained in jeopardy Tuesday.

"The biggest thing is that people stay safe, but from an industry standpoint, you know, you have some of the most revered vineyards in all the world -- certainly in America -- that are going, yeah, it's tough,'"

But Newman called North Bay wine country a strong and fortunate community that will quickly be ready jump in and rebuild lives and livelihoods.

Meanwhile in Southern California, another wildfire in Anaheim – dubbed the Canyon Fire 2 – has already consumed 7,500 acres and destroyed 24 structures.

The Canyon Fire 2 was 25 percent contained as of Tuesday, Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt told CBS Los Angeles. Authorities say 30 structures have been damaged or destroyed.

Five thousand homes in three cities were evacuated as the fire spread Monday, and Wyatt emphasized that evacuation orders remain in effect because 5,000 homes are still threatened by the fire.

Orange County, California Supervisor Todd Spitzer was among those evacuated.

"People are waking up today, saying, "How am I going to start my life all over again?'" he told CBS Los Angeles. "But this community is going to pull together for them, we're going to be there for everybody."

A thick cloud of smoke also hung over nearby Disneyland.

More than 1,000 firefighters, 14 helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft were on the scene holding the line on the fire, with more on the way, Wyatt said.

So far this year, California has already had 1,500 more wildfires than last year.

The cause of the fires remained unknown late Tuesday.

There is no rain in the forecast, but CBS2's Lonnie Quinn reported humidity moving into the area could help the fire fight in wine country.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.