SANTA ROSA — The wine country wildfires destroyed at least 8,400 homes and other buildings, authorities said Monday, a significant increase in the already staggering property loss.
Efforts continued by firefighters to gain control of the fires and by searchers looking for more victims. The death toll as of Monday remained at 42, making the fire series the deadliest in California history. The estimate of structure losses jumped from 7,700 reported over the weekend.
Officials said 5,000 firefighters remain on the lines, battling 10 different fires across Northern California.
About 100,000 people were displaced by the fires, and some evacuees are wondering whether they can stay in the region for the long term.
Sitting on a bed inside an evacuation center, Imelda Flores had nothing to do but think. Her Santa Rosa home had been spared by a massive wildfire, but her son’s caretaker wasn’t so lucky.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to find another nurse now,” she said. “I don’t have anyone who can understand his situation.”
Her 12-year-old son, James Lopez, was born with one bad lung, a weak immune system and requires a machine to pump food into his stomach; if done improperly, it could lead to an infection. Because of his health problems, her son needs a nurse by his side at school.
Flores looked at James on the bed next to her. A blue face mask lay between them.
“I may need to go to school to personally feed him,” she said. “I may become his nurse.
“We have an opportunity to move forward,” Flores said. “We didn’t lose our home, and I’m compelled to help others.”
The mother and son have been staying at the Grace Pavilion on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for two weeks now. She said the first three days at the evacuation shelter were difficult.
“People were waking up screaming, some were crying, and some people would storm in here, desperately looking for relatives,” she said. “It was just difficult and sad.”
But amid the chaos, she said, Red Cross volunteers at the shelter helped ease her worries by providing them clothing and other essentials. She said Lopez’s doctor and nurses from the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center came by to check on the young boy.
Though the shelter is now mostly empty, Flores said she has decided to stay longer because lingering smoke from the massive fires could endanger her son’s health.
“He is prone to getting sick,” she said. “A cold can turn into pneumonia.”
Even when things clear up, she feels she can’t let her guard down.
“He’ll still have to wear a mask a few more days,” she said.