A series of windswept wildfires in Northern California has claimed the lives of at least 15 people and devastated the counties of Napa and Sonoma since Sunday night, prompting the federal government to issue relief efforts.
Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Tuesday afternoon that more than 17 large fires continued to burn in California, engulfing 115,000 acres and 2,000 homes and businesses. Officials said some 3,200 people stayed at 28 shelters throughout Napa and Sonoma counties Monday night.
The blazes include the Atlas Fire in Napa County, which has burned 25,000 acres in Napa County and is 0 percent contained; the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, which has burned 27,000 acres; and the Nuns Fire in Glen Ellen, which has burned 5,000 acres and is 0 percent contained.
“We are far from out of the woods,” Pimlott said at a news conference. “We’ve got several days of fire warning conditions to come.”
As the fires continued to consume structures, Vice President Mike Pence announced that President Donald Trump had approved a major disaster declaration for California to provide federal support in the state.
“Our hearts and the hearts of every American go out to the families of the 13 who lost their lives,” Pence said at a morning news conference. “Many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable, in some cases senior citizens who simply were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes.”
Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci called the announcement “a significant and appreciated action and will greatly assist us in the state of California.”
“It will greatly assist the community as we work to rebuild the damage that has occurred,” Ghilarducci said.
The news came after Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency in eight California counties.
Earlier Tuesday morning, local officials held a news conference on the three major fires burning in Napa County.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson confirmed the deaths of Charles Rippey, 100, and Sara Rippey, 98, who were unable to escape from a home on Westgate Drive.
Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said that firefighters had just started their third shifts on the fire line because of limited resources in the region.
“We have a lot devastation that’s going on,” Biermann said. “The fires are still out there, they are still actively growing.”
Later in the afternoon, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said that nine of the confirmed deaths happened in Sonoma County. Giordano said all but one of the bodies has been recovered because the area was too hot to enter.
There are 183 missing persons reports still outstanding in the county, according to Giordano.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement that The City has sent firefighters and other first responders to the North Bay.
“We continue to send our most heartfelt thoughts and deepest sympathies to the families and residents affected by the fires,” Lee said. “We are heartbroken at the loss of life and incredibly saddened by the devastation.
With smoke and ash falling on San Francisco since Sunday night, the mayor also reminded the public that four libraries in The City have filtered air conditioning.
Those libraries are the Main Library at 100 Larkin St., the Chinatown branch at 1135 Powell St., the Mission Bay branch at 960 Fourth St. and the Glen Park branch at 2825 Diamond St.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the second straight day Tuesday after winds blew smoke from fires in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties throughout the region.
Bay Area residents should limit outdoor activities if they smell smoke and should set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate so outside air does not move inside, district officials said.
Children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses are particularly sensitive to elevated pollution levels and should take extra precautions.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
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