North Bay residents displaced by fires find shelter in Santa Rosa community center

Massive wildfires devastated the North Bay on Monday, displacing an estimated 20,000 residents and prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.

An estimated 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed by 14 major fires fueled by high winds and low humidity in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, according to Cal Fire.

Emergency officials set up evacuation centers in areas including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Sonoma. Fire officials said there have been numerous injuries and some possible deaths in the fires.

SEE RELATED: Major North Bay wildfires force evacuation of estimated 20,000 people

“This is the worst fire I’ve ever seen,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “It’s horrible. It’s devastating. It’s hellish. You don’t see urban fires like this.”

At the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, the American Red Cross served breakfast Monday morning to 700 residents displaced by fire. Ash fell from the hazy sky, prompting some to wear surgical masks or to wrap their faces in bandanas.

Two men rest on a couch while taking shelter at Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa on Monday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Hundreds of residents sat around in chairs or on the ground with Red Cross blankets, while others walked their dogs or helped seniors get around the center in wheelchairs or using canes.

“We just finished registering a lot of people,” said Roy Pitts, a spokesperson for the Red Cross. “We haven’t even finished the page count yet.”

Pitts said the Red Cross will be providing food and shelter free of cost at the shelter for at least the next few days.

Emergency officials said they have been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ask for resources such as water and cots. Assessment teams will be going out to assess the damage, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant.

Emergency officials also said they are keeping an eye out for possible new blazes.

“People are really calm and just sort of waiting for the next thing to happen,” Pitts continued. “The situation is fluid out in the hills right now. The No. 1 question is, ‘When can I go home?’ and we don’t quite know that yet.”

A volunteer moves through the donations room past cases of water at the shelter at Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa on Monday after mandatory wildfire evacuations. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Ryan Koven, 32, was visiting his parents in Santa Rosa from New York City when firefighters banged on the door at 1:30 a.m. Monday.

“We had from the time they knocked on the door to the time we got to the car about two minutes,” Koven said. “We grabbed everything we could. We didn’t grab any clothes. This is what I was wearing when I was sleeping.”

Koven said he saw the fire descend toward his parents’ house as his family drove away.

“If they hadn’t have knocked on our door, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “That neighborhood is gone.”

Koven said his family will be at the Finley Community Center for at least a few days unless the insurance company can cover the costs of a hotel.

“Nobody is really talking about what happened,” Koven said. “Everyone is trying to go about getting food and getting sleep … I haven’t really heard much talk about what happened to people’s houses.”

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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