Fires claim 26 lives, scorch 200,000 acres

Twenty-one fires across California have killed 26 people, destroyed thousands of structures and burned nearly 200,000 acres, state emergency officials said at a news briefing Thursday morning.

In the Bay Area fires burning in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, 16 people have died.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services:

“We know it’s a difficult time.”

Ghilarducci said the priorities today are lifesaving and firefighting, taking care of evacuees, and looking at what will be needed for recovery.

This is the fifth day of the response. More than 8,000 firefighters are deployed on the fire lines and about 640 law enforcement officers are assisting with other needs such as security at shelters and telling people to evacuate.

As of this morning, firefighters are working to extinguish 21 fires, down one from Wednesday only because two fires merged, Cal Fire officials said. Statewide, 191,437 acres have burned.

In the North Bay, the most any fire has been contained is 10 percent. Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said:

“We are a long way from being done with this catastrophe.”

On a positive note, firefighters are getting some fires outside the Bay Area contained and firefighters and resources are being moved here.

The Tubbs Fire, which started near Calistoga in Napa County and raged through Santa Rosa and other parts of Sonoma County, has consumed 34,270 acres. It’s 10 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Pimlott said that is another positive development since the fire had been 0 percent contained earlier this week.

In Napa County, the Atlas Fire, which started in Napa County and has spread to Solano County, has burned 43,762 acres and is 3 percent contained.

Firefighters continue to see “very active fire behavior,” which is likely to remain erratic, Pimlott said.

Fire weather watches and warnings are expected to be issued in much of California through the weekend.

Pimlott said:

“The situation is very dynamic.”

Firefighters are working to anticipate where new fires may start, according to Pimlott.

President Donald Trump granted the state a presidential disaster declaration Wednesday.

The declaration makes federal money available to the state, local governments and some nonprofits for emergency work in seven counties in California — Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, Lake, Nevada and Yuba.

Declarations for other counties may be made in the future, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gov. Jerry Brown has requested assistance for individuals but the president has not approved that, FEMA Region IX spokesman Frank Mansell said.

Money to reduce or prevent damage from future disasters will also be available as a result of the disaster declaration.

Many people are unaccounted for in the fires but Ghilarducci would not speculate on a possible final death toll.

Pimlott encouraged residents to leave ahead of an evacuation order.

The fires have made communications difficult, not only because cellphone towers have been damaged, but also because fiber cables were.

Some of those damaged cables have been in active fire zones, which has prevented repairs from being made until the fire is out.

But Ghilarducci said service in downtown Napa has been restored and 64 of 77 damaged cellphone towers have been repaired.

About 4,800 people are in 42 shelters statewide. Forty thousand meals have been served and 60,000 liters of water have been distributed.