The death toll has climbed to 23 as wildfires continue to blaze almost completely out of control in California’s wine country and firefighters expect weather conditions to take a turn for the worse.
“Now the winds are going back up and the humidity is going back down,” said Heather Williams, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fire protection. “We’re still not out of the woods. It’s a very serious situation.”
In the tiny wine country town of Glen Ellen, where the ground was still smoking from the flames that tore through early Monday morning, Loren Davis, of the Mountain volunteer fire department, had a blunter assessment: “It’s a shitstorm.”
He added that in 20 years of firefighting, he had never seen anything like the Tubbs fire, one of the now 23 major wildfires burning in California. He said he had been part of the first team on the scene and it was “freaking crazy” – moving so fast that they couldn’t do anything to fight it.
Residents of the Eastridge development in the Bay Area city of Fairfield were busy loading their cars on Wednesday afternoon as flurries of ash fell over the neighborhood like a dry, putrid dusting of snow. Firefighters and police officers were stationed every few blocks in the sprawling development of rolling hills, large houses and meticulously landscaped gardens, waiting for the order to declare a mandatory evacuation.
“I’m nervous,” said Annette Abrao, gesturing toward her cigarette as she stood in her driveway. Abrao, a dental hygienist, and her husband, Eddie, a landscaper, had left work early to get home and prepare to leave. Their truck held photographs and documents, while a trailer was packed with camping gear, a golf cart, and a taxidermied elk head – a memento from a 2010 hunting trip.
“We have a house full of stuff, and the things that were really important fit in a truck and trailer,” Eddie Arbao said. “What does that tell you?”
The fireline was about three miles north as of late Wednesday afternoon, said the Fairfield fire department deputy chief, Matt Luckenbach, who was on standby for the evacuation orders and has been on duty since the early hours of Monday.
Though the fire wasn’t advancing quickly yet, Luckenbach warned: “Three miles, as far as fire goes, isn’t far at all.”