Firefight ‘turning corner’ as some evacuees allowed to return home
Despite favorable weather and a surge in firefighting resources that led officials Sunday to claim the weeklong battle against several Sonoma County wildfires was “turning a corner,” the property toll from the fires more than doubled as a sobering new tally estimated they had destroyed some 6,700 structures and left more than $3 billion in losses.
The improved conditions in the fires that have killed at least 40 people - including 22 in Sonoma County - prompted authorities to lift evacuation orders for Calistoga and parts of the Larkfield-Wikiup neighborhood north of Santa Rosa. All evacuation orders for Healdsburg were lifted as well.
The most destructive fire, the Tubbs fire, is now 60 percent contained and firefighters reported gaining substantial ground on other regional blazes as well, including the Nuns fire which Saturday destroyed homes in Sonoma less than 2 miles from the historic Plaza.
“Today, finally, is a day where at least we here in the city of Santa Rosa, we feel like we can take a breath,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey at an afternoon press conference. “Instead of just worrying about the five minutes in front of our faces … We’re able to take a step back, look five days out, maybe even five weeks out. We’ll be looking five years out.”
The deadliest and most destructive fires in state history still have 17,700 households in Sonoma County without power, a PG&E spokesman said, but that was a substantial reduction from previous days.
Warm, dry conditions forecast today for Santa Rosa with highs in the upper 80s and low humidity are expected to give way to cool, wet weather toward the end of the week. That could aid the thousands of firefighters battling a series of devastating wildfires that have charred more than 106,000 acres in Sonoma County alone. ?At the same time, the grim extent of the wildfires’ toll on human life and property loss has continued to grow as officials released more victims’ names and painted a clearer picture of the damage to the county’s unincorporated areas.
Sheriff’s officials identified an additional four of the 22 victims confirmed dead in Sonoma County. They are Carmen Colleen McReynolds, 82, of Santa Rosa; Lee Chadwick Roger, 72, of Glen Ellen; Daniel Martin Southard, 71, of Santa Rosa, and Sharon Rae Robinson, 79, of Santa Rosa.
The fires have killed at least 40 people in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Yuba counties.
“It’s hard to talk about putting people back in their home and yet other people will never go back to their home,” said Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano at the press conference. “(It’s) a difficult part of the puzzle.”
Sonoma County officials also shed new light on the staggering property losses estimated throughout the region from the wildfires. Within the unincorporated county, an estimated ?3,819 structures - primarily homes - have been destroyed, representing a loss of more than $2 billion, according to a preliminary assessment from county officials.
Combined with numbers previously reported by the city of Santa Rosa, flames have destroyed more than 6,700 structures countywide, causing a total loss of more than $3 billion.
“Behind every one of those numbers are people, families, that are really going to be struggling and have to deal with that,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt. “It makes the magnitude of this really just cataclysmic.”
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins wrote of the losses on her Facebook page that “sadly we anticipate that this total will grow.”
Sunday afternoon, 174 people were still reported missing, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Law enforcement has responded to 150 calls for service related to looting and made 13 arrests, police said.
Sonoma County wildfires have now burned 106,272 acres over the past week, the equivalent of 166 square miles of urban and rural landscape in greater Santa Rosa, the Sonoma Valley and the Geyserville area, Cal Fire said late Sunday.
But fire crews were able Sunday to significantly bolster containment of the four fires burning here, raising containment on the largest blaze, the Nuns fire, to 40 percent, officials said.
The Tubbs fire was at 60 percent containment late Sunday, while the Pocket fire outside Geyserville was at 30 percent, and the 1½-day-old Oakmont fire across Highway 12 from Oakmont, was at 15 percent.
More than 4,230 personnel are now on the firelines, supported Sunday by 10 air tankers and 33 helicopters, Cal Fire said.
The initial Sonoma County fires were among well over a dozen in Northern California that started within the same 12-to-24 hours Oct. 8 and 9.
Resources were stretched extremely thin between the fires, but with some winding down, a growing number of fire personnel have converged on Sonoma County, particularly since Friday, Cal Fire officials said.