Wine Country firefighters are gearing up for a 14-degree temperature spike over the next 72 hours that could triple wind gust speeds to 60-miles an hour and drive a new firestorm.
California Fire Authorities listed 40 active fires burning across the state with the worst devastation in the Wine Country where 8 major fires have burnt over 150,000 acres, causing at least 31 deaths and leaving over 400 residents missing.
Firefighters had hoped to contain most of the fires as temperature highs were under 74 degrees for the last two day and the lows plunged into the mid-30 degree range in local mountains. But none of the 8 major fires burning in the area is over 10 percent contained.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for high winds and low humidity starting Friday night as spiking temperatures are expected to bring back sustained winds and gusts that could reach 60-miles per hour on Friday and Saturday nights. State and local safety officials fear a replay of last weekend’s firestorm that jumped 10 miles in six hours, killing at least 17 people and destroying 2,840 homes in the city of Sonoma.
Recognizing the elevated risks, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said that in cooperation with FEMA, Congress added another $1 billion for fire relief to the $19 billion aid package being authorized for national hurricane relief.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported the Bay Area tech community is raising donations for local Wine Country relief groups with Apple and Facebook each donating $1 million, Google employees pledging $500,000. Uber and Lyft are offering free and discounted rides to four public libraries in the city that have filtered air. Airbnb triggered its disaster program arranges free short-term stays for evacuees through the end of the month. The company is working its “sharing” network to accommodate as many people as possible in the surrounding counties of Mendocino, San Francisco, Marin, and Alameda who are willing to assist by sharing their homes. Two hundred have already taken in refugees.
Firefighters believe that the number of dead within the current 400 missing could rise dramatically from the current 31, once rescue units can get into more remote areas.
The criticism is beginning to boil that local safety officials gave no warning of the coming fires, resulting in panicked residents smelled the smoke and realized that flames were approaching. Sonoma County officials made land-line phone calls but did not use the wireless emergency alert for cellphones, like the Amber Alerts for missing children.
Officials claim that they did not want to issue broad evacuation alerts that would panic residents and snarl traffic, preventing access for emergency vehicles.