State of emergency declared as California wildfires rage

Healdsburg: Thousands of firefighters battled into the early hours of Monday, losing ground to the huge blaze burning through the famed Sonoma wine region in northern California.
California’s governor declared a statewide emergency on Sunday as the wind-driven Kincade Fire spread to more than 34,000 acres (14,000 hectares), forcing residents to flee.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile the local fire department issued mandatory evacuation orders after a “very dynamic” brush fire broke out west of a major highway, US 405, near The Getty museum.
Refugees from the Kincade blaze, the largest of more than a dozen burning throughout the state, recalled hasty departures as they waited it out in the safety of a community centre in Petaluma, California.
“The police came with loudspeakers. We weren’t expecting it,” said Kathy Amundson, who had to get her 90-year-old mother Joy into a wheelchair and then into the car for the trip out.
“We smelled smoke, we couldn’t see it,” she said. “Looks like our home is safe but the fear is wind blowing ambers and then it starts new fires.”
Others were not so lucky. The fire has destroyed dozens of homes and vineyards, including the renowned 150-year-old Soda Rock Winery.
“We’ve seen the news. We are devastated,” the owners said in a Facebook message, adding that all staff at the winery — located in the town of Healdsburg, 70 miles north of San Francisco — are safe.
At least two hospitals in Santa Rosa evacuated patients over the weekend to other facilities.
The Kincade Fire — the most devastating in California this year — ignited on Wednesday and spread quickly due to powerful gusts of up to 145 kilometres per hour. As of early Monday, it was only five per cent contained.
“Over 3,000 people are working on the fire as we speak, making sure the evacuation is going smoothly and people are taking it seriously,” said state governor Gavin Newsom.
An estimated 180,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders, including in parts of Santa Rosa and a large swath of Sonoma County all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Nearly 80,000 structures are threatened, according to the county sheriff’s office. And fire officials said they did not expect the fire to be contained before November 7. — AFP