California wine country fire quadruples in size, more evacuations ordered

By Adrees Latif and Jonathan Allen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A wildfire in northern California’s Napa Valley wine country more than quadrupled in size overnight to some 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares), burning homes and vineyards and forcing officials to order thousands of residents to evacuate on Monday.

As the small city of Santa Rosa emptied out around him, Jas Sihota stationed himself on his front porch with his garden hose close at hand, darting out every 15 minutes or so to douse spot fires around neighboring houses seeded by wind-blown embers under a hazy red sun.

Sihota, a radiology technician at a nearby hospital, had not slept in some 24 hours since the blaze, since named the Glass Fire, ignited on Sunday morning near Calistoga about 60 miles (96.5 km) north of San Francisco.

“I wouldn’t have a house if I didn’t stay,” said Sihota, adding that neither would some of his neighbors. At least 10 homes elsewhere on the street beyond the reach of his hose were destroyed.

He weighed when he might finally grab some sleep, wondering if he could stay up perhaps another six hours on adrenaline. “I’m not going to do it till I feel comfortable,” he said.

It was the latest inferno in a historically destructive year throughout the U.S. West. In California alone, wildfires so far have scorched more than 3.7 million acres, far exceeding any single year in state history.

Since Aug. 15, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed more than 7,000 structures. Climate change has contributed to wildfires’ growing intensity, scientists say.

Early on Monday, new evacuation orders were issued in Sonoma and Napa counties, including parts of the cities of Santa Rosa and St. Helena.

Residents at Oakmont Gardens, a retirement community in Santa Rosa, leaned on walkers as they waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and the novel coronavirus.

More than a thousand firefighters are battling the Glass Fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), some in planes that trailed red plumes of fire retardant over the region’s famed vineyards. None of it had been contained as of Monday morning, said Cal Fire, which was also monitoring 26 other major wildfires in the state.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through to the end of Monday, forecasting low humidity and gusts of wind up to 55 miles per hour (89 km per hour) through certain canyons. The fire also prompted evacuation of the 151-bed Adventist Health St. Helena hospital on Sunday for a second time in recent weeks after lightning-sparked blazes swept through the area in August.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Santa Rosa and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)

Floridians evacuate and grumble as Hurricane Dorian slowly nears

Elderly citizens from an assisted living community board a bus after a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

By Gabriella Borter and Zachary Fagenson

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Reuters) -At a retirement community in central Florida, elderly residents waited for a bus on Monday to evacuate to a shelter as one of the most monstrous Atlantic hurricanes on record crawled toward the state.

Mary McNiff, 92, sat in her wheelchair waiting to board at the Good Samaritan Society in Kissimmee, near Orlando, one of more than a million people under evacuation orders along the U.S. East Coast on the Labor Day holiday.

Elderly citizens from an assisted living community board a bus after a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

Elderly citizens from an assisted living community board a bus after a mandatory evacuation order ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

“Kind of anxious to get it over with,” she said before a rare trip off the property. “I haven’t been out for two years really with this leg,” she said, pointing to a cast on her left leg that she has been wearing since she had complications with a blood clot.

Hurricane Dorian was still miles out to sea, squatting over the Bahamas where it had already destroyed homes with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (249 kph). Forecasters warned it could still be dangerous as it drew closer to Florida even if its eye did not make landfall in the state.

The National Weather Service warned of hurricane-strength winds, several feet of storm surges and the risk of dangerous flash floods along much of the Florida coastline in the coming days.

Sue Watson, one of McNiff’s neighbors, was reluctant to move from the place she has called home for 14 years.

“I was all set to stay home until they had to turn the water off,” she said as she waited for the bus to pull out. She was not afraid, she said. “God knows what he’s doing and he’s in control.”

Another Florida resident, Randy Hightower, 71, evacuated from his mobile home in Daytona Beach to the Volusia County Fair Grounds shelter on Monday with his wife and dog. He called himself “an old Florida cracker” and said: “I’m more scared of this one than I’ve ever been of one in Florida before.”

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

Nine counties in Florida have ordered mandatory evacuations, while seven counties have voluntarily evacuations. Farther north, officials in coastal South Carolina and Georgia ordered hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes for shelter.

On what would have usually been a bustling Labor Day holiday, historic downtown St. Augustine was instead filled with the sound of power saws, drills and hammers as bay-front businesses fortified themselves against impending winds and flooding.

It is the third storm Joy Warren and her husband, Andrew, have weathered since buying their 16-bedroom waterfront bed and breakfast more than a decade ago.

“I don’t know how many hurricanes it’s been through,” she said. “It’s still here. I love it. I’m going to get in as soon as I can. If it’s trashed, I’ll rebuild again.”

The Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine has been converted into a shelter with space for 500 people. Lee Franco headed inside clutching a pillow and a box of tissues. She had only moved to Florida six months ago but felt prepared.

“Because I was following the news, I knew what I needed, so we have sleeping bags, our papers and everything we need,” she said. “It’s so boring there, there’s nothing to do. You read and play with the telephone and that’s it.”

Steven Apuzzi, 49, was hoping he and his three children would get in. His family has been homeless and arrived at the shelter in a gray Dodge caravan in which they have been sleeping.

“I’m going through it,” he said, describing the problems a single father faces getting access to shelter. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get into this shelter. I’m hoping and praying.”

The shelter eventually let him in and he called it a blessing. Once the hurricane passed, he was not sure where the family would head next.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Kissimmee and Zachary Fagenson in St. Augustine; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney)

Ferocious winds whip California fires as death toll rises to 31

The Camp Fire burns near Big Bend, California, U.S., November 10, 2018. Picture taken November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen La

By Stephen Lam

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – The death toll from wildfires raging in California rose to 31 on Sunday after six more people were found killed in what was poised to become the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Officials said the bodies of five people were found in burned-out homes and the sixth was found in a vehicle in northern California’s Camp Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Sunday evening.

Some 228 people are still unaccounted for, Honea said, while another 137 people have been located after friends or relatives reported being unable to contact them.

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The so-called Camp Fire in the northern part of the state has claimed at least 29 lives since it broke out on Thursday. Hundreds of miles to the south, at least two people have died in the Woolsey Fire threatening the wealthy beach community of Malibu, near Los Angeles.

Looting was reported in the southern fire area and arrests were made, police reported.

Hot dry winds expected to blow until Tuesday whipped up the flames and heightened the urgency of evacuation orders, officials said. It has been more than 210 days since the area received half an inch or more of rain, making it easy for spot fires to spread to fresh patches of tinder-dry vegetation, fire officials said on Sunday.

“We are entering a new normal,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, noting at a news conference that California’s fires in 2018 grow far more quickly than they did even 10 years ago.

“The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,” he said.

Several officials urged residents to heed evacuation orders, noting they themselves had followed orders to leave their homes for safety.

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

“Winds are already blowing,” Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. “They are going to blow for the next three days. Your house can be rebuilt but you can’t bring your life back.”

Crews pushed forward to achieve 25 percent containment of the Camp Fire in northern California, which had burned 111,000 acres (45,000 hectares) at the edge of the Plumas National Forest, according to Cal Fire’s website.

In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire scorched at least 83,275 acres, the blaze was only 10 percent contained.

The Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in Paradise, more structures than any other California wildfire on record.

Its death toll now equals that of the Griffith Park Fire in 1933, the deadliest wildfire on record in California.

Several of the bodies discovered earlier this week were found in or near burned out cars, police have said. The flames descended on Paradise so fast that many people were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives down the only road through the mountain town.

Winds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour) were forecast to blow in the north and gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph), the so-called Santa Ana “devil wind,” were expected in Southern California.

The Woolsey Fire doubled in size from Friday night into Sunday, threatening thousands of homes after triggering mandatory evacuation orders for a quarter million people in the upscale Malibu beach colony as well as other communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Many celebrities live in the area. Despite earlier news reports, including by Reuters, that the fire had destroyed the home of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender advocate and former athlete, her publicist said on Sunday that it had survived.

The entire nearby city of Calabasas, home to more than 20,000 people, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order by city officials on Sunday evening.

Governor Jerry Brown asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover.

Trump, on a trip to France, said in a Twitter post early Sunday: “With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”

The Republican president has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.

State officials have blamed climate change and said many of the burn areas have been in federally managed lands.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Paradise; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Allen in New York, and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Sandra Maler)

Storm Michael expected to hit Florida as a hurricane midweek

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Michael taken Monday. NOAA/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael is on track to hit the Florida Panhandle midweek as a Category 2 hurricane packing 100 miles per hour (160 kmh) or stronger winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early Monday in an advisory.

The tropical storm is expected to swell into a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Monday night or early Tuesday as it rolls into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with winds of 70 mph, as of 5 a.m. eastern time, forecasters said, just shy of being named a hurricane.

A storm is designated a Category 1 hurricane if it reaches speeds of 74 mph (119 km) or more, and a Category 2 hurricane at 96 mph (154 km) or more on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties along the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend on Sunday and has put more than 5,000 National Guard soldiers on alert.

“Our state understands how serious tropical weather is and how devastating any hurricane of tropical storm can be,” Scott said in a statement.

He advised Gulf Coast residents to prepare for possible evacuation orders.

Michael battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with powerful winds and drenching rains on Sunday and into early Monday as it churned in the Caribbean.

The storm moved north on a path between Cozumel in southeastern Mexico and the western tip of Cuba, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, Florida.

Outer bands from Michael are expected produce as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of rain through Tuesday in the Florida Keys, one of several areas in the state devastated by Hurricane Irma last year.

After hitting Florida, the storm is then forecast to move northeast along the Atlantic Coast and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. That hurricane killed at least 50 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The Commodity Weather Group said on Sunday some oil rigs in the gulf area may be evacuated as a precaution, which may slow down operations but was not likely cause much interruption.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More than 45 percent of the nation’s refining capacity is located along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which also is home to 51 percent of total U.S. natural gas processing capability.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Typhoon Cimaron slices through western Japan, heads north

High waves triggered by Typhoon Cimaron crash against the coast of Aki, Kochi Prefecture, western Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo, August 23, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – A powerful typhoon sliced across western Japan on Friday, dumping heavy rain before heading out to sea and turning towards the northern island of Hokkaido after reports that three students were swept out to sea.

There were scattered reports of damage and significant transportation delays but the region appeared to have escaped the devastation and mass casualties it experienced in floods in early July.

The center of Typhoon Cimaron was estimated to be about 210 km (130 miles) northwest of Wajima city in Ishikawa prefecture at 9 a.m. (0000GMT) and heading north, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Three college students were thought to have been swept away by high waves from a beach in Shizuoka, public broadcaster NHK said. The students’ sandals, backpacks, smartphones and wallets were found on the beach, it said.

Evacuation orders were issued in areas including Wakayama, Hyogo and Osaka prefectures and train and plane services were disrupted, NHK said. The directive was lifted in many areas but about 45,000 households had lost power in western Japan, it said.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Paul Tait)

Japan PM visits flood disaster zone, promises help as new warnings issued

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets local residents staying at an evacuation center in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KUMANO, Japan (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited flood-stricken parts of Japan on Wednesday as the death toll from the worst weather disaster in 36 years reached 176 and health concerns rose amid scorching heat and the threat of new floods.

Torrential rain caused floods and triggered landslides in western Japan last week, bringing death and destruction to neighborhoods built decades ago near steep mountain slopes.

At least 176 people were killed, the government said, with dozens missing in Japan’s worst weather disaster since 1982.

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In Kumano, a mountainside community in Hiroshima prefecture that was hit by a landslide last week, Ken Kirioka anxiously watched rescuers toiling through mud, sand and smashed houses to find the missing, including his 76-year-old father, Katsuharu.

“He is old and has a heart condition. I prepared myself for the worst when I heard about the landslide on Friday night,” he said, pointing at a pile of mud and rubble where he said his father was buried.

“He is an old-fashioned father who is hard-headed and does not talk much,” Kirioka said, adding he would stay until his father was found. “It would be too bad for him if a family member were not around”.

Rescuers working under a scorching sun combed through heaps of wood and thickly caked mud in a search for bodies, helped by sniffer dogs. In some cases only the foundation of homes remained as they cut through debris with chain saws.

With temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in the devastated areas in Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures, attention turned to preventing heat-stroke among rescue workers and in evacuation centers where thousands of people have sought shelter.

People sat on thin mats on a gymnasium floor in one center, plastic bags of belongings piled around them and bedding folded off to the side. Portable fans turned slowly as children cried.

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

ABE PLEDGES SUPPORT

Abe, who canceled an overseas trip to deal with the disaster, was criticized after a photograph posted on Twitter showed Abe and his defense minister at a party with lawmakers just as the rains intensified.

After observing the damage from a helicopter flying over Okayama, one of the hardest-hit areas, Abe visited a crowded evacuation center. He crouched down on the floor to speak with people, many of them elderly, and asked about their health. He clasped one man’s hands as they spoke.

Later he told reporters the government would do everything it could to help the survivors.

“We’ll cut through all the bureaucracy to secure the goods people need for their lives, to improve life in the evacuation centers – such as air conditioners as the hot days continue – and then secure temporary housing and the other things people need to rebuild their lives,” he said.

Abe is up for re-election as party leader in September and has seen his popularity ratings edge back up after taking a hit over a cronyism scandal earlier this year.

His government pledged an initial $4 billion toward recovery on Tuesday, and a later special budget if needed.

Officials turned to social media to warn of the additional danger of food-borne illnesses, urging people to wash their hands and take other measures against food poisoning.

Evacuation orders were issued for 25 households in the city of Fukuyama after cracks were found in a reservoir.

Water accumulating behind piles of debris blocking rivers also posed a danger after a swollen river rushed into a Fukuyama residential area on Monday, prompting more evacuation orders.

The intensifying heat was expected to trigger thunderstorms on Wednesday, with authorities warning new landslides could be set off on mountainsides saturated with water.

Japanese media on Wednesday focused on the timing of evacuation orders issued in the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city just minutes before a levee broke and water poured into the residential area.

A number of the dead in Mabi were found in their homes, suggesting they did not have enough time to flee, media reports said.

(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Hideyuki Sano; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Firefighters gain on California wildfires as weather cooperates

A USGS geologist making observations of the fissure 8 lava channel at sunset is pictured in this July 3, 2018 fisheye lens handout photograph near the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii, U.S. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Firefighters are gaining momentum as they battle several wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents in California.

Across the state, milder weather over the last couple of days has helped firefighters to hold the line against several blazes, allowing them to lift evacuation orders for residents forced to flee their homes.

Temperatures are expected to fall this week in parts of the state, the National Weather Service said, after scorching heat, high winds and low humidity fanned dozens of fires this summer in a particularly intense fire season across the U.S. West.

“The weather is starting to cooperate, so it’s letting firefighters get the upper hand on the fires,” said Lynette Round, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, called Cal Fire.

U.S. wildfires have already burned more than 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) this year, more than the annual average of about 2.6 million acres over the past 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

One person has been killed and three firefighters injured in a wildfire on the California-Oregon border. That blaze, the Klamathon Fire, has torched 36,500 acres (14,770 hectares) and destroyed 82 homes since erupting on Thursday.

Shifting wind patterns remained a concern, but that fire was not expected to grow significantly overnight, a spokesman for Cal Fire said.

In western Nevada, a fire weather watch will be in effect on Wednesday as winds up to 50 miles (80 km) per hour and thunderstorms with lightning are expected in the area.

Elsewhere in the U.S. Southwest, dozens of active fires remained burning, including the 107,900-acre Spring Creek Fire, which is on pace to become the second-largest fire in Colorado’s history, according to the Denver Post newspaper.

“Near critical fire weather conditions are possible across portions of eastern Colorado Tuesday afternoon,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

Showers and thunderstorms are also in the forecast for parts of the region through Wednesday, the weather service said, warning of lightning and gusty winds that could create and fan wildfires.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)

California crews hold wildfire in check, let more residents go home

Wildland Firefighters battle the Bridge Coulee Fire, part of the Lodgepole Complex, east of the Musselshell River, north of Mosby, Montana, U.S. July 21, 2017. Bureau of Land Management/Jonathan Moor/Handout via REUTERS

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – California authorities battling a massive wildfire near Yosemite National Park lifted evacuation orders on Sunday for more residents but said firefighters may need almost two more weeks to fully contain the blaze.

The Detwiler Fire was 45 percent contained, a slight improvement from Saturday, after burning 76,250 acres (30,857 hectares) and more than 130 structures, including 63 homes, since it broke out on Monday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

Evacuation orders were lifted by midday Sunday for much of the historic gold rush era town of Coulterville and nearby areas as firefighters completed firelines to contain the blaze, Cal Fire said in a statement.

More evacuation orders were lifted for residents of nearby affected areas on Sunday evening.

A chimney stands amidst remains of a home destroyed by the Detwiler fire in Mariposa, California U.S. July 19, 2017.

A chimney stands amidst remains of a home destroyed by the Detwiler fire in Mariposa, California U.S. July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

About two-thirds of the 5,000 people who had been ordered to leave their homes have been allowed to return, Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman, said by telephone.

The almost 4,800 firefighters battling the blaze expect to contain it fully by Aug. 5, with temperatures forecast to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) this week complicating the fight, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll see it (contained) before then,” McLean said. “We’re making pretty good progress.”

There have been no injuries reported from the Detwiler fire, named for the road where it erupted. Its cause is being investigated.

Yosemite National Park has remained open as the fire has burned to the west, but smoke has clouded the views of its world-famous landmarks.

The Detwiler Fire is one of 35 large fires in the United States, almost all in the west, the National Interagency Fire Center said on its website.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock on Sunday declared a fire emergency because of wildfires burning across the state, fed by high temperatures and drought. Montana’s Lodgepole Complex fire expanded to about 226,000 acres (91,460 hectares) and was uncontained on Sunday, the fire center said.

The order allows Bullock to mobilize more state resources and the Montana National Guard in the fight against the fires, which have destroyed more than 10 homes so far.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Nick Macfie)